Although he is of Caucasian descent, it would be difficult to label Peter Hain a racist, which is the ANC government’s default, defensive response to critiques of its policies and actions. Peter Hain’s activist parents were arrested, jailed, banned and harassed between 1961-1966, and were forced to flee to the UK when he was a teenager. As a 19-year-old, Peter Hain played a leading role in ensuring that the apartheid pariah state was isolated internationally, especially in the sporting sector, and he became a leading light in the anti-apartheid movement. He led the campaign to stop rugby and cricket matches between the UK and SA between 1969-1970. In 1971, he initiated a similar, successful campaign in Australia.
Not surprisingly, the apartheid security forces tried to eliminate him. A letter bomb was sent to him in 1972 but it did not detonate. In 1975, the Bureau for State Security framed him for an alleged bank robbery in a case of mistaken identity, but he was acquitted. He join the UK’s Labour Party and served for 12 years as a government minister in Britain, under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown respectively.
On 26 June 1994, members of the 35-year-old anti-apartheid movement in London decided to disband as its goal of mobilising for a democratic non-racial South Africa had been realised, and Nelson Mandela expressed his gratitude: “The people of South Africa will be forever grateful. We felt its strength even within the dungeons of apartheid … Except for all of you, I might not be standing here, a free man today, and our people would not be free.”
Hain described Mandela as a “magnetic figure [who] never lost his common touch, his identification with people [who] exuded humanity and was a people’s leader, not just a towering figure. Nelson Mandela was not just the courageous leader whose whole adult life, pretty well, was spent on Robben Island in a tiny cell, he was also somebody who healed a bitterly divided nation, who brought people together, who forgave his oppressors but never forgot their oppression. And in that sense, he was … the icon of all international icons … Nelson Mandela can be truly described as one of the greatest figures of modern times. Not many people can claim to have changed the history of their nation for the better, by bringing together what was then a bitterly divided society.”
In 2015, Hain was awarded the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo by President Jacob Zuma, the highest honour presented “to foreign citizens who have promoted South African interests and aspirations through co-operation, solidarity, and support”. In Hain’s case, the award was for his “excellent contribution to the fight against the injustices of apartheid, and unwavering support for the South African liberation movement”.
In several interviews in the UK and SA, Hain revealed that as a critical activist and a politician (in the UK), he was not blind to the challenges facing SA. He acknowledged: “South Africa has made amazing strides compared with the dark abyss into which it was collapsing towards the end of apartheid. At the time of Nelson Mandela’s release, the country was at risk of civil war and the economy was in tatters. Over the last two decades millions of homes have been built, millions of citizens have gained access to electricity, running water and sanitation, and school attendance has improved. Overall there has been a significant rise in real living standards”.
However, he believed that Mandela’s legacy and the sacrifices of so many was being squandered, and was concerned that there could be a “revolution of rising expectations and frustration” in South Africa.
Hain was scathing of the current President: “Jacob Zuma has indeed allowed corruption to flourish on a scale which poses a huge and cancerous threat. Cronyism has replaced merit, not only in the public services, but also in the parastatals which play such a vital role in the economy — from energy to airlines and water supply. The water system, once the cleanest in the world, has fallen into disrepair and is shamefully imperilled … South African schools are not short of textbooks because there are no funds, but because budgets are badly managed or siphoned off. Nine out of every 10 schools still lack libraries and laboratories.”
Hain was concerned about money laundering which was facilitated in part because there was a lack of collaboration and co-operation between international banking institutions and law enforcement agencies. He referred to the “systemic transnational financial crime network facilitated by an Indian-South African family, the Guptas, and the presidential family, the Zumas”.
As a result of Hain’s request to the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, banks such as Standard Chartered, HSBC and Bank of Baroda are being investigated by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, the Financial Conduct Authority and the National Crimes Agency, to determine whether they were involved in any Gupta-linked transactions. Connect this to the FBI investigation into the affairs of their nephews in the USA, and the Guptas and their cronies may just be ensnared in their own web of deceit and deception.
Once again, South Africans opposed to corruption and committed to good, accountable, transparent, democratic and responsible governance; owe a deep debt of gratitude to Lord Peter Hain.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding the damning evidence in Jacques Pauw’s game-changing book, The President’s Keepers, South African enforcement agencies appear to be moribund largely because of Zuma’s chessboard machinations with their pliable heads in an attempt to avoid investigation, conviction and the donning of orange overalls. DM
Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity
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