As members of the African National Congress (ANC) prepare themselves for the elective conference in December, where new leaders will be elected, it is important to avoid another breakaway party. If the ANC is to complete its self-destruction in our lifetime, Bloemfontein in December 1994 might one day be remembered as the place where it all started, writes Khaya Sithole.
In reality the conference itself was mundane – the ANC was still trying to work out what it means to govern a country. The party was still burdened by the hangover of the 1991 conference. In that conference, the question of whether Chris Hani or Thabo Mbeki should be deputy president threatened to split the party.
So a very old Walter Sisulu agreed to stand as Deputy. For the rest of the key positions; Oliver Tambo became the chairperson and Cyril Ramaphosa became the secretary general, with Jacob Zuma as his deputy. Mandela himself believed that the greatest threat to the ANC would be factionalism that would be created if a battle for the Presidency ensued in the ANC. On the other hand, he was worried about a perception that the ANC was becoming a Xhosa party. And yet, in a strange twist, Mandela essentially christened Mbeki as his preferred successor in the 1994 conference when most people thought Ramaphosa stood a better chance. And this is quite key.
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Ramaphosa had a strong background in the trade union movement – his primary constituency. Mbeki had the intellectual credentials but was not even the most popular young politician in his home province of the Eastern Cape – Bantu Holomisa owned that space. Thanks to Mandela’s actions, Mbeki then ended up with the deputy presidency and eventually the presidency of the country without a single vote being cast. So much for the democratic ideal of Nelson Mandela.
In addition to the elevation of Mbeki to the deputy presidency, Zuma became the chairperson of the party, and Ramaphosa ended up as the secretary general with Cheryl Carolus as his deputy. But as we now know, Mbeki possesses a special type of paranoia that is only matched by his occasional political amnesia which always seem to strike on Mondays.
The reluctant secretariat – between 1994 and 1997
The Ramaphosa-Carolus alliance was a special type of relationship. Ramaphosa appears to have struggled with reconciling himself to the Mandela betrayal that anointed Mbeki as the future leader of the party. Ramaphosa had worked tirelessly in leading the negotiations with Roelf Meyer of the National Party. After the transition, he was at the forefront of drafting the new Constitution which was finally completed in 1996.
But, still dejected and demoralised in equal measure by the Mandela betrayal, Ramaphosa chose to sulk his way into a multi-billion rand fortune by abandoning his post as the secretary-general in 1996. In his absence, Carolus stepped in as the acting secretary-general until the 1997 conference in Mahikeng.
During this period the ANC had a few vocal dissenters who had reservations about the Mandela philosophy of reconciliation – the most prominent voices in this camp would be Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; Harry Gwala, Holomisa and of course, Sifiso Nkabinde. Burdened with the realisation that the new dispensation was an economic and political compromise that made no sense for black people; Madikizela-Mandela and Gwala became a thorn in the PR machine of Mandela’s government. Mandela – his petty and vicious dark side in full bloom, then committed himself to orchestrating the public humiliation of Madikizela-Mandela.
In February 1995, when Madikizela-Mandela was out of the country, Mandela ordered her to return at once. When she didn’t – the police mysteriously raided her house to look for evidence supporting that she was a criminal. The courts threw out the search as it was illegal and orchestrated by Mandela. In one instance, Mandela appeared to have forgotten the rules and fired Madikizela-Mandela from his cabinet in March 1995.
It turned out that this dismissal was illegal and Mandela was forced to hire Madikizela-Mandela in his cabinet again and fire her again – so she resigned the day before he was going to fire her for the second time. Mandela of course, refused to explain to Madikizela-Mandela why she was fired in the first place. 22 years later, another ANC president, fired a member of his cabinet without explaining his reasons. And somehow that was frowned upon.
The other dissenters in the Mandela government had similarly interesting fates. Gwala died in June 1995 and Madikizela-Mandela was one of the main speakers at his funeral. Completely free from any political loyalty to Mandela who had just fired her; Madikizela-Mandela spoke of the importance of Gwala as one of the few leaders who remained resolute in the cause of the struggle – and Mandela was predictably pissed off.
Holomisa on the other hand, ran into trouble in 1996 after his submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) where he explained that Stella Sigcau – a favourite of Mandela, had accepted bribes when she was in the Transkei. In addition, Holomisa outlined how Sol Kerzner – always comfortable with bribing a politician or 2 – funded the ANC’s election campaign and bankrolled Mbeki’s 50th birthday party in 1992.
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The ANC denied this until Holomisa stated that the source of his information was actually Mandela – who confessed that this was indeed true – and then dismissed Holomisa from his cabinet. The next time Sol Kerzner’s Sun City Empire would be so prominent in the ANC would be in 2013 when the Guptas hosted their wedding there after landing in the Waterkloof air base.
Holomisa was eventually hauled before a disciplinary hearing in 1996 and was expelled from the party in September. He then embarked on a new political career which led to the creation of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) – with Roelf Meyer abandoning the National Party to join the UDM.
Meanwhile, back in KZN, the Sifiso Nkabinde problem remained unresolved. By this stage there was no doubt that Nkabinde owned Richmond and had a personal hit squad that answered only to him. And – as expected – the ANC in Luthuli House enlisted Zuma to find a way to deal with the Nkabinde problem. And true to form, Zuma delivered.
As the head of intelligence, Zuma would be the first to know about traitors and spies right? So mysteriously, Zuma discovered/issued/unveiled an intelligence report that explained that Nkabinde was an apartheid spy after all. On the 7th of April 1997, Carolus – in her capacity as the acting secretary-general of the ANC – called Nkabinde and asked him to fly up to Luthuli House immediately for a conversation. When Nkabinde arrived; he was summarily expelled from the party. And because Nkabinde was never going to disappear quietly – he joined the UDM instead and started competing with the ANC that he had created in Richmond.
The past two weeks was the 7th of April 2017, when the SAVE SA brigade marched against the President of the Republic. I kept asking myself whether Carolus actually remembered that it was precisely 20 years ago when she participated in the expulsion of Nkabinde based on an intelligence report that she had actually never questioned. The intelligence report which was unveiled by the same man who – only two weeks – declared that he was in possession of another intelligence report that facilitated the dismissal of Pravin Gordhan.
I wondered if any of the people that were marching across the country even understood just how delicate and intricate that history of the ANC they now seek to destroy actually is. Because far from advocating for the implosion of the ANC, its depth of history and heritage remains deeply ingrained in its MPs and the NEC. Failure to understand the depth of consequential effects of such bonds leads to a superficiality in debate that is simply – quite embarrassing.
If nothing else, the question of what ought to be done to President Zuma needs to acknowledge that his status is not just an inherited position but the result of something more profound; perhaps accidental; sometimes downright lucky but always masterfully executed. Failure to appreciate this leads to a miscalculated misunderstanding of the man and his ability to navigate politics with a level of intimacy none of us have learnt to appreciate.
Because the reality of people like Carolus and Mbeki is that they occasionally suffer from political amnesia where everything wrong with the ANC is the creation of one Jacob from Nkandla. But for those of us with memories that last longer than political terms – it remains unclear where Carolus for one reached her Damascus moment. So in one age, Carolus is happy to be part of an ANC that uses an intelligence report to fix a political problem, and in another age she denounces a president who appears to have done the same thing. So what was your Damascus moment Cheryl? Can you tell us?
It appears that Carolus these days finds a lot of comfort within the arms of the SAVE SA brigade. And assuming that such a structure is an NGO, it would represent perhaps the most complete evolution of Carolus as a human being in history. Because just 20 years ago, in the Secretary-General report at the Bloemfontein conference; Carolus had nice things to say about NGOs.
She famously referred to NGOs as “constituents in a concerted effort to halt transformation” and also referred to “a proliferation of reactionary, well-resourced NGOs moving into the new democratic spaces with vigour.” Naturally, I am completely lost about when Carolus decided that Zuma was now a greater danger than NGOs. But Carolus didn’t stop there – we still had the issue of Madikizela-Mandela to deal with.
Read the third part of this article tomorrow.