Tag Archives: ANC

Give me President Zuma over King Charles any day

So President Zuma of South Africa is in town for a shindig with the Queen. The media is holding its collective nose and offering sympathy that Her Maj has to endure such an appalling, untrained houseguest.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be so keen to have him shack up at mine either, but then my two-bed flat would ill accommodate his clutch of wives and none of my friends’ daughters would be safe from his libido. I’m also unimpressed by his unfathomable view that post-coital showering is adequate protection against HIV, while the allegations of rape and corruption (he was acquitted) make me distinctly uneasy.

So God save our Queen, eh? Not a bit of it. Because I’d rather have President Zuma as my Head of State any day. I don’t have anything personal against the old dear at Buck House (Windsor, Balmoral, Sandringham et al), and as you may have gathered, I’m not a particular fan of JZ. But you know, at least Zuma is there because he was elected. And he can be voted out too after five years, or removed mid-term, as was his predecessor. When is Liz up for reselection? And let’s not even start on her philandering, meddling, barm-pot of an eldest son. King Charles? You’ve got to be kidding.

What is it with us Brits that in the 21st century there is such collective tolerance of democratic serfdom? We can vote only for our MP, our MEP and our local councillor and we have no say at all in our Head of State.

So next time someone like President Zuma pops across for a bit of a nosh and a chinwag with Liz or one of her chinless progeny, bear in mind that, unlike her, he is in his position legitimately, as a result of millions of votes.

May I have my own vote now, please?

The lost treasure at the end of the Rainbow Nation

In South Africa on holiday, I am struck by how morose my political friends have become. These are not the typical white South Africans often to be found decrying the state of their homeland in London’s bars, but hard-core, life-long ANC activists who were in the underground movement in the decades before political freedom and who are as committed today as they were 20, 30 or more years ago. I have never known them to be so gloomy.

There is understandable dismay over the sexual appetite of the President, Jacob Zuma, a polygamist with, at the current count, 20 known offspring, legitimate and illegitimate, from his multiple wives, girlfriends and sexual conquests. This is also the man who believed that a shower after unprotected sex was adequate safeguard against HIV and who was embroiled in a very public financial scandal and trial shortly before becoming president. The man is not another Mandela.

But the sorrow – because it is a heartfelt sense of loss, not simply of political disillusionment – that my former ANC colleagues and their friends feel is much deeper than their embarrassed discontent at their President. They mourn the loss of the ANC ideal, which bound together all those activists who fought against Apartheid for freedom and democracy.

That ANC ideal was very evident during Mandela’s five-year term of office, when the Government’s core agenda was to provide the basics for the impoverished masses – water, housing and education. Now, they say, Government is drifting, lacking that central purpose that drove frenetic activity in the ANC’s first term.

Effective policy has given way to administrative bureaucracy, change to continuity and idealism to cynicism. Ministers have been corrupted by high office – at the very least by the trappings of office – and Parliament is weak, with the majority ANC MPs lacking both the capacity to challenge the Executive and the inclination, dependent as they are on party lists for their positions.

What do I think, I am asked. It’s democracy, I reply. You fought for and won the right to elect any Government you chose. And with that freedom came the right to be disappointed in it.

Welcome to my world.

FW de Klerk: my part in his downfall

Next week is the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s triumphant walk to freedom through the gates of Victor Verster prison, near Cape Town, after 27 years in jail. But today is the anniversary of the astonishing speech in which President FW de Klerk announced Mandela’s imminent release and the unbanning of the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and the South African Trades Union Congress.

De Klerk had succeeded the internationally-loathed PW Botha (the Big Crocodile) only five months earlier and, as has been written about by far better-placed people than me, took the pragmatic decision deliberately to end Apartheid. For his contribution in dismantling the old South Africa, De Klerk rightly won the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993.

De Klerk’s contribution to the new South Africa, though, following the first democratic elections and Mandela’s election as President, is less well-scrutinised. In 1994, he became one of two Deputy Presidents, alongside Thabo Mbeki, in a Government of National Unity (GNU), which also included the Inkatha Freedom Party’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Although the ANC had virtually a two-thirds majority in Parliament, the Interim Constitution provided for a cabinet seat for any party with at least 20 MPs. The aim was for the GNU to govern for all of South Africa and bind black, white and coloured, Afrikaner, Zulu, English, Suthu and Xhosa in working towards a new, non-racial South Africa.

But within three years De Klerk had taken the National Party out of the GNU and the NP became a party of opposition, rather than co-operation. On the one hand, this was a welcome move, since the ANC (like any governing majority party) needed rigorous challenge. But De Klerk then opted out entirely and resigned as leader.

I was, by this time, working as an adviser to the ANC in Parliament, helping with the political restructuring of the Whips Office, with building capacity and experience within the Parliamentary ANC, and with the Parliamentary authorities on reforming some of the rules and procedures of the post-Colonial institution itself.

A very great friend of mine, a white Afrikaner ANC MP, Jannie Momberg, was the Government Whip responsible for programming the business of the day, which he did with enthusiasm and not a little chaos. Jannie was a big character and a big man. He had been a Stellenbosch wine farmer turned NP politician, who then became a Democratic Party MP in the dying years of Apartheid and was one of the first sitting MPs to switch to the ANC once it was unbanned. He was also, among all of this, formerly the manager to the controversial barefoot runner, Zola Budd. An extraordinary and entertaining man.

Once De Klerk’s resignation was announced and a day set for his departure from Parliament, a time was arranged for the customary tributes to be paid. Jannie was determined to speak and asked me to help him to write his speech. Unlike other speakers, Jannie wanted to break with convention and tear De Klerk to pieces. “Are you sure?” I asked him. Oh, indeed he was. So, together, we wrote the most coruscating political speech I have had the joy to script, in which he first praised De Klerk for ending Apartheid and then ripped mercilessly into him for stopping at the border to the new South Africa and refusing to lead his people across. It was a corker!

Jannie went to see the Chief Whip, Max Sisulu (now the Speaker of Parliament) and showed him his speech. “Can I speak, Comrade Max?” he asked. Max Sisulu is not a man easily moved and is inscrutable. He carefully read the speech all the way through, before slowly looking up and staring hard at Jannie. Then, with the merest flicker of a smile in the corner of his mouth, he said: “Jannie, you shall speak directly after De Klerk.”

And so it was that as De Klerk sat down, Jannie took his place at the podium and began to speak, trembling initially, but then building pace and volume and anger; an unstoppable force. The grumble from National Party MPs became a roar, De Klerk went a furious red and still on went Jannie, blinkered, thundering his condemnation of a man who had done so much, but who could have done so much more to reconcile his people, Jannie’s people, to the new South Africa. At last he stopped. The ANC Members cheered and applauded. And I claimed my full stop in the footnote of FW de Klerk’s career.