South Africa

OP-ED

Dear former comrades, how much power and money is enough?

Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe visits the Phalabora Mining Company on July 17, 2018 in Phalaborwa, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Antonio Muchave)
By Jay Naidoo
17 Feb 2022 67

Have you not accumulated more wealth than you can possibly use in one lifetime?

T he struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. — Milan Kundera

I feel I am living in a Hollywood horror movie. The roll call of murdered patriotic activists since 1994 is growing at a breakneck pace. Andries Tatane, killed by police after a service delivery protest exploded in Ficksburg, Free State; Anele Bhengu, a 22-year-old lesbian, and LGBTQ+ activist stabbed, raped and disembowelled in KZN; Sikhosiphi Rhadebe, chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee fighting mining in the pristine and biodiverse ecosystem of the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, murdered in Mbizana. 

The list goes on and on. Scores of murdered, assassinated whistle-blowers and trade union, civic, political and environmental activists. 

It’s a remake of the worst of our apartheid nightmare.

It’s happening on our watch. 

The fearful environment that we fought, which ridiculed and demonised our activism, and created the chemistry of circumstances that saw an explosion of assassinations, disappearances, the bombing of offices and brutality of security force actions, is now being re-enacted in our post-apartheid dream.

It makes my blood boil when I hear former trade union leaders whose vitriolic attacks on civic society reflect a growing populist authoritarianism that has used the Covid pandemic to ram through decisions that defy any democratic logic and represent the worst of the scurrilous demonisation from our apartheid past.

Leading the charge is former trade union leader, now Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, who suspended Peter Becker, the civil society representative on the board of the National Nuclear Regulator because he had raised the concerns of communities about the health and safety dangers of the ageing Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. And this atrocious decision came on the day the regulator gave Eskom the go-ahead to replace the steam generators for Unit 2 of the power station.

Not satisfied with that unconstitutional step, Mantashe claims that there is a “foreign-funded” campaign intent on destabilising his department’s work and souring his relationship with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The minister continued: “I cannot help but ask myself, are these objections meant to ensure the status quo remains in Africa, in general, and South Africa, in particular? That is, the status quo with regards to energy poverty, high unemployment, high debt-to-GDP ratio at country level, and economies that are not growing and, in some cases, jobless economic growth. We consider the objections to these developments as apartheid and colonialism of a special type, masqueraded as a great interest for environmental protection.”

No, Minister.

Your brazen gaslighted attacks are misplaced. It’s not activists that sabotage development, create unemployment or are environment pretenders. Actually, to the contrary: all fingers point to those in power, former liberators, whose shenanigans and crass corruption are most visible in State Capture that is the wrecking ball of our democracy.

Adding to this toxic mix is the case of former Sactwu General Secretary Johnny Copelyn, now a billionaire capitalist, in his fiefdom role at Hosken Consolidated Investments driving oil and gas drilling off the pristine Wild Coast, decrying community and civic society opposition as “poppycock”. 

Comrade capitalist, how much is enough? 

Have you not accumulated more wealth than you can possibly use in one lifetime? I find your feigned concern for creating employment, reducing SA’s reliance on oil imports and slandering activists a sorry excuse of crass materialism that seeks to destroy one of the most sensitive biodiverse ecosystems of our country while steamrolling over community-based opposition. 

Or have people and the environment just become collateral damage of crony capitalist exploitation?

I reflect on our past activism and ask what transforms former activist leaders to become the very people we fought against — the famed liberators are now eating their own children.

Have we completely and conveniently forgotten the lessons of social movements like Cosatu, whose operating system was based on grassroots mandates, deep listening and authentic consultation?

Have we forgotten the environment of fear, ridicule and demonisation that we faced at the hands of the apartheid regime with its dirty tricks campaigns that culminated in detention, torture and eventual elimination of activists, the bombing of Cosatu House and restrictions placed on us that made us liable for damages claims by employers, which were all preceded by propaganda campaigns of misinformation against our struggle?

Beware the flawed memory against forgetting, comrades. 

Communities have a right to authentic consultation and to live in a safe environment that respects their spiritual and cultural traditions and the meaningful livelihoods they have had over generations. This is what we fought for. A right that is enshrined in our Constitution. We have a right to resist attempts to divide and rule us.

Mantashe’s foolish “anti-imperialist” rhetoric and Copeland’s derisory claims against communities are the infantile rantings of vested interests. 

As we look around the former mining towns, all I see is billions of dollars extracted for shareholders in the global north and our own predatory elites and peanuts paid to millions of mineworkers who have slaved at the coalface. One has to be indifferent, blind and deaf to the anguish of these communities who live a ghostlike survivalist existence in wrenching poverty, joblessness and hunger and destroyed natural environments.

These communities ask, why should we believe Shell, Total or any of these fossil fuel behemoths? 

How different are they from Bain & Co, McKinsey & Co, SAP, KPMG or banks that were involved in the State Capture that nearly torpedoed our economy, and the democracy itself? 

All we see in Africa is the destructive impact of the “resource wars” that global multinationals wage on our continent, which displace communities in northern Mozambique and many other countries across our continent.

South Africa’s civic movements are our last line of defence, alongside a small and courageous independent media and ethical judiciary defending our constitutional and human rights against rampant corruption, failed service delivery and an arrogant political class drowning in its own propaganda, believing they are messiahs of the “promised land”. 

South Africa was not liberated by political parties or leaders. The change came when the people stood up and refused to collaborate in their oppression, and through mass struggles like we are seeing today, declared: “We have had enough of arbitrary decisions made in our name.” 

Since 1994, our greatest democratic victories have been led by people on the ground, challenging the unilateralism and arrogance of government and narrow private interests. Whether it was the Treatment Action Campaign fighting for the right of those who had HIV/Aids to have access to antiretrovirals, or SECTION27 and other educational NGOs fighting for the right of children to textbooks, toilets and laboratories, or community movements like Abahlali baseMjondolo’s fight against illegal evictions, or the Amadiba Crisis Committee’s opposition to mining on the eco-sensitive Wild Coast.

Civic society organisations have strengthened the capacity of the South African state to deliver vital goods and services and protect the constitutional rights of vulnerable communities. The facts bear testimony that NGOs such as Gift of the Givers and thousands of grassroots organisations have steered critical interventions in our many humanitarian and service delivery crises. In fact, our own government should deepen collaboration with civic society, given the ineffectiveness and widescale corruption in its own ranks at the local level.

Perhaps it’s time for my former comrades who have ascended to wealth and power because of activism to read Milan Kundera’s classic and understand that our Constitution in its Bill of Rights entrenches all citizens’ “right ­to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations”. DM

Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, a former minister in the Nelson Mandela government, and is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

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All Comments 67

  • The biggest scourge in our country is unemployment. We will never beat it without economic growth and investment. Ideology is useless in this debate, as is colonialism, neo liberalism, or recent or ancient history .

    Investment flows from confidence and there is no confidence without rule of law and the protection of private property.

    Stop telling people to observe racial quotas and demographics, or telling them they have enough already, then sit back and watch it happen.

    Jobless growth, perhaps, less jobs than you’d like, very likely, but a heck of a lot than we’re doing now.

    • No I disagree. The biggest scourge in SA is not unemployment, it’s the corruption, greed and cadre incompetence at all levels of government. Civil servants who say “we didn’t struggle to be poor”, stealing instead of serving. That’s where the ghastly unemployment numbers originated.

      It’s time to stop being impressed by success in this country. With our economy on its knees, flashy new luxury cars and Top Billing style houses probably means the owner has their fingers in the till.

      Like the citizens of Rotterdam are planning to pelt Jeff Bezos’ new boat with rotten eggs when it leaves the shipyard, we here in SA should view vulgar displays of wealth and excess, and idiotic choices like luxury SUVs as Government fleet transport, with utter contempt, derision and disrespect.

      Speaking of unemployment, I have friends who grew up in former communist Eastern Europe. When their unemployment levels post-liberation approached 10%, it was viewed as a national emergency and no stone was left unturned to solve it. And how was it solved? With stimulus, with lower tax rates, with more freedom and with MAXIMUM respect to the environment.

      While thieves are living large I believe we have a moral obligation to legally avoid paying tax. Our money will just be stolen, like the PPE scandals (plural!) that happened WHILE THE ZONDO COMMISSION was broadcasting its proceedings and shocking revelations on a daily basis.

      Tax reductions, and axing BEE. Now THAT is apartheid of a special kind.

        • I honestly do not understand why people can’t see the patent truth of what you say. Every citizen should be focused on dealing with the corruption because if our institutions are corrupt nothing else matters. Nothing good can be built on false foundations. The universe simply does not work that way.

        • I agree with the original article local direct civil society interest / taking responsibility for local to national world is the only answer. Strife to achieve the goals that you all propose it is great but understand nobody especially politicians are going to do it for you.

  • Thank you, again Jay, for an article that simply speaks the truth! A country that started so well post-democracy, under a well-lead President, with a cabinet that was intend to move the country forward despite the atrocities of the apartheid regime! The change of the millennium brought forward a new regime. One of self-interest, self enrichment. The country has degenerated into the worst that there could be. The rise of people like Copeland and Survee would never have happened if it was not for the greedy politicians that emerged. This new obsession to destroy our environment can only be due to one reason. More personal wealth for a few well-connected! If only those few veterans from the early days of democracy that are still alive could have had a stronger voice to what is now a government fuelled by greedy capitalists

    • If only those few veterans from the early days of democracy that are still alive could have had a stronger voice to what is now a government fuelled by greedy capitalists.
      I couldn’t agree more! We need to listen to them – not the “newly rich SUV-drivers”!!

  • Hot air, Jay, to a party that cares less and less about the people it claims to represent. The ANC has become increasingly the enemy on every front why else would CR want to control security and policing. The people/ civics will rise again and overthrow an unjust government.

  • Unless this well written missive finds its way onto the desk of every single so called ANC “leader”, it is yet another pertinent message ignored. The key question; do the likes of Mantashe actually care about the sad state of this country given they are directly responsible? This is a man who speaks and in the process tortures truth and logic. A rare “gift”!!

  • Meh. You helped to build this, and now we get a bland column here and there to assuage your conscience? Your comrades were making out like bandits long before and you knew. And, you seem to have done OK out of it too. Spare me your sanctimonius bleatings about issues that have left you behind. We remember your defense of the armed struggle and your leadership that has brought the people you pretended to represent to where they are now. “Look on ye works ye mighty, and despair”(Apologies to Shelley).

  • Thak you, Jay. We can but hope the dissenting voices like yours do gradually make a difference, and help to move us in a good direction. Mantashe must go now. Just go. We’ve had enough of his outdated patriarchal Big Man bluster disguised as helping the poor.

  • A seemingly common post liberation reality shock, is the realisation that many of the previously unliberated are, in fact, not very nice people.

      • Exactly – McBride springs to mind – bombing innocents in the name of liberation only to be shown he is a truly nasty piece of work. As for the poverty , unemployment and injustice , you get what you vote for. Most of those unemployed people living in poverty need to admit this is of their own making – they have themselves to blame for believing in their mighty ANC comrades and voting for the scum! Wake up and smell the stench you created.

  • An excellent reading suggestion Jay, but I doubt these people have time for reading. I don’t even think they think they are doing wrong. Their proximity to power has transformed them. They have become greed-zombies. If ever there was a virus that needed a vaccination, it’s power…

  • Jay, to twist a common colloquialism… more than money, it’s a love of power that is seemingly at the root of all evil… we see it every day in the autocratic and sanctimonious utterances of our politicians, trying to justify their greediness by speaking down to their citizens, we’re not children needing your protection, heaven help us but we actually need protection from your self-interest! We know what you’re up to and we must hold you to account!
    As a female, I am dismayed and disappointed at the number of women implicated in the state capture and corruption scandals, I expected better from you, not more of the same… power corrupts!

  • The government has become a criminal kleptocracy. They absolutely do not care about anyone but themselves. This corruption started in the 90’s. Mr Naidoo, why not organise a mass resignation from the ANC and speak against them before the next election? It’s easy to preach to the converted – and maybe it salves your conscience- but I don’t think reading Milan Kundera is going to help. This suggestion: should I laugh uncontrollably or sob uncontrollably?

    • Virginia, the corruption started long before the 90s and the proof of that is how well the exiles lived in places like Lusaka, London and other major cities of the world. That was financed by aid money and the proceeds of crime. For instance, Joe Modise ran a car theft ring where cars stolen in SA were sold in other African countries and lived so ostentatiously that President Kaunda had to warn him that he was having problems with his cabinet ministers because they had far less. If you want a view on how the Tambo’s lived in London I suggest you read Robin Renwick’s book.

      • !!!!! This I did not know….Will read immediately…I realise now why they steal so much currently..Satisfying the millionaire lifestyle they were used to. It is also a cultural thing.

      • Hi Charles. Just googled Robin Renwick’s books. He has written many on his time in SA. Which one are you referring to? I am intrigued, sounds like my kind of book.

  • Dear Mr Naidoo. To your question : “how much power and money is enough?” your former comrades have a simple mathematical answer : n + 1

  • Everything you rail against, Jay, is the direct consequence, like night follows day, of the National Democratic Revolution, that core doctrine of the ANC, allegiance to which is renewed at every opportunity.

    Anyone who over the past thirty years dared highlight the NDR’s ruinous nature and the corruption and capture it would spawn was demonised as a racist reactionary. By you as well.

    An article from a ‘Movement’ insider, reflecting on the structural underpinnings (which you chose for so long to ignore or deny) of the rot you bemoan would be an interesting complement to the wide-eyed shock and horror you like to write about concerning those ‘bad’ comrades who have strayed.

  • WITH all the goings-on one was left wondering when the real leaders would step forward and call a halt to the madness. Many lives were lost, people suffered, many made sacrifices beyond description, millions were prepared to look beyond the past and see the bright future in a democratic South Africa. We feel cheated, abused, and we are tormented when we see what is taking place in the beloved nation in which the rainbow has fast faded. The future looks so bleak. And then there is a ray of hope. Thank you Jay Naidoo for the forthrightness. For saying it as it should be said. We hope and pray that others will emulate you, Jay Naidoo. It is high time that corrupt, misguided, thieving individuals in positions of authority, in both public life and the corporate world, get booted out.

  • Great piece Jay. Such a pity all has come to this now. The real sadness for me is the betrayal of the dream-was all the work really to free the masses? Has all the past killing, disappearing and torturing of anti-Apartheid heroes now come to this, now only measured by “who’s richer than who?”
    A cynic would think that perhaps the struggle was not about the freeing of the masses but rather about elbowing away, first the Apartheid looters, and then former revolutionary Comrades, from the “trough” with “it’s my (as in ME and my family’s) turn to eat and [email protected]%& the masses and the country..it’s about me and my Billionaire status.” I am always amazed how quickly/cheaply Comrade status was traded for Capitalist status by the so called “stalwarts” of the struggle..money obviously does talk! It is a crying shame and I really worry for our future-a great opportunity was stolen for short term gain by a few “leaders”, to improve the lives of our fellow South Africans and I don’t think we will get another one-poor, hungry, unemployed people are angry citizens and we ignore them at our peril..as we saw last year. A father who cannot provide, has not the means to even try, will do anything to help his family and does not care about the creed of the current government. The ANC is deluded if they think their supporters are going to follow them off a cliff. We need to wake up…quickly!

  • Well said, Jay, and so in line what we, the people standing on the outside looking in, feel and would like to say. But we are racists by definition and our voices mean but very little. Democracy has disempowered us and we can do little but sit and watch how SA is sliding ever closer to the brink. Cry, the beloved country….

  • Some salient points made, but the writer displays a sad lack of knowledge about educational matters. There are numerous schools offering mother tongue based instruction in almost all South African languages. Plus German and French schools, and even a Japanese school. That many of us hold our own languages dear can speak of other values too, and does not automatically equate to racism. The Afrikaans school community that I am involved in has a number of black learners and is fortunate to have teachers from various demographic groups too.

  • WOW, WOH, what can i say but, Hallelujah for God is Great. Jay, thats gotta be the most incredible article i will probably read in 2022. Its probably the best assessment of our position & our Minerals minister yet. Please write more. SA needs to hear more wisdom from the real comrades, who know the true meaning of Freedom with our “Best in the World” constitution. Hail Jay Naidoo.

  • I’ve always associated Jay Naidoo with the era of South African Exceptionalism, 1994-2004, to which he was a contributor.
    Trouble is, it is his generation of ANC Exceptionalists who spawned the next generation of Tripartite Alliance “It’s Our Time to Eat”/”I Didn’t Struggle To Be Poor” executives and for this Jay’s era of the ANC remain responsible.
    Who can forget Blade Nzimande in 2009, upon whose appointment to Minister of Higher Education, immediately ordered a brace of BMWs, 750iL fully equipped, one for Pretoria and one for Cape Town. Small beer compared to today’s venality levels of the ANC, but still a crack in the Exceptionalist code.
    Jay sits with his ANC Exceptionalists, resting on their laurels but selectively ignoring their architectural role in the stirring of the fecal storm through which our beloved country is now passing.
    Heartwarming though his article is, I perceive it as a bleat and until he and his honorable ilk step up and do something about the malfeasance to which he refers, it shall remain a bleat.

  • Perhaps another classic is worth reading Mr Naidoo – George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” with its famous “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. This behaviour by political pigs was predicted in 1945.

  • South Africa has always pursued extractive economic strategies. The ANC has taken this to new heights with personalized extraction to benefit its leaders. Gold and diamonds have gone, coal is not much use anymore, our water, energy and transport infrastructure are in advanced decline, our metropolitan areas are old and unable to cope. We need a vision of the sort of regenerative country we want to emerge from generations of extraction and a strategy on how to get there. A solution based on investment to reduce unemployment is simplistic and is already failing. Business, NGO’s and professionals in the critical areas need to come together to create a forum where the key interest groups can come together and start to map the road ahead – and initially the mapping must be done outside the political arena and free of outdated ideology, rhetoric, economic models and labels. There will be political collapse and opportunities either for further disintegration and extraction or for the sane and concerned to come together to steer the country to where its wonderful people deserve. It will take generations for South Africa to recover

  • “In fact, our own government should deepen collaboration with civic society, given the ineffectiveness and widescale corruption in its own ranks at the local level.”

    WoW – what a powerful opion! And strong incrimination of Mr. Matashe and the likes – who want to and support the further exploitation of our country, its resources, its potential – for the sake of filling their already ‘propvol’ pockets even more and selling off as much as they can to the ‘global North’!
    (was not mr. Mantashe once someone who claimed to be an ‘anti-capitalist’, a communist – who put people before profits? I vaguely remember something like that … 🙁

  • An excellent article. It often surprises me that the deluge of criticisms that follow are always about the failures of government completely ignoring the massive part that is played by big business with absolutely no conscience. Sure the government graft and corruption must be dealt with but it is not on its own. The raft of complaints about a miniscule increase in the minimum wage is a significant case in point

  • Dear Mr Naidoo re your excellent hard hitting article- it is of no use preaching to the converted, so rather make copies of and have it put on every cabinet ministers’ desk, NEC members as well and table a motion to bring it up for the next important meeting. Oh and also why not arrange a press conference so that it would reach many more people and be thoroughly aired in the public domain. Because sadly most of the readers ofDaily Maverick already knew about most is these things!

  • Jay the starting point of your article is naive and wholly wrong. You imply that comrades were entitled to enrich themselves a little bit as a reward for their sacrifices, but you say that they then took it to excess. Human nature is not structured that way, and history is replete with examples. No, your comrades have impoverished this country and its structures for decades to come, precisely because of this self-awarded entitlement.

  • Such a well written piece, l wish it could be read and taken to heart by all of us but l fear it will not be read by those to whom it is aimed.

  • Thank you Mr Naidoo. I think it is imperative that you, and the other remaining revolutionaries that fought a righteous fight, to initialise a new collective of reasonable South Africans, from all parties and walks of life, which could be the basis of a truly new political party; none of the existing ones are up to scratch.
    It is always easy for everyone to blame-throw after the fact; we did this and you said that, etc., but it does not contribute. One should be allowed to learn from and correct your mistakes and misconceptions. Those who benefitted from Apartheid should learn from their mistakes and false beliefs and build a new future. Those revolutionaries who thought all their comrades were pure-hearted and idealistic, should learn from this false assumption and correct there mistakes. And this new breed of enlightened individuals should work together and band the country together. The false “heroes” form all sides have made themselves known through their actions, chasing greed and power and self-interest. It is time to get rid of them.
    Please initiate a true new partnership of true South Africans.

  • “South Africa was not liberated by political parties or leaders. The change came when the people stood up and refused to collaborate in their oppression …….. “, and then what happens is the ANC claims victory as a collective and the rampant stealing and corruption by the sycophants starts.
    Thanks for a well written article.
    A comment for the commentators – there are two “Jay Naidoos” and they should not be confused for reasons often extolled in the media.

  • I object to continued references ro “greedy capitalists ” . They are greedy immoral communists Maybe it’s time i should mention that famous allegorical story ‘Animal Farm” again . The rules- “all animals are equal ; but pigs are more equal than others” Here, in S.A. we have a classical example.

  • Thank you for speaking the truth to the comrade capitalists, particularly for singling out Gwede. He’s a disgrace with no shame!. Sies!

  • Thank you for saying it how it is… may your words not fall on deaf ears. But sadly it takes real self-reflection to not fall into the trap of becoming what one has fought against, and clearly there is little capacity (or perhaps will) for such introspection in our government of the day.

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