Defend Truth


Aspiring presidents and public acts of regret


Dr Brij Maharaj is an academic and civil society activist.

It’s the season for apologising in the build-up to the ANC national elective conference in mid-December.

It is considered normal to apologise for a mistake or transgression, especially if it was unintentional, and is viewed as an act of “moral balancing”. Apologies should be sincere and be followed by some public act of regret, and acceptance of responsibility. Often, there is a pseudo-apology where the perpetrator fails to acknowledge or take blame for harm done.

As Professor Aaron Lazare has argued, a sincere apology offered and accepted “is one of the most profound interactions of civilised people. It has the power to restore damaged relationships, be they on a small scale … or on a grand scale, between groups of people, even nations. If done correctly, an apology can heal humiliation and generate forgiveness”.

In South Africa, those who aspire to higher office, especially in the public domain, are trying to clean out their closets of their “smallanyana skeletons”. Acts of regret, remorse, repentance – call it what you will – are flowing fast and furiously. Those who have some integrity and honour are making public confessions of regret and atonement. Others choose to be denialists.

Notwithstanding media revelations about his public life, the ghosts of the Marikana massacre haunt Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the front-runners. On 16 August 2012, SAPS killed 34 striking mineworkers at Lonmin’s platinum mines, of which Ramaphosa was non-executive director. Responding to student questions at a presentation at Rhodes University on 7 May 2017, Ramaphosa said: “You say you want to appeal to my conscience … My conscience is that I participated in trying to stop further deaths from happening … You might say that doesn’t matter but it did horrify me as a person and I then said we need to prevent this from happening. Yes, I may well have used unfortunate language in the messages I sent out … I have apologised and I do apologise that I did not use appropriate language but I never had the intention to have 34 other mineworkers killed.”

There was criticism that Ramaphosa’s apology lacked sincerity and honesty as he expressed remorse for perhaps using inappropriate language, rather than taking responsibility for the tragedy that could have been avoided. According to Professor Peter Alexander from UJ, “the concern is about his actions and their relationship to the killings … Nobody suggested he was responsible for the 34 deaths, which followed after police opened fire on protesting miners and employees of Lonmin Mine in Marikana … The argument is that his intervention made bloodshed more likely and that he could probably have stopped the killings had he acted differently. His critics are very clear that his failure to insist on negotiations led to the deaths”.

Another presidential hopeful, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, expressed regret that she had not supported former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza, who had resigned after she was charged for bringing the party into disrepute for publicly criticising President Zuma: “I feel guilty I didn’t offer former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza the support and comfort she needed. I do know she had a tough time … I have been wanting to do that; however, I have been too caught up in my own situation. We have lost one very strong person who would be able to stand up to power and say ‘not in my name’. I wish she hadn’t resigned … I’m saddened by it… It’s people of courage who are able to tell us when we go wrong … I would have wanted her to hold out because we need people like her. Our leaders have stood the worst test and come out heroes of note.”

At one level, Sisulu was not implicated directly in the difficulties faced by Makhosi Khoza within the party, but she and all her NEC colleagues in the ANC were complicit by their silence. After all, Khoza and her family had faced serious threats for months. Cynics may well argue that her expression of regret was a form of grandstanding in order to gain public sympathy and support in her quest for the number one position.

Dr Zweli Mkhize, ANC Treasurer-General, has also emerged as a credible, intelligent and experienced contender for the number one position in SA, and has been viewed as the candidate capable of doing the impossible – uniting a severely fractured and haemorrhaging ANC. Therefore the revelations and allegations in the book Khwezi written by Redi Tlhabi, that Dr Mkhize had attempted to mediate and influence Fezekile ‘Khwezi’ Kuzwayo to withdraw rape charges against President Zuma, were potentially embarrassing.

In a lengthy public response, Mkhize attempted to simultaneously defend, apologise, express regret and rationalise his actions: “It is a pity that in all this, I never got a chance to personally engage with Fezeka to share the background on how I got involved which was ostensibly to give support as part of the family. In all that I did, it was never my intention to let her down. I also did not in any way undermine her right to pursue any legal recourse in this case. It was painful to witness public humiliation and ridicule of a child who was like a daughter to me and yet at that stage, because of legal process, I could not lend any support to her and her mother.”

The silence from the other foremost candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (backed by supporters of state capture, and silently endorsed by those ensconced in Saxonworld, who pull the strings), would suggest that she has an unblemished record of selfless public service. At some critical stage in the home-run towards the finishing line she may well decide to come clean on the R16-million Sarafina 2 scandal (peanuts compared to the hundreds of billions in government funds that have subsequently been looted, but it marked the turning point down the steep, slippery slope of corruption and lack of public responsibility and accountability).

Then there was the Virodene quackery experiment. According to the TAC, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma “did play a key role by providing support to the researchers and facilitating meetings with Cabinet. Her gullibility foreshadowed the unscientific and overly politicised approach to health that would cost many lives in future years”.

In the digital age, it is very difficult to airbrush history. DM


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