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Lessons for youth from sacrifices and celebrations

It is in many ways appropriate that Youth Day (Saturday) and Father’s Day (Sunday) fall on the same weekend. If one adds Eid (Friday), then there are all kinds of symbolism that is difficult to ignore.

Youth Day has morphed from a commemoration of the events in Soweto on 16 June 1976, when police shot and killed students who were protesting against being taught in Afrikaans, to a day when one focuses on all the issues facing young people, such as unemployment, gangsterism, drugs, teenage pregnancies, etc.

Father’s Day, of course, is a commercial invention aimed at getting consumers to show appreciation for their fathers by buying gifts and entertaining them.

Eid is a celebration of life after a month of fasting, called Ramadan, when Muslims throughout the world abstain, at least during daylight hours, from food, drink and other perceived worldly pleasures. It is an opportunity to reflect on what is important in life and how one can live without some important things.

Because of the differences between the Muslim (Hijri) calendar and the Gregorian calendar that we follow, Eid falls on different days each year, so it is not likely that one will have this confluence of events again for many years.

But it is important to focus on the sacrifices inherent in Ramadan and Youth Day and the excesses that are promoted for something like Father’s Day. Many young men are also fathers and Father’s Day should probably focus more on how to get more young men to take responsibility for being fathers.

When I grew up on the Cape Flats, it was not unusual to hear people, men and women, say that it is easier to have boys because they can just walk away after making girls pregnant. It is not so easy for girls who must live with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives.

This outdated thinking is probably behind a lot of the lack of accountability by young men who refused to accept paternal responsibility or responsibility to other actions which can only be perpetrated by men.

Thrown into this mix, it is entirely appropriate that a new show, called #JustMen, started at the Baxter this week and its aim is to get men to take a stand against violence against women and children.

#JustMen is an attempt to get men to take ownership of a problem which, as the organisers point out, is essentially a man’s problem. This follows the worldwide #MeToo campaign which saw women throughout the world raising their voices about abuse by men.

The play is produced by Heinrich Reisenhofer, who produced several award-winning productions, and feature a cast of prominent male stars. The Baxter hopes that they will be able to attract a wide range of men to this show, including captains of industry and people with influence in various sectors of society.

“The need to start open discussions, take ownership and outlaw this horrific scourge has become urgent. Become part of the movement to help transform our society into a safer and healthier environment,” said Baxter CEO and artistic director Lara Foot.

Reisenhofer added: “This is a very personal project for me about bringing healing and transformation into the theatre space and engaging a brave and vulnerable conversation about men taking responsibility, not just for the men we want to be, but the kind of world we want to be part of.”

What I love about theatre is its ability to turn a microscope on society and to interrogate, often in detail, issues that we often try to ignore. My biggest problem is that, often, this starts and ends in the theatre and has no impact beyond the few minds who might have been exposed to a particular production.

For something like #JustMen to be really effective, it will have to find a home and resonance beyond formal theatre. It is something that needs to travel to schools and universities throughout the country and it needs to be backed up by an incredible publicity campaign, especially in social media. It is one thing to create a hashtag. It is another thing to make it trend.

Something that has been baffling me for years is the fact that men do not form the majority of people in the world, but they cause the majority of problems and they occupy the majority of leadership positions, whether this be in politics or business or other sectors such as sport.

As we reflect on Eid, Youth Day and Father’s Day this weekend, we should also reflect on what we can do as individuals to change the world into a better and safer place for all, especially girls and women. If we succeed in this, the sacrifices that many have made in the past will not have been in vain.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 16 June 2018)

Don't allow history to be rewritten by opportunists

There’s a phrase that I was introduced to years ago by Zane Ibrahim, the late founder of Bush Radio and one of the people I admired greatly in the media industry: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

I later learnt that this was a quote from the great Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe.

I thought about this phrase a lot this week as I reflected on the possible renaming of Cape Town International Airport and was shocked at the blatant racism displayed in Parliament by the EFF’s deputy president, Floyd Shivambu.

It was interesting to see how history has been perverted by many who claim that their chosen name should be attributed to the airport in the mother city. Like I said previously, I do not really have preferences, and don’t even know whether it is necessary to go through this process, but if it helps people to understand history – especially struggle history – a bit better, than it might have been worthwhile.

An airport is a place frequented mainly by rich and middle-class people – in South Africa that would translate into white – so I am not surprised by the many calls by supposed airport users for the name to remain unchanged.

But even Cape Town is not a neutral name, because it is not the original name of the city. It is not the name given to the city by the people who lived here originally.

It is a pity that their history has been subverted over the years by the people who colonised them and those that came afterwards.

Whatever the outcome of the (re)naming process, it should help us to reflect on the history of our city and the people who played a prominent part in liberating it and this country.

One of the people who played a role in our liberation is Ismail Momoniat, a senior member of the National Treasury staff who came under fire this week by Shivambu for apparently being an “Indian” who “undermined the African leadership in the department”.

Shivambu and others who purport to be in political leadership nowadays need to look back on our history and they will see that many people, irrespective of race, played important roles in the struggle for liberation. We prided ourselves on our commitment to non-racism, as a counter to the racism on which apartheid was based.

It’s not that Momoniat’s struggle credentials should matter in relation to the important work that he is doing in the Treasury. He should be judged purely on whether he is doing a capable job, which everyone, except Shivambu, agrees he is doing.

His race should also not matter. When politicians so blatantly use race in their political arguments, we are on a slippery slope and they should be prepared to accept responsibility for whatever results from their actions.

But Shivambu is not the only one who is guilty of rewriting history. The ANC has been doing it for years, if not decades.

Next Saturday, 16 June, we celebrate Youth Day which only became a public holiday after our country became a democracy. Before that, we commemorated 16 and 17 June as Soweto Day, because people were killed on both days in 1976 when students in Soweto protested against being taught in Afrikaans.

Despite it not being a public holiday, people in schools and townships throughout the country commemorated these two days by staying at home.

The ANC, by renaming it Youth Day, could be accused of trying to whitewash the involvement of the Black Consciousness Movement, who were very active in South Africa in 1976, at a time when the ANC and PAC were banned.

The ANC has also tried to erase the PAC’s contribution from history with relation to 21 March, now known as Human Rights Day, but known throughout the struggle years as Sharpeville Day, to commemorate the deaths of people who were protesting against the pass laws in Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, and Langa in Cape Town in 1960.

The ant-pass protests were led by the PAC, who at that point appeared to have more support than the ANC, with the ANC jumping on the anti-pass protest bandwagon at a very late stage.

The DA, of course, has been busy rewriting history for a while now, effectively turning the late Nelson Mandela into one of their members.

The one way to preserve history is to write about it and, even though, most writers are only able to reflect a particular view of history, it is important to reflect and remember those views.

I agree with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga that history should become a compulsory subject at school. History helps us understand where we come from and this is important if we want to know where we are going. Let us all become lions and show that there is an alternative to the hunter’s history.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 9 June 2018)

Airport renaming an opportunity to honour Cape Town's heroes

I am not a supporter of changing the name of Cape Town International Airport, but I think it is an important discussion for us to have.

I have always believed in a balance between retaining history and creating new things which could be memorialised by naming it after whoever or whatever.

But the current process of considering a possible name change for the airport is giving us an opportunity to learn a little bit about our history. I am fortunate to interact with many people from all walks of life every day, and I have realised that so much of our history is dying because we are not doing enough to keep it alive.

Imagine if, as part of the renaming consultations, learners were encouraged to investigate the history of Cape Town and, especially, the history of people who have played a role in the Struggle in Cape Town.

Many names have been bandied about to be considered for the airport, and many of them are obvious, such as Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela or other Struggle luminaries. However, there are many other people who played a role in the Struggle in the Western Cape, who deserve to be honoured, if not by naming the airport after them, then by some other means.

Some of the names that immediately came to my mind include Oscar Mpetha, Wilfred Rhodes, Zoli Malindi, Johnny Issel, Alex la Guma, Basil February, Christmas Tinto, Coline Williams, Ashley Kriel, Robert Waterwitch, Eddie Daniels, Krotoa, Autshumao, Elizabeth “Nana” Abrahams, Hester Benjamin, Molly Blackburn, Hassan Howa, Frank van der Horst, Dr Abdullah Abdurahman and Cissy Gool.

Philip Kgosana and Professor Jakes Gerwel have been honoured with parts of major roads being named after them, but they probably deserve a bit more recognition.

There are many others who deserve to be on this list, but this is off the top of my head and without consulting any search engines, as most of us do nowadays.

Most Capetonians would probably never have heard of most of these people but, for those of us who were involved in the Struggle, their names and legacy are important.

Of course, there are others who are still alive who should also be honoured, but I have always been nervous about honouring people who are still alive in case they commit indiscretions which could tarnish their legacy. They are human after all.

For those people who are looking puzzled at my list of names, here is some brief information on some of the people who I regard as Struggle heroes.

Oscar Mpetha was a worker and trade union leader who became the Western Cape president of the ANC in 1958 until the organisation was banned in 1960. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1983 after being convicted of terrorism. He spent most of his sentence under armed guard in Groote Schuur Hospital where he had his legs amputated. In this time, he was also elected as one of the co-presidents of the United Democratic Front, an umbrella body of organisations opposed to apartheid.

Mpetha’s co-presidents of the UDF were Albertina Sisulu, who would have turned 100 in October this year, and KZN political veteran Archie Gumede.

Wilfred Rhodes, an activist from the Kensington/Factreton area, was the chairperson of the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee (Cahac), an umbrella body of civic organisations.

For much of his term in Cahac, a young man called Trevor Manuel was the secretary. Rhodes, who passed away in 2002, was also very active in sport. He was probably one of the most decent human beings I had the pleasure of knowing.

Zoli Malindi and Christmas Tinto were of the same generation and, in many ways, cut from the same cloth. But there were differences. They were both involved in the Western Cape Civic Association, a township equivalent of Cahac and both ascended to high positions in the UDF and the ANC.

Johnny Issel was probably one of the most under-rated and under-celebrated leaders in South Africa.

He was active in the student movement at UWC in the 1970s, and in the UDF and the ANC underground in the 1980s, despite suffering many bannings, house arrest orders and detentions. I learnt most of what I know about politics from Johnny, much of which I learnt in secret political classes we had most Saturday mornings.

Coline Williams, Robert Waterwitch and Ashley Kriel were of the same generation of Umkhonto we Sizwe guerrillas who were killed at a young age in Cape Town.

Autshumao and Krotoa were among the first residents of Cape Town who had to deal with the Dutch invaders in innovative ways in order to survive. I could go on and on.

My aim was not to provide a history lesson but to underscore the importance of knowing our history.

Irrespective of what is decided on the name of the airport, it would be good if the process helps us to remember our history and to honour those who sacrificed so much so that this country could be free.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 2 June 2018)

Racism is alive and kicking and must be tackled

Is the “rainbow nation” finally unravelling? This is a thought that was on my mind all week as I watched the responses to the Ashwin Willemse “no racism” incident which happened last Saturday.

For those who have been doing a Rip van Winkle for the past week, Willemse, a celebrated South African rugby player who does analysis on SuperSport, walked out of the studio after confronting his two fellow analysts - Nick Mallet and Naas Botha, also celebrated South African rugby players - for being patronising. He indicated that, despite his achievements and hard work as a rugby player, he was often seen as a quota player.

Willemse accused his co-analysts of playing rugby in the apartheid era. Botha and Mallett played for South Africa in the 1980s, while Willemse played in the 2000s.

After the walkout, which happened on live television, SuperSport was quick to respond, saying that its preliminary investigation found there was no racism involved in the incident.

This was the case in the original incident, there was plenty of racism involved in the responses from couch potato commentators - mainly from white South Africans.

Frankly, I was not surprised by the vicious responses from white South Africans - many of them highly personal and defamatory. Because this is what we have come to expect when it comes to dealing with racist incidents, especially involving rugby, which many whites still see as belonging to them, with black players and supporters intruding into an area that should have remained exclusively white - as it was in the days when Mallett and Botha played for South Africa.

The Willemse incident brought back many bad memories for me. I thought of the many times I had been patronised throughout my career, for which I fought hard and of which I am proud. I also remembered an incident a few years ago when I realised how proprietary white South Africans are of rugby.

I was the only black person invited to a function by the CEO of a white company and happened to listen in on one of the conversations involving someone who the CEO had earlier introduced to me as his best friend.

The “best friend” told people listening to him that “they had better leave rugby alone, because it has always belonged to us”.

I considered correcting him at that point and telling him about the proud tradition of rugby in the Western Cape, where I grew up, and the Eastern Cape, where I went to play rugby as a youngster, but I looked around the whites-only audience and realised that I was going to be on a hiding to nothing.

I suppose I should have walked out at that point, if I was not going to say anything, but did not want to spoil the occasion for the chief executive, who was my friend but who I realised afterwards, remained a white South African, despite our friendship.

And this is part of the problem in South Africa. Many of us seek solace in group identity when we are dealing with the uncomfortable reality of race and its after-effects in our society. I have seen over and over how many white people react almost in unison, while many black people do the same, to issues perceived to be grounded in racism.

There is no attempt to see or listen to the other side. This is what happened after the Willemse incident. And despite the protestations of SuperSport, race did play a role in what led to Willemse’s comments and actions.

So, is the “rainbow nation” unravelling? My humble submission is that it is not. Because for the “rainbow nation” to unravel, it had to be united at some point and, I believe, we have never been united. We only pretended to be.

We were so eager to move on from our apartheid past after the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela in the early 1990s, that we believed our own propaganda.

We believed that we had become the socially cohesive society that we had fought for in the Struggle against apartheid.

But social cohesion does not fall from the sky and does not happen in a few short years. Social cohesion requires continuous hard work.

It requires us to forgo our racial identities and the comfort we get from it. It requires us to listen to others who might look and sound different to us, so that we can understand their lived experiences which ultimately impacts on their world views.

Social cohesion means that we should not wait for a high-profile racial incident to discuss race and racism, because it will always mean we go into our separate corners. We need to engage racism daily, especially when it makes us feel uncomfortable.

We have never been a “rainbow nation” and we will never be unless we work hard at making it a reality. Otherwise, we will remain as divided as we were under apartheid, with the only difference being that racism is now illegal.

And we all know that just because something is illegal, it does not mean that it does not exist.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 26 May 2018)

African unity is vital to our country's prosperity

Next Friday is Africa Day, originally meant to mark the formation of the Organisation of Africa Union in 1963, when several African countries celebrated their independence from their colonisers and oppressors.

The OAU was replaced by the African Union in the early 2000s but Africa Day has remained and now serves as an opportunity for us to examine our African identity and the ways in which we act in solidarity (or not) with each other despite where we are located on the continent.

Celebrating Africa Day becomes especially important in a country like South Africa where most people have been insulated from the rest of the continent in the years of apartheid and feel threatened by the influx of fellow Africans since we became a democracy in 1994.

This has led to xenophobia in some communities where residents, struggling with their own economic realities, see people from other African countries as competition for jobs and economic wealth.

But while we might have been insulated from the rest of the continent during the apartheid years, the rest of the continent was not isolated from us.

Several African countries opened their borders and homes to political refugees from South Africa and created opportunities for study and military training for operatives from the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress, the two main liberation organisations.

These countries often did this at great risk to themselves and their own sovereignty, especially countries close to South Africa which the apartheid army could raid in search of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and African People’s Liberation Army (APLA) operatives.

Nelson Mandela was aware of the important contribution that other African countries made to our liberation and made good relations with the other countries on the continent an important part of his government’s foreign affairs policies. Thabo Mbeki understood this too and tried to build on the good work started by Madiba.

In recent years, however, much of that work has been done by a government who has been unable to understand history, geography or economics.

History tells us that we have to act in solidarity with other African countries. They have walked the long walk to freedom with us and we should at the very least treat them with dignity and respect.

Geography tells us that if one African country suffers, we are all bound to suffer because we are so close to each other. We cannot prosper as South Africa if our neighbours are suffering.

In this regard, we can learn the lessons from the Zimbabwean implosion and the effect that it had on South Africa, with many Zimbabweans fleeing their country and looking for a better life down south.

For those who tend to disregard history and geography but who listen to economics, it does not make sense to want to grow the South African economy as if we are not part of the African continent.

We need to look at how we can maximise the economic power of all the people on the continent, as opposed to just the few million in South Africa. One of the reasons China and India are taken seriously in economic terms is because they have the population size that need to be taken seriously. South Africa’s 55-odd million population, many without real economic power, pales in comparison to the billions of people to be found in India and China.

There are some South African businesses who have seen the potential on the continent and have found ways to exploit it, but this is still the exception and not the rule.

However, exploiting the potential of the continent should not be about getting as much out of the situation as you can. Instead it should be about forging partnerships which are mutually beneficial.

Business can play a role in trying to maximise the economic potential of African unity, but our political leadership will have to ensure that the citizens understand the importance of working with and learning from others who live on our continent and whose experience could be worth learning from.

It is in no one’s interests, including short-sighted politicians, to exploit the uncertainties that exist in many communities with regards to the presence of people from other African countries. It starts with accepting our own African identities. Ultimately, it is better to build African unity than to try and destroy it.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 19 May 2018)

Gnashing of teeth as De Lille puts DA on back foot

Among all the drama unfolding in the ANC (Supra Mahumapelo in North West) and the DA (Patricia de Lille in Cape Town), there was some good news this week when former head of security in Parliament, Zelda Holtzman, settled with the House and withdrew her claim in the CCMA.

In exchange, Parliament withdrew disciplinary charges against her, as well as the letter dismissing her. They also agreed to pay her until the end of her contract, a total of eight months. Throughout her fight with Parliament, Holtzman had insisted she was being victimised for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing in Parliament.

The fact that Parliament was prepared to settle is an indication there must have been merit in Holtzman’s claims.

While one can understand the eagerness of Parliament and Holtzman to settle, there is a sense of being deprived of the truth. Holtzman’s claims will remain untested and Parliament will not have an opportunity to state its case.

This desire for the truth to come out is probably what has been driving (former) Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille in her fight with the DA, the party she was supposed to represent in the city.

(The reason I have put former in brackets is because De Lille might have been reinstated in her position by the courts in between the time I wrote this column, and its publication. Such has been the twist and turns in this saga.)

De Lille has been like a nasty cold that refuses to go away for the DA, the kind of cold that will infect many people as winter sets in over the next few weeks.

But it has been good she has refused to go away, and insisted on clearing her name.

I have always been fascinated by politicians and other public figures who fall from grace and then put up spirited fights to clear their names.

One can think of many people here, but the name that comes to mind first is Brian Molefe. The more he tried to clear his name, the more he ended up digging himself deeper into a hole.

This has not been the case with De Lille. And the DA, in their desperation to get rid of her, finally used a virtually unknown clause in their constitution to show her the door. They were hoping that by removing her DA membership - not so much the mayoral chains - she would finally shut up and allow them to continue with their business, like President Cyril Ramaphosa expected from one of their MPs during question time this week.

But De Lille has refused to accept this and made another challenge in the court to invalidate their decision to withdraw her membership of the party.

I spoke to her briefly at a function last week, and she reiterated that it was not about being mayor or being a member of the DA. It was all about clearing her name that she has built up through struggle and determination over many years, including blowing the whistle on the arms deal at a time when many others were keeping quiet.

She said she has always enjoyed a good fight.

I sincerely hope De Lille does not settle out of court with the DA, and that she does not give up.

After the fight that she has put up so far, she owes it to all of us - like she has continuously said - to ventilate the charges against her in public and refute them, so that all of us can see if she is vindicated.

This will be the only way in which she will then be able to move forwards to whatever she decides is next, whether this is to join the ANC or the EFF or form her own party, or become an academic or a serial board member, like so many former politicians.

There must be some merit in De Lille’s insistence on the charges being discussed in public, and the DA has certainly made us sceptical about their real reasons for wanting to remove a woman who their leader, Mmusi Maimane, praised as recently as 2016 as someone who “has brought a great contribution to South African politics”.

Maimane said this in support of De Lille’s decision to stand for a second term as mayor of Cape Town.

No matter how the De Lille matter is finally resolved, by the courts or common sense, the damage done to the DA will be felt for a long time. The way the party has handled this matter has confirmed in the minds of many that it is still a white-controlled party with no place for strong, black and independent-minded women.

It will be interesting to see whether other parties, especially the ANC, will be able to capitalise on the DA’s many mishaps on this issue. It will be equally interesting to see where De Lille decides her future lies.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 12 May 2018)

Cries of the desperate must be heard, not ignored

Violent protests are not new in South Africa.

While it has the potential to make many people - especially those in the middle class - feel uncomfortable, it is often the only resort of people whose voices are continuously overlooked. Most of these people are not fortunate to be part of the middle class.

No one likes violence, including the people who resort to it, often in desperation. Try to place yourself in the situation of someone who lives in an area that has never known what proper service delivery is.

An area with low employment, bad housing, bad sanitation, bad schools, bad roads, bad everything.

An area where appeals to the authorities always appear to fall on deaf ears.

It is only when the victims of everything bad decide to do something bad about their plight - by burning tyres, cars or buildings - that the authorities start to pay attention.

I have never condoned violence, not even when we were trying to overthrow the apartheid regime.

But I have always tried to understand what drove normally non-violent people to engage in violent behaviour, especially during protests.

Why is it that marginalised people are only taken seriously when they resort to violence?

There is something wrong with a society that allows people’s frustrations to build up to such an extent that they see no alternative but to react violently in order to attract the attention of the authorities who have the power to intervene in their situation.

At any given time there are many protests throughout South Africa.

Not all of them turn violent, but the violent ones seem to attract the most attention.

President Cyril Ramaphosa even cut short his trip to the UK a few weeks ago, to attend to violent protests against the Premier of the North West province.

Last week, trucks were burnt down near Mooi River on the N3 by drivers who protested against losing their jobs to foreigners.

This week, we have seen violent protests in Macassar and outside Mitchells Plain by residents of Siqalo informal settlement who have been desperately trying to draw the attention of the authorities to their plight.

I might not agree with the reasons for the protests or the methods employed but I am trying hard to understand how the violence came about and how it escalated out of control.

My family were among those affected by the Mitchells Plain protests on Wednesday night and we were delayed on the N2 on Tuesday because of the Macassar protests.

At some point it became pure racial warfare between the protesters from the Siqalo informal settlement and residents of Woodlands and Colorado, the Mitchells Plain suburbs closest to the area who wanted to stop them.

It is easy to say that people should not resort to violence, and that would be possible under normal circumstances, but we still have abnormal circumstances throughout our country.

Often, the people involved in violent protests are ordinary mothers and fathers who just want to give their children the best, like everyone else in society.

They do not wake up with the intention of committing violent crimes and do not set out to act violently. But when your voice is ignored time after time, then something else happens to your psyche. Something tells you that, unless you use violence, no one is going to listen.

The only way to deal with the unhappiness that is prevalent in many parts of our society, is for the authorities to show that they are really prepared to listen to grievances, even if they are not able to deal with these immediately.

People must know that their voices are being heard. They must know that when they raise issues peacefully, they are not ignored.

We cannot afford to encourage a situation where the concerns of ordinary people are only heard and dealt with after they turn violent.

That is too late, because by that time the damage has already been done. The TV cameras have already shown the world the pictures of a people who know no other way of protesting but through violence.

There has been much talk of a ‘New Dawn’, since the election of President Cyril Ramaphosa. But the New Dawn will mean nothing if it is not accompanied by a willingness to really listen and act on the concerns of people who are normally ignored by authorities.

In my experience, most South Africans are peace loving. None of us should ever be placed in a situation where we feel that the only way to achieve what we want is through violence.

This rule should apply as much to the residents of Siqalo as to the residents of Woodlands and Colorado.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 5 May 2018)

ANC needs to convince voters it deserves another shot

Politics in the Western Cape has always been interesting, but it looks like it will become even more fascinating over the next few months as we head towards the national elections scheduled for the middle of next year.

The ANC has shown its intentions with the appointment of former premier Ebrahim Rasool as the party’s election co-ordinator for 2019.

The DA appears to be caught up in internal politics, mainly revolving around the position of mayor Patricia de Lille, while the EFF is probably watching this with great interest and anticipation.

For the first time in a long time, it looks like the province is up for grabs, and whoever can convince the electorate that they can deliver “a better life for all” (to steal the ANC’s 1994 election campaign slogan) will surely walk away the victors.

From my interactions with Rasool over more than 30 years, he has always impressed me as someone who has the interests of the broader society at heart. He is someone who can think beyond the ANC, even though there is no questioning his loyalty to the party.

His “Home for All” campaign, which he ran as premier more than 10 years ago, indicated a willingness and understanding of the complexities of the Western Cape, where identity politics play a much more significant role than anywhere else in the country.

Part of the reason for this is probably the preponderance of people known as “coloureds” in the Western Cape, which is unlike any other province in South Africa.

Rasool also did remarkably well as South Africa’s ambassador to the US where he was based throughout Barack Obama’s terms in office.

By deploying Rasool to head up its election team for next year, the ANC is hoping to be able to convince Capetonians that it deserves another shot at ruling the city and the province.

They are also hoping that “Ramaphoria”, the excitement created for the party by the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the party and the country, will rub off on the Western Cape.

The ANC is hoping to capitalise on the DA’s obsession with getting rid of the popular De Lille as mayor. None of the people who have been touted as replacements for De Lille, enjoy even half her popularity.

But politics has never been that clear cut and has never only been about personalities. This is especially the case in the Western Cape, where progressive intellectuals have struggled to understand the ANC’s difficulty in convincing the electorate to support the party, despite the apparent popular support for someone like Nelson Mandela.

There have been allegations of racism against those members of the “coloured” community who supported first the National Party and then the DA against the ANC, despite the role the ANC played in the liberation of all South Africans.

This is probably partly true, but voter choices could also be because of the perception among voters about who would be best-placed to deliver improvements in their lives and communities.

The ANC will have to convince the voters of the Western Cape that the Jacob Zuma era, which was punctuated by an elite enriching themselves at the expense of the majority, is truly over and that the new administration is focused on delivery.

The DA, being the incumbents in the province, has an advantage in that they can show concretely what they have and will deliver.

It does not help for the ANC to show what they have delivered in other provinces.

It will be interesting to see whether there will be any fall-out from the DA’s axing of De Lille, which the party appears determined to do.

However, there is no guarantee that people who supported De Lille until now will follow her wherever she decides to go. People appear to be more loyal to parties than to individuals.

Whoever wants to win the Western Cape will have to convince the majority of its residents - in this case the “coloured” community - that they have their best interests at heart.

Rasool will have to do this on behalf of the ANC, but his reassurances will have to be backed up by the people in government who will have to deliver on his promises.

Being chosen to be the ANC’s election co-ordinator in the Western Cape is, in many ways, a poisoned chalice. The ANC’s support in the province is at an all-time low and improving it marginally will not do much good.

It will require a superhuman effort by all involved to improve it to a level where it can matter.

If anyone is up to the challenge, then it is Rasool, who has proven himself over the years. But there is an argument to be made against recycling leaders and not blooding young leaders who would be more in touch with young voters who are, after all, the future.

It looks like the election campaign in the Western Cape will once again live up to expectations. It has never failed to provide much excitement in the past.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 28 April 2018)

Youth is not wasted on the young, only on Malema

I have never believed in dampening the exuberance of youth. Throughout the world and throughout history the young have always expressed themselves more forcefully than older people and been in the vanguard of people seeking change, whether it was seeking to change capitalist societies into communist ones, or vice-versa, or wanting to change apartheid South Africa into a country that embraced non-racial democracy. 

This has helped me to understand people such as Julius Malema and his EFF, who speak mainly to a young constituency. I try to understand the real message they are conveying. 

Listening to Malema over the past few weeks and especially at Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral service last week, it is clear that Malema is more interested in political point-scoring and satisfying the need (or rather want) of his constituency for soundbites and quotable quotes than in helping to build a united country. 

If that was what he set out to achieve, then his speech at the funeral was a success. He trended on social media for the past week with many people using #juliusmalemachallenge when they sought a “signal from Mama” about various issues, mainly flippant and not in keeping with the dignity of the occasion when he spoke the words.

Malema has also trended with his suggestion that Cape Town International Airport be renamed after Madikizela-Mandela. It would appear that Malema cleverly used inside information, that Transport Minister Blade Nzimande had asked for the airport in Cape Town to be renamed after Nelson Mandela, to throw a spanner in the ANC’s plans and steer the discussion in another direction. 

But there were two things that worried me about his speech. The one was the lack of acknowledgement of Jacob Zuma when he spoke about former presidents.

It was inappropriate and could have been better handled by him saying something like: “Out of respect for Mama Winnie, I will today even acknowledge Zuma as a former president, something I would not normally do.” He would have made his point as effectively. But to pretend the man was not there, as if he doesn’t exist, was childish and not becoming of a party which hopes to rule us some day.

The second thing that worried me about Malema’s speech was the mass exodus of EFF supporters, in their red T-shirts, immediately after their commander-in-chief spoke.

I could not help wondering whether this was a planned walkout and whether the EFF leadership was aware it was going to happen. It was a brilliant way of showing their support in the full glare of the TV cameras. 

One of the reasons, I believe, the EFF will struggle to win much more support than what they enjoy at the moment is because they are effectively a one-trick-pony party. They know how to oppose but they must still learn to build. They must learn that sometimes statesmanship works better than outright anger and opposition.

For the past 24 years, the ANC has had to learn the difference between being a resistance movement and a political party governing the country and most of its provinces. It has not been an easy lesson.

The EFF needs to learn that our democracy has many legs and each requires a different response. For instance, if you are a political party operating in Parliament that makes our legislation, then you should allow yourself to be subjected to this legislation and the courts that are trying to implement it.

I hold no brief for AfriForum and similar organisations, but they have the right to prosecute whoever they want. The law allows them to.

The fact that they are planning to bring a private prosecution against Malema for fraud and corruption is more of an indictment of our ineffective justice system which gives opportunists like AfriForum the chance to take matters into their own hands.

Malema’s response to the news that AfriForum is bringing a private prosecution against him has been to point out that a white organisation and private prosecutor were planning to prosecute a black man.

Malema tweeted on Thursday: “Bring it on bloody racists, you don’t scare me at all. I’m born ready!

No white man will decide my destiny, the poor masses of our people will.”

It was a predictable response from someone who markets himself as a firebrand. But maybe, in this case, his response should have been something about respecting the rule of law and the courts.

There are many people in my circles who are watching Malema eagerly because they are looking for an alternative to the ANC, especially after the past 10 years or so of craziness that beset Africa’s oldest liberation organisation.

Granted, we are not the EFF’s target market, but we do have votes and many of us do have a bit of influence.

We are looking for a signal from the EFF that they are worthy of support, but until they learn to move beyond exuberance, rhetoric and anger, it will be difficult to trust them to govern properly.

People in government need to be concerned about the entire population, even those who did not vote for them and I am not convinced that the EFF can do this.

I hope they will prove me wrong.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 21 April 2018)

Honour our nation’s Mama by empowering others

While thousands of people converged on Orlando Stadium on Wednesday to pay tribute to Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela-Mandela, I was facilitating the Top Empowerment conference a few kilometres away. I knew where my heart was at that time, but my head needed to be somewhere else.

I consoled myself with the knowledge this was probably the best way to pay tribute to Mama Winnie, by talking about and interrogating something that was close to her heart.

Empowerment is about uplifting those who never had opportunities under apartheid and reducing inequality, poverty and unemployment in our special country. And South Africa is special. I don’t think many other nations have gone through so much pain and joy in one lifetime, sometimes at the same time.

As far as empowerment goes, it appears we are making progress, but the progress is not as fast as we expected. The one difference appears to be that more corporates are realising that empowerment is not something to fear, but something that should be embraced. At previous conferences on this topic, I always got a sense that most corporates attended because they were looking for ways in which to get away with doing as little as possible about black economic empowerment and employment equity, two of the pillars of empowerment.

But, as always, the personal reflections were special and none more so than the story of Marcia Mayaba, a dealer principal in the male-dominated motor industry.

Her story was no different, but also very different, to the story of many young women on the Cape Flats, even though she is originally from Orlando East, literally a stone’s throw away from where the memorial for Mama Winnie took place.

Mayaba was raised by her mother and had to drop out of university in order to raise her two younger sisters when her mother died of breast cancer in 1995. My older sisters were taken out of school by my mother when they were considered old enough to work. This meant that I was able to get an education at their expense.

Mayaba was nervous before delivering her presentation and blamed it partly on the fact that she was getting married on April 27, Freedom Day.

But when the nerves settled, she spoke passionately about an industry she loves. She encouraged more women to look for opportunities in the industry.

“I have lost count of how many times I was the first woman, or the first black woman in my career of more than 20 years. There are too few women, especially black women, in the motor industry. We need to kill gender bias in the industry,” she said.

Gender bias in the industry came to the forefront last week when chartered accountant Adila Chowan won her case against Imperial Holdings who, the North Gauteng High Court found, had impaired her dignity. Imperial’s chief executive, Mark Lamberti, was accused of referring to her as an “employment equity” candidate when she was overlooked for the position of chief financial officer.

This is part of a challenge Mayaba has faced most of her working life. But she said she was not prepared to rise to the top on her own. She wanted to take other women with her. There is no better definition of empowerment. It is about taking people with you on the journey to success. It is about sharing the wealth in our society so that most people can be uplifted.

As I listened to her, I found myself thinking about another woman whose story has inspired me in the past week. Ruschda O’Shea, who has been in education for more than 23 years, has just been appointed as the principal of San Souci Girls High School, “the first principal of colour” to have been appointed to this position, according to media reports.

The news brought a smile to my face - apart from the “first person of colour” bit which still irks me 24 years into our democracy - because I worked very closely with O’Shea almost 10 years ago when she was acting principal of Crystal High School in Hanover Park, where I completed my schooling.

I remember asking her at the time what the school needed and she said they needed a big pot which they could use to give learners soup once a week and uniforms for the netball team.

It was a small request, but it meant so much to the children at the school.

O’Shea left Crystal after the principal, who had been suspended, was reinstated. She became the principal of Tafelsig High School, where she remained for eight years and was a huge success, raising their matric pass rate to above 90%.

Her commitment to education has been rewarded by her appointment to a significantly better-resourced school.

I am happy about the success of Mayaba and O’Shea - from very different but similar backgrounds - but can’t help wondering when “the first woman” or “the first black woman” will no longer be news.

We need to move to a point where the appointment of competent women will be the norm and not the exception. And when they are appointed, they must receive all the support they deserve.

This is what true empowerment is about and this should be how we pay tribute to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 14 April 2018)

Madikizela-Mandela’s death exposes a divided SA

This week should have been mainly about commemorating the birthday of the late legendary trumpeter Hugh Masekela, or the 90th birthday of revered American poet and author, Dr Maya Angelou, who passed away almost four years ago, or the 50th anniversary of the assassination of American civil rights leader, Reverend Dr Martin Luther King.

Instead, the week has been dominated by the death at 81 of Struggle stalwart Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela-Mandela, considered by most South Africans as the mother of the nation.

The news of Madikizela-Mandela’s passing completely overshadowed the death of another amazing pioneering South African woman, Pam Golding, who took on the white male business establishment, against great odds, in the 1970s.

She went on to establish arguably the biggest real estate agency in the country, and one of the most successful internationally. Yes, it did help that she was white and that gave her access to certain opportunities under apartheid, but it still took guts to do what she did.

Madikizela-Mandela’s death also made us overlook the remarkable life of another great Cape Town woman, Faieza Desai, who passed away at the age of 51 last Friday. In her death, she defied traditional and sexist Muslim tradition when women were allowed at her graveside.

Women are not normally allowed at the graveside at Muslim funerals, even if the deceased was a woman. They normally have to wait at home and prepare food for the men when they return from the cemetery.

But in a week when the history and legacy of Madikizela-Mandela dominated the public discourse, it is important to think about the many other great women who have also contributed to our freedom, whether it was from apartheid or sexism.

It is not only women from Madikizela-Mandela’s generation. There are women who led the way before, and there are others who are still leading the way.

If the struggle against racism is far from over, then the struggle for gender equality has even further to go.

Often the contribution of women in society is tied to their relationship with men. In most cases, women only get recognised as the wife or partner of a man. I have frequently remarked on the sexism of the saying “behind ever successful man is a woman”, because it implies women must stand behind their men, not beside them and definitely not in front of them.

Like most South Africans, I was shocked when I heard the news about Madikizela-Mandela’s passing on Monday afternoon. But I have not been surprised by the vitriol spewed by mainly white South Africans, who always appear to be desperately looking for ways to denigrate the achievements of black South Africans.

I have given up on trying to understand the views of people who continually try to create a rift between Nelson Mandela and the people, and the organisation he always represented and served.

Many of the people who invoke Mandela’s name nowadays never voted for him when they had an opportunity, something they will conveniently not admit, just like the racists who voted for the apartheid regime will never admit that they did.

Some black people on social media have responded by vilifying the legacy of Golding and making racist comments on stories about her passing.

That is not helpful. In some ways, we are talking past each other.

If anything, Madikizela-Mandela’s death has once again shown up the deep divide that continues to exist in South Africa, almost 24 years into our democracy. We cannot move forward as a country unless we deal with the deep discomfort some of us feel towards others which surfaces at times like this.

I have always tried to explain the divisions in South Africa as based on the huge inequalities that exist in our society, but this week’s comments - from both blacks and whites - indicate that the divide is based on much more.

Even if we eradicate all the economic inequality in our society, we will still not have dealt with the psychological inequality, something that exists not only in South Africa but throughout the world.

There appears to be an impatience among many whites who feel that we should “move on” from our apartheid past. Instead of asking us to do that, they should try to understand the roots of our anger.

I believe I had a relatively easy life, even though I grew up very poor.

But I had my share of being denied opportunities because of my race; of experiencing police brutality; of being arrested and detained without warning and without reason; of having to pass by white beaches until we got to the worst one (which was reserved for blacks); of having to sit upstairs or at the back of buses because only white people could sit downstairs or in front, of watching my dad being called “boy” by white people young enough to be his children.

I’m sorry but if the white people who attacked Madikizela-Mandela so blatantly and viciously on social media this week want to be part of South Africa, they must try to understand our pain in order to understand our anger. If they refuse to do so, they might as well go live in Australia.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weeken Argus on Saturday 7 April 2018)

We assumed inherent racism would disappear

It is easy for anti-racists and non-racists to rejoice after the sentencing of former estate agent Vicki Momberg to an effective two-year prison sentence for racism, after she used the K-word repeatedly - 48 times - in her interaction with police officers and call centre agents after an alleged smash-and- grab incident outside Joburg in 2016.

Momberg had to pay for her crime - because racism is a crime and should be punished - and magistrate Pravina Rugoonandan needs to be commended for her ruling which will ensure that, for the first time in South Africa, someone will be jailed for uttering racist terms towards someone who might not look or sound like her.

Momberg is appealing the sentence but has already spent time in jail because her bail was revoked after sentencing.

It is a good moment for our democracy and will hopefully ensure racists - black or white - will think twice before using derogatory terms about others.

However, why do conditions still exist in our country that make it possible for racists to think they can easily get away with perpetuating racism, whether this be blatant or subtle.  

Surely, almost 24 years since we voted for the first time in democratic South Africa on April 27, 1994, we should have moved on to deal with racism in a more concerted manner?

And surely, when we embraced each other as part of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s favourite concept of a “rainbow nation”, we should have made a commitment to treat each other with dignity and respect, as the magistrate pointed out in her ruling this week.

The reality is that South Africa has not really dealt with the racism at the root of 300 years of colonialism and 50 years of apartheid. We believed that we could easily move on from a situation of severe repression and oppression to one in which we would all embrace each other unconditionally.

Behind any acts of racism is a belief of superiority, based on perceived differences. This is why it is more likely to find white racists than black racists, but this does not mean black racists do not exist.

As whites are likely to have privilege, not only in South Africa but also in most parts of the world, it stands to reason racism would emanate mainly from whites.

When we became a democracy, many South Africans tried to put the past behind us without interrogating the reasons we had that past.

We never looked at the factors that allowed white supremacists to rule our country so long, despite them being a minority.

We never looked at how we could repair the damage done by centuries of colonialism and decades of apartheid.

We never looked at how we could prevent a similar situation from occurring in future.

We assumed because legalised racism was something of the past, inherent racism would also be.

But the many incidents of racism prevalent in our society - and the Momberg one is but the tip of the iceberg - show we cannot relax and pretend everything is okay in ubuntu South Africa.

The first step towards dealing with racism is to admit it is a problem. Yes, we can legislate and even imprison a few people, but that will never be enough to deal with the problem at a much greater level.

We have legislation against so many things, but that does not seem to have much impact in a society where many people seem to take risks and get away with criminal activity, because they don’t get caught and, if they do get caught, they do not get convicted.

The Momberg incident would probably also not have had this conclusion if the whole incident was not video-recorded and shared on social media.

Momberg would probably just have put this down to a stressful experience and moved on with her life. She would probably have thought nothing about using the K-word again afterwards.

Racism is often based on ignorance - because those who perpetuate racism do not know enough about people who they perceive to be different to them - and the best way to deal with ignorance is through education.

We need to have continuous conversations throughout our country where we look at our apartheid and colonial history and the damage it has done. We need to, together, find ways of making sure we are able to move forward properly.

But we also need to look at how we can change behaviour permanently. Momberg might serve her time, but will she come out a better person on the other end? Or will she continue to harbour racist thoughts? The only difference then is that she does not verbalise those thoughts and that could be even more dangerous to society, especially if there are thousands, if not millions, of others who feel the same.

While we rejoice at the imprisonment of a racist, we need to realise this is only the start. There are many more like her and they might not be deterred by a possible prison sentence.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 31 March 2018)

Sorry isn't good enough anymore Mr Shivambu

South Africans are mostly forgiving. Sometimes, in pursuit of ubuntu, it almost seems as if we want transgressors to apologise so we can forgive them.

When former police minister Adriaan Vlok apologised despite overseeing the apartheid police, we applauded him as if that was enough to erase the years of oppression he oversaw.

We almost willed former president PW Botha to apologise in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so that we could forgive him and move on. We even forgave former prsident FW de Klerk for his role in apartheid. Some of us argued that he deserved his Nobel Peace Prize because he had moved our country to democracy.

More recently, we have seen several high-profile instances where politicians have apologised for transgressions and moved on.

Some of us were almost hoping former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, Premier David Makhura or Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi - anybody - would apologise for the deaths of 144 people in the Life Esidimeni tragedy, so we could forgive them. As much as we sympathise with the victims, we are always keen to forgive transgressors.

We have forgiven so many people for their blatant racism, which sometimes they blamed on lapses of judgment, or fatigue or both.

We have become so accustomed to accepting apologies and then allowing the transgressors to continue with their lives.

But sometimes an apology is not enough.

No amount of apologising can make up for apartheid; the millions confined to Bantustan homelands.

Yet black people, who form the majority in our country, have been patiently trying to find ways of forgiving. Maybe it has something to do with the crimes committed during apartheid being so huge that it is easier to forgive than to prosecute. The latter would probably take centuries.

Yet, even if there has been an apology, it does not mean that we should forget.

It is probably within the context of the easy apology that EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu thought it appropriate to apologise in the least contrite of statements after he attacked a journalist.

Throughout the statement, Shivambu refers to his attack on the journalist as a “scuffle”, trying to underplay what had happened. But what happened is that a leader of a significant political party in our country chose to use violence against a member of the media, ostensibly because he did not like the race of the journalist.

Shivambu ended the statement: “The EFF, which I represent in Parliament and am deputy president of, upholds media freedom, and freedom of association. As a loyal member of the EFF, I fully uphold media freedom and freedom of association and the scuffle was not meant to suppress these constitutional principles.

“I will not do media interviews concerning the incident because I believe there are important other issues to speak about in the public discourse than a scuffle. ”

Of course, instead of censuring their deputy president, the EFF praised him for his apology. This is not unusual because the EFF president, Julius Malema, has probably transgressed in much bigger ways.

And just like that, Shivambu thinks it is possible to move along without any repercussions, because that is how we do things in South Africa.

Maybe he is right that an assault on a journalist is a small thing and we have much bigger things to worry about, such as poverty, inequality, joblessness and, of course, land restitution.

But politicians need to set an example to the public otherwise, very soon, we could see more journalists assaulted because people do not like their race or the publication they represent.

The political climate leading up to the national elections next year will become intense and many people will say things for which they will later be forced to apologise.

But apologies mean nothing if they do not have consequences. Shivambu has presented the EFF, Parliament and the courts with a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that politicians will not be allowed to get away with it.

Political conduct is not only determined by how politicians react to big issues like Life Esidimeni. It is also determined by how they conduct themselves daily, including interaction with the media.

If we do not now deal with Shivambu and Malema for that matter, we will not be able to deal with the vitriol that will no doubt spew closer to the elections.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 24 March 2018)

Management’s big mistake putting the old out in cold

Shortly after I heard the sad news about the passing of Stephen Hawking on Wednesday morning, I had a disturbing conversation with a good friend who was laid off work about six months ago. I didn't think the two things were related but, after thinking about it quite a bit, I realised they were.

Hawking was one of the most brilliant minds ever and spent large parts of his life explaining the universe, black holes and relativity. He was without doubt the most famous scientist in the world. 

Having been diagnosed with a rare form of motor neuron disease in his early 20s, and given a limited time to live, he defied the odds and passed away at the age of 76. His mind remained active, despite his disability. 

This brings me to my friend, who I shall not identify to protect his privacy. He is one of the most brilliant technical people I have met and takes great pleasure in understanding and mastering all kinds of computer operating and design systems. We worked together more than 20 years ago when I was asked to manage a fourth-wave technology project and he was one of the resources made available to me. 

I learnt much more from him than he learnt from me. He was one of the hardest working people I knew. Over the years we remained in contact and saw each other from time to time. The last time we spoke, he told me about how the company he had been serving loyally for more than 20 years had sent him abroad to study new software that they hoped to use locally. He was very excited about this software, which he now understood better than anybody in the company.

Yet soon afterwards, the company faced some economic challenges and they decided to lay off some people, including him. This was despite them going ahead with the implementation of the new software. They figured they could probably bring somebody from overseas or somebody else could learn how to deal with the software.

In one stupid management decision, the company lost years of intellectual knowledge that they had built up over many years, knowledge he could now make available to others.

For the past six months, he told me this week, he has sent his CV to just about anybody he could think of, without any success. He has become despondent and has had to sell off some assets to make ends meet. I cannot believe that someone with such incredible skills and experience could struggle to find work.

I can only think that he is considered too old. He is in his early 50s.

I am in my late 50s and I have begun to wonder about at which point one no longer becomes useful to society. I have been fortunate that my skills and experience are still being sought by many people and companies, and I share them happily. I am still able to make a relatively decent living, even though some months are better than others, but that is the plight of anybody who does project-related work.

There are certain things that only come with experience and my big concern is that, because South Africa has such a huge unemployment problem, especially among young people, older people will be the first casualties and with them will disappear an intellectual memory that can never be replaced.

There will always be a clamour to create job opportunities for young people, but can we really afford to lose years of skills and experience? We must find a way of using the expertise of older people to create opportunities for younger people.

Obviously, political parties will focus on the youth because they form the majority in society and have the potential to determine who becomes our elected political leaders. They could also be an investment in the future. But clever political leaders will consider the valuable contribution that can be made by people who have done the hard yards. It does not have to be a matter of choosing youth or experience. There must be a way of choosing both.

Imagine if someone had told Stephen Hawking that he should retire at 60, because that is the retirement age for scientists. Or if Nelson Mandela was disallowed from becoming South Africa’s first democratically-elected president at the age of 75 because he was considered too old.

There is a saying that age is nothing but a number, but it is not. It is much more than that. It could indicate a lifetime worth of experience that could be put to great use in society. Mandela, at 75, was not too old. Hawking, at 76, was probably taken away too soon. My friend, at just over 50, is still a spring chicken in comparison but, unless he finds work soon, all his skills and experience could be lost to society. That would be a shame. Unfortunately, his story is not unique.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 17 March 2018)

DA's Day Zero rapid changes too hard to swallow

There is a disease that seems to afflict many supposed public servants in South Africa. They struggle to take the public into their confidence and often do things that are not in the public interest.

This is nothing new. Public servants - and I include elected political leaders - have been lying to the public for many years, probably for as long as politicians have been around.

One of the biggest scandals of the apartheid era was the Information Scandal, which revolved around the government ploughing millions of rand into a huge misinformation campaign, including starting an English-language newspaper aimed at breaking down what was seen as the English media’s opposition to government. That newspaper still exists.

More recently, we have had scandal after scandal, including ones involving the millions spent on Nkandla and many involving the Gupta family.

“Smaller” lies have been perpetuated by people such as Malusi Gigaba, the Home Affairs Minister who did not know who had been granted citizenship, and former Public Enterprises minister Lynne Brown, who claimed to have been given wrong information by state-owned enterprises who reported to her, information which she then shared with the public.

The examples are too many to mention in a limited space such as this.

Now it seems the people of Cape Town might have been fed a huge lie by the DA for the past few months.

I have thought about the water crisis in Cape Town from all angles and, the more I think about it and the way it has been handled, I can’t help but conclude that the DA has been using the water crisis to sort out internal political issues.

If that is the case, then the DA should be ashamed that they have sunk as low, if not lower, than the ANC which they love to criticise.

How do you explain that “Day Zero”, a term probably coined by Tony Leon’s public relations company, has shifted so much in the space of a few months?

In October, mayor Patricia de Lille said Cape Town could run out of water by March this year, if Capetonians did not reduce their daily personal water consumption.

Then DA leader Mmusi Maimane became involved in the crisis at the end of January, side-lining De Lille in the process.

“Day Zero” - then calculated to be in April - was first brought forward and then, within weeks, shifted weeks and then months later.

Now, it appears, in the words of Maimane, “provided we continue consuming water at current levels, and we receive decent winter rainfall this year, Day Zero will not occur in 2018”.

A few weeks ago, everyone in authority was still complaining about the millions of residents who were not complying. How did that turn around so quickly?

There are not many examples in the world of consumer behaviour changing so radically and in a matter of two months. Yes, some of us changed our behaviour, but definitely not most people.

There is no doubt that the water crisis facing the Western Cape is the biggest it has faced, at least in recent history.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to realise the dam levels are at their lowest in years. One only has to drive around in the rural areas to see farms dying and dams, such as Theewaterskloof, virtually empty.

Desalination plants and “importing” water from surrounding municipalities can help, but not to the extent that the crisis will almost disappear, which it has, if Maimane is to be believed.

There can only be two explanations for what transpired this week: either the crisis was not as big as originally thought or the DA has decided there are other more important things that need its focus.

From where I am sitting, it appears the DA has realised it needs other, bigger, issues if it is to have any hope of beating the ANC in next year’s national elections. There can be no other explanation.

The water crisis was nothing more than a huge crisis that the DA could exploit to show up the ANC’s inefficiencies. Their messaging throughout this crisis has always been about how the city is in crisis because national government (code word for the ANC) was not doing its work.

In typical public servant mode, they refused to accept responsibility for their own role in manufacturing this crisis.

What this crisis has taught me is that, given the opportunity to rule, any opposition party will quickly adopt some of the bad habits of typical ruling parties, and that includes lying to the people they are supposed to represent.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 10 May 2018)

Skip colour, age or tribe - ministers must perform

After President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his first Cabinet reshuffle late on Monday night, many South Africans were more pre-occupied with the number of people in Cabinet with whom they could identify than the skills and experience of those appointed.

After feeling disappointed that he did not go far enough, I now realise Ramaphosa did reasonably well with his maiden Cabinet reshuffle. He is operating under severe restrictions in the ANC because of the narrow margin by which he won the presidency at the elective conference in December.

So, to take out 10 suspect ministers a week after outsmarting the wily Jacob Zuma is a feat not to be scoffed at.

My hope, though, is that after the Cabinet review he will have another opportunity to remove some others because of their portfolios falling away or being merged.

But while logical people would look at the skills and experience of those appointed, there are many who only look at whether Ramaphosa appointed ministers who look and sound like them.

There is a weird assumption that if someone looks and sounds like me, he will probably think like me too and he will have my best interests at heart.

But I am alarmed when people list the ages of the Cabinet members on social media and say not enough young people have been appointed. I agree that we need to create more opportunities for young people at all levels of society, but it must never be just because they are young. At the level of the Cabinet, in fact, it must be about how competent they are. If you are young, that should almost be a bonus.

As someone who was young once, I have realised that there are many things that I would have done differently. I was one of the youngest people to be appointed editor of the Cape Times, but it was only after I left the paper and reflected on some of the things I did that I realised I made many mistakes which I would not repeat having had the benefit of more experience and, dare I say it, wisdom. I am not saying my experience is indicative of all young people, but it’s the experience I know.

One of the other criticisms of the Cabinet is the number of women who have been appointed, but this perception is probably tainted by the disappointment at the choice of Bathabile Dlamini as the minister responsible for women.

I agree that women are under-represented in many areas where it matters. But being a woman should not be the major reason for being appointed to the Cabinet. Competence should always be the main reason. The other criticism of the new appointments is that there is not enough of this or that racial or tribal group. Some people seem to have nothing better to do than to scan people’s profiles to see which racial or tribal group they belong to.

I have never supported group identity, because it’s the easiest way to perpetuate situations of us and them. If I belong to one group, then surely there must be many others to which I don’t belong and with whom I should take issue.

I prefer to look at what I can learn and, in some cases, adopt from my interactions with different groups of people. Having said that, we must be conscious of how we put together groups of people in South Africa, especially with something as important as the Cabinet.

At Cabinet level, however, I care less about the colour, gender or age of ministers than about their ability to deliver. Hopefully, all ministers will have proper performance agreements with the president, which will be used to assess their fitness to hold office going forward.

If Bathabile Dlamini does not deliver, then she must go, even if it will upset her ANC Women’s League constituency. If Blade Nzimande does not sort out our transport problems, then he must go, even if it upsets the SACP. The same should apply to all ministers. If they don’t perform, they should be fired - even if it upsets those who supposedly look and sound like them.

In the end, we are all South Africans and we want the best for our country.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 3 March 2018)

#Budget2018: Ramaphosa and Gigaba have failed SA

I was sitting at OR Tambo International airport this week and overheard someone speaking on the phone. His words were roughly: “Do we know somebody at X municipality? We need to talk to them about this tender.” He then went on to say how important it was to speak to the right person so that his company could influence the tender process.

His comments, a week after Parliament elected a new president - who has promised us a corruption-free government - once again convinced me that the road ahead is not going to be easy. There are too many people who are used to “eating”, and they will not stop “eating” voluntarily. The problem is not only at national government level, but probably more prevalent in local government.

It was ironic that the municipality he was referring to is named after a respected communist leader who would probably be turning in his grave knowing that crimes of corruption are being committed in a municipality bearing his name.

It is good that everyone seems to be falling in love with our “brand-new, out-of-the-box” president (my apologies to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu who used this phrase in relation to Nelson Mandela), but Cyril Ramaphosa will need much more than his considerable political skills to effect real change in our society.

Already, Ramaphosa has failed his first test when the finance minister he inherited and who, by all accounts, appears to be living on borrowed time, delivered a Budget speech that should make all of us face reality.

It will take much more than walks - whether they be on the beachfront or from township to township - and quoting legendary jazz saxophonist Hugh Masekela to get South Africa back in the shape that we all know it can be. He will also need a lot more than the Mandela magic that he will inevitably turn to at regular intervals this year, in what would have been Madiba’s 100th birthday year.

If the Budget is an extension of the cabinet’s wishes, which is also an extension of the president’s vison, then Ramaphosa and Malusi Gigaba have failed the nation with the first opportunity they had to show us that things are improving now that Jacob Zuma is no longer Number One.

A caring government would never increase VAT, which directly impacts on the poor. The 1 percentage point increase will offset the additional R90 social grant recipients are receiving. But the increased tax on petrol will also have the effect of pushing up food prices, which will probably impact on the poor even more.

There are people who argue that we need to accept the hardships bound to be imposed by the Budget because it is part of undoing the damage done by nine years of Zuma rule. Some are also pointing out positives, such as that more students will now be able to study without paying university fees. It’s a pity the focus on education does not extend beyond tertiary education. It should include basic and even pre-school education.

As with any Budget, there will be people who will see the glass as half-empty while others will see it as half-full, but the Budget was the first real opportunity for Ramaphosa to show his intention to do things differently to his predecessor, to go beyond the beautiful speeches and the healthy walks.

Budgets, while appearing to be highly complicated, are very simple. A Budget is based on the rule that you can only spend what you have. If you spend more than you have, you end up borrowing, which comes with interest, which adds to your spending.

With all his faults, former president Thabo Mbeki insisted on reducing South Africa’s deficit, which decreased the amount we borrowed.

The more we borrow, the more we are likely to be influenced by the people from who we borrow, usually foreign governments and international institutions with dubious agendas. And we will always be beholden to what a former finance minister called the “amorphous markets”.

Any good Budget must have a balance between increasing revenue and reducing spending or, at least, spending mainly on what is necessary. Part of our problem is that we lost much of our national fiscus to corruption and mismanagement.

At the same time, the revenue service has focused too much time on political and internal issues and has gone backwards in the drive to collect taxes. Additionally, some state-owned entities have been corrupted to such an extent that it will take major surgery to repair them.

What happens next is even more important than the Budget. Hopefully, by the time you read this column, Ramaphosa would have introduced a new, much-leaner cabinet from which he would have dropped all ministers who face state capture allegations, including the finance minister (we can only live in hope).

To help us get out of the hole we are in, South Africa needs its best brains in leadership positions in government, not only as ministers but also as senior civil servants. The political allegiance of these people should not matter, only their competence and their commitment to the national project.

Ramaphosa still has enough goodwill among many sectors of society to enable him to “send” people into jobs where they can make a difference. He may be forgiven for this year’s Budget, but he will not be forgiven if the situation has not radically improved by next year.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 24 February 2018)

SA received an almost perfect Valentine’s Day gift

Lest we forget, Valentine’s Day has a bloody history. It did not start out as a day on which many people throughout the world celebrate love.
Instead, depending on who you believe, it either began with the beheading of a Roman priest called Saint Valentine in the third century, or an Italian bishop who was apparently executed for trying to convert the emperor to Christianity. These are among many stories which try to explain the origins of Valentine’s Day.

In short, Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with love, an association which annually makes billions internationally for retailers who sell love-related products. Because of its history, we should not be surprised that Valentine’s Day 2018 will go down in history as one of the bloodiest days in South African politics in recent years.

It was the day on which we saw the President of South Africa being forced to resign - the second time this has happened in democratic South Africa.

But unlike Thabo Mbeki 10 years ago, who resigned almost immediately after being recalled by the ANC, Jacob Zuma tried desperately to hold on to the most senior political office in the country.

He even abused the offices of the public broadcaster a few hours before his resignation.

This was indeed one of the most interesting weeks in South African politics, and we have had many of those.

But as we become used to saying and writing “former President Zuma” and “President Cyril Ramaphosa”, it is important to reflect on how we got to this situation and how to avoid it happening again.

The instability caused by the impasse over the presidency of the country impacted on all South Africans. Because of the vast gap - about 18 months - between the ANC’s elective conference and the country’s elections, it is likely that we will have a similar situation when Ramaphosa comes to the end of his term as ANC president.

This could be in five years or a maximum of 10 years.

Even if Ramaphosa becomes the best president of democratic South Africa, that will not be enough to stop his party turning on him when the time comes.

Up until about a week ago, Zuma still believed that one of the reasons he should not be recalled was that “the people still love me”.

Whichever faction wins the day at the ANC’s elective conference will want to put their preferred leader in place.

This is, of course, if the ANC is still the governing party in five or 10 years, something that began to look increasingly unlikely in the last few years of Zuma’s reign.

But the unceremonious end to Zuma’s presidency was brought about not because of the “two centres of power” argument. It came because the ANC realised that, with him in the prominent position he occupied, there was a strong chance of the opposition taking more than the Western Cape in the elections scheduled for next year.

They just did not know how to tell him what he’d done wrong because, if you think about this properly, all the ANC’s leaders share some culpability for allowing Zuma to destroy the once-proud liberation movement, much of the security sector and parts of the state-owned entities and the financial and economic sectors in South Africa.

After all, they voted for him to become ANC president in December 2007 and the country’s president in May 2009, despite his having been involved in a rape trial and with many charges of corruption hanging over him. They voted for him to continue as ANC president five years later and for him to have a second term as the country’s president.

Zuma’s presidency has once again illustrated the dangers of populism.

We need to choose political leaders for better reasons than their popularity, which is probably too much to ask. But leaders need to have the necessary skills to deal with the complex issues in a country that was ravaged under colonialism and apartheid. It does not deserve also to be ravaged in democracy.

The country and the world are living in hope that things will improve under President Ramaphosa. Why would it not, because surely anything will be better than what we have been subjected to over the past few years?

But the biggest lesson we should learn from the Zuma years is that we should never leave the destiny of our country in the hands of political leaders. There is a crucial role to be played in our democracy by civil society and especially the media. Without the pressure applied by civil society and the numerous reports of corruption in the media, the ANC might never have been emboldened to take the step they took this week. Valentine’s Day 2018 will be remembered by most people not for the gifts of love they received, but for the political head that rolled as the day came to an end. It was almost a perfect Valentine’s gift to the nation. Let’s hope that the ANC realises they need to treat the nation with love and respect, and not only on one day a year.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 17 February 2018)

It is time for Ramaphosa to restore our confidence

It is not every day I attend the launch of a rose. But when the rose is named after Nelson Mandela and the event is at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, it is very difficult to decline the invitation.

The event took place on Thursday and what an event it was. My highlights were a special performance by the legendary Imilonji Kantu choir, which became famous as the ANC’s choir in exile, accompanied by soprano Sibongile Khumalo. Mandla Langa, who completed Mandela’s second biography, Dare Not Linger, read a moving poem. I also caught up with old friends and associates, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah. The Arch said he enjoyed reading my column (blushes).

There was also plenty of talk about love - being the launch of a rose, one would have expected this - but it was about Mandela’s love for his people and his love for service. It was not about the version of love which will have the world’s lovers going crazy on Wednesday.

Caught up in the emotion of the day, I thought about Sunday, February 11, 1990, the day Nelson Mandela was released 28 years ago.

This day will remain vivid in my memory because it represented, for many at the time, the end of the Struggle and the beginning of something new. Precisely what this something new was, nobody knew.

We all know now that we were a bit short-sighted to think the Struggle would be over because of one event - the release of the world’s most celebrated political prisoner, which followed the unbanning of the ANC, PAC and other political parties nine days earlier when the National Party president, FW de Klerk, made his famous speech that would change South Africa for the better.

But we could have been forgiven for our exuberance that Sunday morning when we heard the news that we had all expected that week, much like we have been expecting the news of Jacob Zuma’s departure as president of the Republic of South Africa this week.

I remember us driving in convoy from our home in Mitchells Plain, proudly flying the ANC flag which we could not display openly just over a week before, and waiting excitedly on the Grand Parade to see and hear the great man who had been our leader despite being in prison for 27 years.

My tears rolled freely when Mandela finally appeared on the balcony of the City Hall and proclaimed himself to be a servant of the people who had fought against white domination and who would fight against black domination. Despite just coming out of prison, he committed himself to the people, as he did at the Rivonia Trial which led to his imprisonment, and said he was prepared to give his life for his ideal of a free people and country.

I remember turning to one of my best friends, saying that this was our president speaking. At that point, of course, Mandela was not even president of the ANC and we had no idea whether he would eventually become president of the country.

Tomorrow, the current ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa, who held the microphone for Mandela as he spoke on the day of his release, will hope that some of Mandela’s magic will rub off on him and the party, which has become a pale shadow of the organisation Mandela, and Oliver Tambo before him, led.

But Ramaphosa will need more than trying to mimic Mandela and invoke his spirit if he is to rekindle public confidence in the ANC. There are too many people who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the ANC who have given up on the party. And there are too many young people whose only experience of the ANC is the corruption and incompetence which have overshadowed all the good that was done by many comrades in what we used to call “the movement”.

When Ramaphosa finally replaces Zuma as president of the country, he has to go beyond rhetoric and symbolism, in the way he governs but also in way he leads the ANC. He needs to show that he is serious about a new beginning for the organisation that celebrated its 106th birthday on January 8 this year.

The only way to do that is by taking action against people who are perceived to be corrupt, irrespective of the position they hold in society or in the ruling party.

I hope to be standing on the Grand Parade tomorrow, listening to Ramaphosa speaking, and I might even shed a tear again. But my tears this time will not be because of joy. Instead, they will be because of the way our hope has evaporated, like the water in the Western Cape, and how, in a short space of time, we have managed to destroy a once-proud movement and almost managed to destroy a great country too, all because some people could not control their greed.

In the year that we celebrate Tata Madiba’s 100th birthday, let’s hope that Ramaphosa will be able to restore our confidence in our country’s leaders once again. We can only live in hope. Mandela earned our love and respect.

The jury is still out on whether Ramaphosa will be able to do the same.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 10 February 2018)

Closure of any media outlet is no reason to rejoice

As South Africa transitioned from apartheid repression to a democracy in the early 1990s, I ventured from working at alternative, anti-apartheid newspapers to working at the then mainly white mainstream newspaper, the Sunday Times.

I figured that papers like the Sunday Times would have to transform with our democracy.

My first editor was Tertius Myburgh, who was close to the National Party, but he was replaced, soon after I arrived, by Ken Owen, an old-fashioned liberal who was rather different from Myburgh.

I became an assistant editor of the Sunday Times under Owen and he became one of my mentors in journalism despite our different political persuasions. Owen taught me about the liberal notion of “while I might disagree with you, I will fight to the death for your right to express your views”.

Owen was one of the best-read columnists in the country. He was respected for his views by many people in the ANC and the United Democratic Front, even though most of them disagreed with him most of the time.

I thought a lot about Owen this week and how true liberals like him have all but disappeared in South Africa. The people who profess to be upholding liberalism are too consumed by populism and are easily distracted by whatever the ruling ANC does.

Many of these modern-day supposed liberals were happy this week when MultiChoice, which has a monopoly on pay TV in South Africa through their ownership of DStv, decided they would not renew their contract with ANN7 when it expires in August. The result is that ANN7 will no longer have a platform, potentially leading to the closure of the station and the retrenchment of its staff members, said to be about 500.

The reasons for the happiness at the station’s demise are because it was started by the Gupta family and has mostly taken a very different position to most of the media in South Africa.

Some people in the media have even called them propagandists. The reason most media are not seen as propagandists is because their views correspond with the pre-dominant views in society.

But most media propagate a viewpoint. I have always maintained it is impossible for media to be objective, because all of us have political, social, economic and historical baggage which informs the way we report. The best we can try to do is to be fair.

But I also believe that, if certain views exist in our society, then it is important for us to know about them. Suppressing views will not make them go away. In many ways, they make the people who hold those views more committed to them.

During the struggle against apartheid, I worked for several anti-apartheid newspapers which often got banned, and journalists banned or detained. But the attempts to repress our views just made us more determined and, in some ways, convinced us we were right. I know things were different then, but it is strange that, in the democracy that so many of us fought for, people can applaud the decision to silence a media outlet which holds a divergent viewpoint.

During apartheid, we drew strength from the support of those who had different views but who supported our right to exist.

I hold no brief for the Guptas, even though I worked for them briefly a few years ago. I have been highly critical of the Guptas when they deserved criticism, which was probably most of the time.

However, I will never deprive them or anyone else, of their right to invest in media. As I said at the Cape Town Press Club in 2012, when I was editor of The New Age, there is no such thing as a perfect media owner and, as journalists, we must produce excellent media products despite and not because of our owners.

I refused to use The New Age to fight the Guptas’ battles. Obviously, the people at ANN7 - which was started after I left The New Age - have a different view and have been actively promoting factions that are aligned to President Jacob Zuma, who has always been seen to be close to the Guptas.

But that is no reason to close them down or to rejoice at their closure. People who rejoice at the closure of any media outlet - especially people in the media industry - need to reflect on what this means for democracy. Any voice that is silenced is bad for democracy.

We need to remind ourselves of the famous words by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller who did not speak out when they came for the socialists, the trade unionists or the Jews, because he was not one. Until they came for him and there was no one left to speak for him.

I’m sorry, I cannot gloat at ANN7’s demise, even if I am tempted to.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 3 February 2018)