South Africa

BOOK EXTRACT

A Pretoria Boy: How Pravin Gordhan, Nick Binedell and others set me up with Deep Throat to help bring down Zuma

‘A Pretoria Boy’ begins with the story of how Peter Hain’s journey came full circle when he used UK parliamentary privilege in 2017-18 to expose looting and money laundering, supplied with the ammunition by his ‘Deep Throat’ inside the Zuma State. In so doing, he put South Africa’s State Capture and corruption on the front pages of ‘The New York Times’ and ‘Financial Times’, which some suggest played a part in Zuma’s toppling. ‘A Pretoria Boy’ is published by Jonathan Ball.

 

Lord Peter Hain was brought up in South Africa and has been in politics for more than 50 years. Forced into exile with his family, he was a British anti-apartheid leader. An MP from 1991 to 2015, he served in the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for 12 years, seven in the Cabinet. In 2015 he received the OR Tambo National Award in Silver for his “excellent contribution to the freedom struggle”. In 2017–18 he exposed money laundering and corruption in the UK Parliament involving global corporates under then president Jacob Zuma, and gave evidence to the Zondo Commission. He is the author of 22 books. A Pretoria Boy is published by Jonathan Ball.

On Wednesday 25 August at 12pm, join Judge Dennis Davis and Lord Peter Hain for the virtual book launch of A Pretoria BoyRegister here to join the behind-the-scenes discussion.

***

So why me? The answer is straightforward. I was asked by prominent members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to help them combat the rampant corruption and cronyism that was destroying the country. This corruption was seemingly orchestrated by their own president, whom they were seeking to oust. Their request originated from an informal discussion over dinner organised by a mutual friend, Nick Binedell, the highly respected founder-director of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) at the University of Pretoria. This was in late July 2017 when I was in Johannesburg teaching as a visiting professor at Wits Business School.

Peter Hain
Lord Peter Hain (Photo: Supplied)

One of those present at this private meeting was former finance minister Pravin Gordhan. He had bravely spoken out against the cancer that had spread from the Zuma presidency right down through all levels of the government. Others present, members of the ANC’s national executive, were then in the middle of a hand-to-hand battle to elect a new leader of the party. The candidacy of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was pitted against the powerful Zuma machine, which had dispensed patronage for more than a decade.

I had met Pravin Gordhan some years before in London, when he was on an official government visit, but the others present were new to me, and I to them. At the start of our meal, under Nick’s genial but firm chairing, our exchanges were tentative. They were feeling me out, each of us anxious about the ubiquity of the state intelligence network, which Zuma had commandeered in his own nefarious interests. Mobile phones were switched off and things gradually loosened up.

I had become increasingly aware of the scale of corruption during successive visits to South Africa, especially after I retired as an MP in 2015. But not being intimately involved in South African public life, I hadn’t quite realised how deep-seated and prodigious was the reported looting by Zuma’s family and the Gupta brothers — Ajay, Atul and Rajesh (Tony) — whose vast multibillion-rand business empire spanned media, mining and computing, and had grown exponentially under Zuma’s patronage.

In his dry, clinical way, Pravin spelt it out. His favoured phrase was “join the dots”: in other words, connect all the diverse components of State Capture in the Zuma regime. Every government department had been penetrated by Zuma-appointed ministers and civil servants. Virtually every state agency had been similarly “captured”. Perhaps the only exception was the Office of the Public Protector (a kind of ombudsman mandated by the Constitution), then under the direction of the formidably independent Advocate Thuli Madonsela. All of the Zuma/Gupta appointees were no doubt placed to do their masters’ bidding rather than because they had the ability or expertise to perform the task in hand. And of course to clamber aboard the gravy train.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked, more out of solidarity than expectation.

“Well, actually, there might be,” Pravin mused, thinking aloud.

Others chipped in, one or two of them highly placed inside the state system and present because of their integrity and deep sense of betrayal at what was happening to the “rainbow nation” that had beamed so brightly under Nelson Mandela.

Inside the country, brave journalists with the upstart online newspaper Daily Maverick and investigative units such as Scorpio and amaBhungane were increasingly exposing the sheer extent of State Capture. But a lot of the looted money had been laundered abroad, Pravin explained, estimating as much as R7-billion (or £350-million). Although the opposition to Zuma inside the ANC was growing, support for Cyril Ramaphosa building, and civil society groups (so important in securing the demise of apartheid) agitating again, the international dimension of State Capture was something they hadn’t managed to get a grip on. Maybe I could assist with that, Pravin and the others suggested.

During half a century in politics — from stopping whites-only South African sports tours under apartheid to 12 years as a Labour government minister — I had always been forensically focused on trying to make a difference. I was also impatient with big rhetorical flourishes, instead preferring specific practical achievements. Could this be just such an instance?

****

Over the years, I had enjoyed returning regularly to South Africa, mostly on holiday. These trips included being driven four hours from East London deep into the rural former Transkei to Hobeni, home of the Donald Woods Foundation (which I chair), not that far from Nelson Mandela’s birthplace at Mvezo.

In December 2015, my wife, Elizabeth, and I found ourselves back again. I had unexpectedly been given a national honour, the Grand Companion of OR Tambo in Silver, for an “excellent contribution to the liberation struggle”. It was a privilege to be present at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria for the national awards ceremony — charming, dignified and moving, without any pretentiousness or pageantry, and intended to symbolise “the new culture that informs a South African rebirth”. Presiding was the Chancellor of Orders, Dr Cassius Lubisi, a former anti-apartheid activist prominent in protests against the 1990 “rebel” English cricket tour led by Mike Gatting. Old veterans of the resistance — some of whom had suffered solitary confinement or torture — walked with difficulty on sticks to receive their awards; several awards were accepted posthumously by surviving relatives.

Like other recipients of the OR Tambo award, I was given a beautiful walking stick carved out of dark indigenous wood as “a symbol of appreciation for the support and solidarity shown”. Entwined around it is a copper majola (mole snake), said in African mythology to visit babies when they are born to prepare them for successful and safe adult lives — as a friend and protector. I was also given a beautiful scroll with my name inscribed, a neck badge and a lapel rosette. Bob Hughes, former chair of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), had been a recipient in 2004, and others in the international campaign had been similarly honoured.

As the highest honour the country can bestow, the OR Tambo awards were, as always, given by the sitting president. At the time this was Jacob Zuma, and neither of us imagined then that our paths would cross again. “I’m so pleased, so very pleased it’s you,” he whispered to me on stage; at a personal level he could be quite charming. Returning to my seat, I raised my fist in an “Amandla” salute to cheers from the audience.

And it was after that awards ceremony in Pretoria, during a brief break in Johannesburg, that Elizabeth and I were invited to dinner with the deputy vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). I had expressed an interest in teaching, because I wanted to pass on some of the experience and expertise I had gained in a long political career, especially from being in government. That led to my appointment as a visiting professor at Wits Business School, promoted by its then academic director, Chris van der Hoven, and hence to Nick Binedell’s dinner meeting with Pravin Gordhan and others.

****

So what exactly was it that I might do to help them? Pravin Gordhan explained that plenty of the looted billions had left the country through global banks, and since the president, as an alleged direct beneficiary, had absolutely no interest in getting the money back, the only way to do so might be to put pressure on the international banking system from London.

“Okay,” I said, “I will try to do what I can. But I cannot fire any bullets unless I am given the ammunition.” I explained that although I was still a parliamentarian, members of the House of Lords are allocated no secretarial or research staff, as MPs are. I didn’t have the resources or expertise to dig up the information needed.

I still had no idea what exactly was expected of me. But several of those present offered to follow up, and before I flew back home I met privately with someone highly placed, right inside the heart of the Zuma state, who was to become my “Deep Throat” (an echo of the Watergate scandal, which brought down President Richard Nixon) — a key source of the insider information I needed for an effective exposé.

On the day of my departure, Deep Throat presented me with a wad of material concerning the role of global banks in facilitating the suspected Zuma/Gupta money laundering of billions of rands stolen from South African taxpayers.

All fine, I explained, but I was in no position to analyse this material myself. If I were to use my Lords platform, I needed to have meticulously prepared speeches that, especially if revelatory, had to be impeccably credible and served up to me as the near-finished article. Often, I had found over the years, experts tended to be so engrossed in their own material that they found it difficult to see the wood for the trees. If I had a skill, it was to cut through all the undergrowth and get to the nub of the issue.

Deep Throat seemed to grasp this, and, in the South African vernacular, we agreed to “make a plan”. A secure system of electronic communication would be established, and drafts of speeches or letters for me, demanding action from the UK, would be sent early enough for me to check, edit and query before time of delivery.

I resolved not to tell anybody about Deep Throat, certainly not her or his identity. I still haven’t, and won’t — unless Deep Throat determines otherwise. DM

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All Comments 28

  • Oh Peter Hain, how we despised you when I was young and naive but, maybe, we’ve grown up in the same era and we can share the same thinking now. If you are trusted by Nick Binedell then it’s good enough for me. Do what you can because it’s so important now.

    • We didn’t ALL despise Peter Hain. My grandparents in Pretoria, as members of the Liberal Party, knew his parents. Walter and Adelaine well. In Cape Town my parents were members of the Liberal Party, and my mother a member of the Black Sash. So my siblings and I were not brought up to despise the Hain family.

      The same goes for Nelson Mandela. We neither feared nor despised him. Subsequent events confirmed this.

      • Despising Peter Hain was more of a school boy thing than a family affair. My Dad was taught English by Alan Paton at Maritzburg College and my Mom also stood for Black Slash, in tough mining areas to boot. Maybe that wasn’t worded well but it captured by change in thinking. If your family were members of the Liberal Party then you must have been under serious surveillance simply because that is the way it was in those days.

    • You beat me to it Charles… Naïve, brainwashed and a sports lover who resented the lack of international competition.
      How things change. Thank you Peter for blowing that whistle in the UK!

      • I just remember that the name Peter Hain was virtually spat out when there was another anti-apartheid rally in London or disruption of sports tours. Isn’t it funny how life turns – he’s now complaining about the very people that he supported.

  • Love the book’s cover! I remember as a boy listening to Piet Koornhof at the proclamation of Pretoria Boys as a national monument saying “any school which can produce a Hain and a Hertzhog deserves to be a monument”.

    • Love him or hate him Piet Koornhof had a fabulous sense of humour and was full of contradictions. Who else could submit a thesis to Oxford University on why apartheid couldn’t work and then become a staunch member of the apartheid government.

  • Mr Hain is a professional politician – and a British born one at that.
    His allegiance to South Africa does not come from love of country and it’s people. It comes from the same place as colonialism – Where and how can we get the best return…personally.
    Whilst his endevours have helped shaped parts of SA political landscape, it remains to be seen whether he can persuade the “global banks” to do the right thing. Perhaps he can start by putting pressure on the UAE to comply with the repatriation of South African taxpayers stolen money and the return of certain people to face trail? And those that are here to comply with the courts requests and answer for their crimes against all South Africans, no matter how “charming “ they can be.

    • Get your facts correct Jane Crankshaw. Peter Hain’s parents were both born in South Africa, his father in Durban and his mother in Port Alfred. So he had full claim to South African citizenship.

      When his father worked there temporarily, Peter Hain was born in Nairobi in ertstwhile Kenya Colony. This and his paternal grandparents having emigrated from Glasgow no doubt gave him claim to British citizensnip. Hain was brought up in this country, and attended Pretoria Boys High until the family was hounded out of South Africa by the Nationalist Party government.

      • A small addition to the return klap: Peter Hain was born in 1950 in Nairobi. He returned with his South African parents to South Africa in 1951.

      • In my eyes …a true South Africa is one who has a South African passport and no recourse to another! And has no choice but to stay in South Africa, pay taxes and fight the fight. The rest are ex South Africans, or wannabe South Africans if they can get something out of it! Just my opinion, sorry if it offends!

        • Actually, it doesn’t offend as much as sound small & bitter. It seems your excessive patriotism clouds your better judgement. It is crystal clear that South Africa needs help from any & every source. The US. Interpol. Peter Hain.

    • My feeling is that Jane is simply expressing herself. Let’s not get too critical because we don’t all do things the same way.

    • Of course one doesn’t have to write but as someone, who is very interested in politics and in political history, I found this article very interesting.