Rivonia trialist Denis Goldberg urges President Zuma to step down and allow his party to regain the respect of its members and the voters, writes Ryland Fisher.
Cape Town - Denis Goldberg likes to laugh – sometimes at stuff that might seem strange, like when he recalled how the judge in the Rivonia Trial (he was accused number 3) had sentenced them to life imprisonment instead of applying the death penalty.
“I’m really glad he did not sentence us to death,” he laughed when I interviewed him a while ago.
But this week, in an interview at his Hout Bay home, Goldberg was not in the mood for laughing. In fact, on more than one occasion, his eyes were filled with tears.
“I have spent my lifetime speaking truth to power, but I think I am more nervous doing it now than I was in apartheid times, even though they wanted to hang me then. I see a violence and a roguery within our ranks, I see people in KZN and Mpumalanga, who raised the cry of corruption, getting murdered, presumably by our own people.”
Goldberg, who turned 83 last week, recently joined the ranks of several senior ANC activists who have called on President Jacob Zuma to stand down.
“I am very angry, but this is painful, sad stuff. It is very sad, but I have to call on people to speak up,” he said.
Goldberg described Zuma as “dishonest”.
“He used to be a great leader, he was courageous. Now he has consciously broken the law to serve his own narrow self-interest and not the interest of his people and he has misrepresented his own position.
“He says now that he always intended to pay, but he vehemently said that he did not ask for these things, so why should he pay? He then ducked and dived for two-and-a-half or three years to avoid paying. To now say he meant to pay is an unacceptable apology.
“I believe that if he stands down, the confusion in people’s minds will go away and they will say, ‘That is the ANC that we can respect. While he is there I don’t think we can’. That is my opinion.
“I want him to go further. I want him to admit that he has made mistakes and to stand down and commit to support his successor, as a disciplined ANC cadre. This is what Thabo Mbeki did when he was asked to step down. He made a wonderful commitment to being a loyal ANC member.
“That’s what I would like. Otherwise he is going to be terribly humiliated and why should we humiliate a person who once was a great and courageous leader? I would like him to reclaim his own greatness, his own dignity, because I find it painful to speak about him in the way that I do.”
Goldberg said he had expected better leadership from Zuma.
“For a president who is a hero, I wanted him to say, ‘Enough. Don’t defend me with lies.’ I can’t tell you at which moment he went wrong. I have always admired him and so, for me it is very painful to talk this way. But it is not that I’m betrayed, it is that our movement and our values are betrayed.
“That’s the point really. It is not really about me. There are lots of people speaking out and I’d like lots more to do so.”
Goldberg said one of the differences between the leaders of his generation, including Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, was that the older leaders were principled. “I don’t think we are now.
“Then the only price was freedom. Now, the amount of money people have access to, the way top people live, as against ordinary members, is outrageous.
“There are too many temptations. We live in a society where day after day we are bombarded with comments like ‘you are nothing unless you have a smart car’ or ‘you are nothing unless you have lots of bling’. The notion that you have arrived only if you can splash it about is really powerful.
“We have leaders who live ostentatiously and they get trapped in this. A minister has to defend his president who is doing something wrong because, if he doesn’t, he is going to lose his post. What does he do about school fees for his children if he loses his post? What does he do about his mortgage? What does he do about his fancy car? You’re locked into a world of having arrived and getting a fat salary and so you lose your objectivity.
“Pallo Jordan, Kader Asmal and Dullah Omar were among the few who lived in private homes when they were ministers. It gave them independence, they did not get locked into the notion of ‘I have to keep my job and therefore sell my principles.’ That makes a big difference.”
Goldberg said it was up to ANC members to make sure the president stepped down.
“We must be loud enough, we must make it clear that we will only respect the ANC and vote for it if he stands down. We are hoping that he will stand down, so that we can rebuild for the 2019 elections.
“The ANC needs to be committed to legality, to upholding the laws that we have written. We need to be honest with our people. We cannot go into Parliament and lie.”
Asked why he and others are only speaking out now, Goldberg said he had been speaking out for the last three years, but it was not picked up as a story by the media.
He said many others had raised reservations in private but did not want to speak out publicly.
“But I suppose people are speaking out now because the dam wall has broken. People are saying that this is too much. We have had enough of it.
“Another reason I did not want to speak out was because I didn’t want to be part of the DA attack on the president. I had to finally get to the point where I could say I’m not attacking the president, I’m defending the ANC.
“There just came a point where I could no longer evade my responsibility to speak out. I did this reluctantly because it is an attack on our government, my government and my comrades.”
Goldberg said the ANC would only be able to reclaim its moral authority if it convinced Zuma to step down. “Somehow we need to find the mechanisms to get President Zuma to remove himself because, one way or another, he is going to be removed and that would be humiliating and he does not need that. We don’t need that.”
Despite his misgivings, Goldberg said he was still encouraging people to vote for the ANC.
“I think we have to support the ANC because none of the opposition are really capable of making the major transformation. People must support the ANC but insist on a change of leadership. Vote insisting on a change of leadership. That you have to do through your branches.”
Goldberg said the ANC was at a key moment in its history “which will decide whether this great liberation movement will survive”.
“There is no law that says that the ANC must rule forever and being in power for me only matters if we do the right thing. If we are doing wrong things, what’s the point of being in power?”
(First published in the Weekend Argus on Sunday 24 April 2016)