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20 August 2017 21:10 (South Africa)

Between the Lines: Sipho Pityana was a loyal soldier. The ANC wouldn’t listen. Now he’s an activist again. (Video)

  • John Matisonn
    John-Matisonn.jpg
    John Matisonn

    John Matisonn began political reporting at the Rand Daily Mail in 1974, and received a prison sentence for refusing to divulge his source in a report about the South African Watergate scandal known as Muldergate. A foreign correspondent in Washington for the Rand Daily Mail and back in Johannesburg for National Public Radio, he has been published in the New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post and The Observer. After four years as a broadcast regulator in the Mandela administration and two as editorial director of the short-lived THISDAY newspaper, he became the United Nations’ Chairperson of the Electoral Media Commission in Afghanistan. He returned from a second tour in Afghanistan to write God, Spies and Lies, Finding South Africa’s future through its past, which has just been published.

Photo: Sipho M Pityana, Chairman, AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa speaking during the session ‘Investing in Peace’ at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 18, 2017. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Jakob Polacsek

Save South Africa’s Sipho Pityana has been a loyal soldier in the ANC. Time after time, he tried to warn the leadership they were putting the party at great risk. Several attempts to get meetings were turned down. Now he says he believes the president is “selling out the sovereignty of the nation to thieves and criminals”. He has become an activist in support of South Africa’s sovereignty. But who is Save South Africa’s Sipho Pityana? Is he building a new United Democratic Front? And how far is he willing to go in tackling the ANC? On CTV’s BETWEEN THE LINES, John Matisonn asked him.

Among the lesser-known facts obscured by some ANC formations’ younger critics of Sipho Pityana is how severely he was tortured at the notorious headquarters of the Port Elizabeth security police in the apartheid days. His activism began in 1975, involved him in the student uprising the following year, the Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (Pebco), then the umbrella civic body Sanco, secretly meeting Chris Hani in Lesotho, then years in the trade union movement. He and Dr Neil Aggett were part of the same security police swoop in 1981. Both were severely tortured and Aggett died from his injuries.

Of his torture in the same spot as Steve Biko was tortured to death, he only says he was at “the sharp end of the brutal system of apartheid”.

After a banning order, he left for the United Kingdom, where he eventually earned a BA Hons and MA, studying government, sociology and political science. Working in the ANC’s international relations office liaising with the international anti-apartheid movement, he was the natural choice to co-ordinate Nelson Mandela’s international reception after his release from prison.

Back home, under President Nelson Mandela he was appointed Director-General of Labour, then Director-General of Foreign Affairs under President Thabo Mbeki. Leaving government, he participated in a wide array of business interests.

When CASAC, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, was formed in 2010, Pityana became chairman. The ANC refused to meet CASAC to discuss constitutional ways to address corruption. After Marikana they suffered another brush-off. He thought his political record would get him a hearing. He was wrong.

Last year he led the new Save South Africa campaign to “restore ethically accountable leadership” and was a signatory to the letter from 106 ANC stalwarts calling for action to reverse the governing party’s slide into corruption and failure.

If one event galvanised him to become an activist (again) it was the ANC’s reaction to the public protector’s report on the president, which “showed the president was determined not to give due regard to the Constitution” and to disregard the findings of a Chapter Nine body, in this case the public protector.

His “real State of the Nation address” in the historic St George’s Cathedral, home of some of the anti-apartheid movement’s most important protests, came the day before the official version. He was unable to complete a press conference afterwards because a group of people stopped it. “They claimed I was trying to divide the ANC,” he said. He couldn’t say if they were sent by the ANC, but they said that was their purpose.

What we have here is not too dissimilar from the UDF,” he said. The difference is that now protest is legal, though there are other “sanctions” for those who participate. Jobs will be lost.

But he is not deterred: “Parliament has to sanction the president. The president must go.”

State capture is at an advanced stage, and it means South Africa losing its sovereignty. Pityana referred to “rumours” about a presidential nuclear deal with Russia running over R1-trillion, around the total annual budget of the South African government, which would enslave generations of South Africans.

Will these anti-Zuma formations build a UDF-style movement? SSA is evolving, and responds to developments. As for the ANC stalwarts’ group, they demand a consultative conference to reposition the ANC, and say it cannot be managed by the ANC’s current leadership. They believe the ANC leaders’ strategy is to draw the stalwarts into the process – but not to give them what they want. Pityana says it won’t work.

If the ANC goes on the same way as it did before the local elections, it will the same result. We have to show the public a different leadership.”

Will there be a point at which he cuts bait, and starts talks with other parties?

His answer was limited but powerful. If the ANC leadership is preoccupied with their own self-preservation they will not see the ANC live to see another day. “This might mean the demise of President Zuma will mark the demise of the ANC.”

Watch this space. DM

John Matisonn is the author of GOD, SPIES AND LIES, Finding South Africa’s future through its past, and host of CTV’S BETWEEN THE LINES.

Photo: Sipho M Pityana, Chairman, AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa speaking during the session ‘Investing in Peace’ at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 18, 2017. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Jakob Polacsek

  • John Matisonn
    John-Matisonn.jpg
    John Matisonn

    John Matisonn began political reporting at the Rand Daily Mail in 1974, and received a prison sentence for refusing to divulge his source in a report about the South African Watergate scandal known as Muldergate. A foreign correspondent in Washington for the Rand Daily Mail and back in Johannesburg for National Public Radio, he has been published in the New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post and The Observer. After four years as a broadcast regulator in the Mandela administration and two as editorial director of the short-lived THISDAY newspaper, he became the United Nations’ Chairperson of the Electoral Media Commission in Afghanistan. He returned from a second tour in Afghanistan to write God, Spies and Lies, Finding South Africa’s future through its past, which has just been published.

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