South Africa

Mathews Phosa: ‘What is happening in Parliament is now happening on the streets’

By Melanie Verwoerd 22 June 2016

Former Treasurer-General of the ANC, Mathews Phosa, was recently interviewed by MELANIE VERWOERD, the former ANC MP, for EWN.

Watch the EWN interview here

Verwoerd: You were one of the key people sent back to the country in the early 1990s to help with the negotiations, which eventually led to the adoption of the Constitution. Increasingly there is a narrative that says the Constitution is un-African and that Codesa was a sell-out. How do you feel about that?

Phosa: I think people speak from the comfort of today, not understanding the discomfort of yesterday – the delicate situation we had to handle. So many people were killed while we were negotiating. We could not afford recklessness or the little racial arguments we have today, that people so comfortably throw around. They enjoy their freedom so they can say any nonsense they want to say… and of course they are free to say that nonsense, because it is a free and democratic society. But it is because they don’t understand.

You know, when we use to come home with compromises, some of the ANC guys would say: “Did they give you wine; did they give you whiskey? You sold out.” I am not hearing these words for the first time. But when the settlement was done and the sunset clause accepted and the new flag was flying, those same people said: “You were very strategic, historically you were correct.” So today people must learn those lessons before they pronounce on Codesa. Codesa was a major milestone in our history.

I know how important building bridges is to you, but it seems that racial relations have deteriorated a lot since 1994?

Building bridges is one of our tasks and we put it into the Constitution. The nation was divided. We must unite it. The ANC, as it says in the Freedom Charter, believes in a non-racial society. You cannot have that unless you unite black and white. Even today it is the duty of the ANC as the ruling party to do so. And I will go as far to say it is the duty of the DA in the Western Cape to do the same. Not only just to unite, but reconcile our people. It a constitutional obligation.

It remains the duty of whoever is in power in this country to reconcile our people. Not have the luxury as they say in Afrikaans to “peuter” with that and tamper with stupid racial arguments. We must discourage that. But more through education, not shouting and screaming at one another.

Speaking about education, you were chair of Board of Unisa. It seems that particularly on the campuses the racial tensions have really erupted. What should be done about it?

I don’t know if I was lucky or unlucky, but after 13 years as chair, I left three months before it erupted. But I still engage students. I think there are genuine issues of concern about conditions on the campuses, and we should not label them as counter-revolutionaries, spies or CIA agents. It is wrong. We should seize the moment. The past is not necessarily a continuation of the future. Each generation should define its own frontiers and make its own demands.

We have to go deeper and engage with them and get to the root of the problems. We must go deeper and I therefore welcome the commission appointed by the president – except that it is too late, but we still have to do it. It is important. But there is also some opportunism. It is not the policy of my movement to be racist when you protest. You have a responsibility to protest with integrity and not violence. If you remove Rhodes’s statue, what are you transforming? If you paint Kruger blue, what are you transforming? Nothing! You are not affecting legislation or policy. That is not transformation, it is thuggery. We must encourage people to engage intellectually and find solutions.

You have always been an ANC man through and through. But it feels like a very different ANC lately. What do you think has changed?

Phosa: Let’s accept a lot has changed. Not only the leadership, but also style of leadership and even the approach on what are the essential policies of the ANC. The ANC stands for a non-racial organisation and society. Are we living up to that or do we have comrades who are making mistakes and uttering things which could be divisive? Yes, we do. We don’t need that. We have to call them to order and go back to the values of the Freedom Charter and the Constitution. Does the NEC tolerate corruption? No, but there is a lot of corruption. It has become systemic in municipal government, provincial government and national government. What do we do? Instead of hitting at the heart of corruption we protect one another and there is a culture of immunity and impunity and it is wrong for the ANC to do that.

Take the issue of Nkandla – it is scandalous. From every angle you look at it, it is scandalous. The court pronounced itself in the strongest possible terms against the president’s failure to protect the Constitution and to respect the institution of the Public Protector, Parliament’s failure to act responsibly in that situation and do the right things. When such pronouncement is being made against the ANC you ask yourself: “What happened to the ANC? Where is that ANC that never found itself at fault in that manner?”

We are afraid to set an example at the highest level. We should have said to the president: “We are not a court of law, but you should now accept that you have made fundamental errors. You are the custodian of the Constitution and you have not protected it, according to the court. Set a good example. Walk away. Just go. You don’t need to be found guilty in a criminal court to be politically and morally responsible.

You know the president well.

Yes, I do. I do.

It must be terribly difficult for you to say these things now. Why is the president not going?

I don’t know why he is not going, but I am telling you now, I won’t change my position. I believe strongly that the president must go. They think now that numbers make an argument. It doesn’t. It is merit that makes arguments. You may be 1,000 that must say he must stay and I can be the one that says he must go and I will be the only one that is right. History has proved that. You can repeat 100 times that the branches say he is forgiven. I will not accept that.

You do a lot of business now. Are you worried about the economy?

I worry about the economy, like most South Africans. Somehow you get the feeling there is a lot of recklessness. The attack on the Treasury which is motivated by greed and nothing else is a very suspicious attack and it is unfortunate. It doesn’t matter how many times the Hawks deny it, the question will remain, why did they pose the questions to the Treasury and the Minister of Finance, what did they want from him? I think by continuing to attack the Minister of Finance and Treasury we are committing suicide. We will die. The economy will collapse and we must stop doing that and protect what is working and leave out what does not work. I think the Minister of Finance is doing sterling work and should be supported.

And what about the issue of state capture?

It is very serious. I would like all people in South Africa to do business, but let the playing field be level to all citizens. Let’s not let some citizens always jump to the front of the queue and get benefits for themselves and the family of the president. I think it is very unacceptable. Our president should be ashamed of himself for letting his children line their pockets with these funny characters. I think it is a shame. I will never allow my children to do that. I always say to my children: No tenders. Go sweat it in the private sector. Corporate to corporate. And learn some manners. You can’t live off the kitty of the taxpayers. It is wrong.

I know you defended Julius Malema during the internal disciplinary proceedings of the ANC. Do you think the ANC made a mistake to throw him out?

It was a big mistake. I always said so, even at the time. Because you see, when political problems arise you must not become legalistic. You must solve it politically and identify areas of difference and have political solutions. There are always solutions. We didn’t do that. We wanted to settle scores with Malema. I have always said there are no dustbins for comrades. Now it is coming back to haunt all of us. In fact, from those dustbins come fat rats, who will come and bite you. And today he is biting us. He is our political love child. We should have found a way of talking.

The same thing happened with Cope, who is also a love child of the ANC. I personally, with Jessie Duarte, to the last minute called Terror Lekota and said, “Terror, listen man, let’s talk. Don’t go.” He was telling us how Malema was “gaan te kere”. And we said, “We must mos fix him, Terror. It is our duty as leaders, he is still a small child. We must fix him and get it right.” He also had issues with Zuma and policy and we said, “Let’s fix it in the movement.” He refused. We hugged, close to tears. He said, “I am going.” We had to accept it, but it was our responsibility as leaders to try and fix it.

Even Holomisa. To the last point, I was one of the people who spoke to him and said, “General come back, don’t go.” So some of us try and keep others in, others try and settle scores and they come back to bite us. I don’t think that is correct. The ANC has learnt horrible lessons from these things. It has to be very careful in future to donate its members into the wilderness, because they come back.

Well, it doesn’t look like they have learnt many lessons when it comes to Parliament?

The unfortunate thing is that what is happening in Parliament is now happening on the streets of our country. What people have seen happening in parliament they are now doing on the streets. They are now copying what they see these parliamentary parties are doing to each other. Parliament has reduced its dignity to the dustbin. It needs to recover itself. That is the responsibility of all parties.

If you (the Speaker) stick by the rules, you are objective and your conscience tells you when you must and must not chair and what you must rule and not rule, and you are professional about it, you won’t have these fracas in Parliament.

There were times after the Constitutional Court judgment where I felt the Speaker should not have chaired since the subject of debate was her. She could not chair on her own case. Everybody was asking, why is she there? These things create problems. There is no objectivity or fairness – real or imagined. She should really be above question.

If you now look back over your long career and all your sacrifices, how do you feel now about the country? Are you sad and/or hopeful?

It is a mixture of both. I feel very sad. I woke up this morning and I thought, this is not what we fought for. Don’t comrades understand what we fought for and stick to that? And not try and create a new story about the ANC. The ANC stands for certain values which are timeless. If you are going to distort them with corruption, immunity, impunity, the ANC will always look strange and funny and people will walk away from the ANC like they are now. So people are betraying the ANC. But people like me are not quitters. We will fight and correct it. And that is the challenge facing us ANC people today. We are not going to run away. We are going to fight till we get the ANC where it should be. DM

Photo: Mathews Phosa being interviewed by Melanie Verwoerd. (EWN)

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