Greetings my fellow South Africans – it is time for my annual communiqué with you. I understand that this year is special because it is the centenary of my arrival on planet earth. Off course, here in heaven time and tide standstill, and your age is equivalent to your last day on earth, without the aches, pains and other maladies.
As the new arrivals continuously update me about events back home, I simultaneously experience a sense of pain, shame and relief that I am now in my heavenly abode, and no longer on the earthly plane.
The arrival of Winnie was a source of joy and pain for me – the contradictions of life and death, I guess. She remains cold and detached towards me. Winnie invariably found the discipline in her new abode stifling, and tried unsuccessfully to mobilise against St Peter, who warned her that she could be transferred to the fire and brimstone zone (mercifully, tyres and matchsticks are banned in heaven).
The unnecessary debate (started by someone who is still in his diapers) about whether Winnie’s role in the struggle for freedom and democracy was greater than mine, did not help either. The allegation that the ‘wrong Mandela was being praised’, and that I was a “sell out” does hurt. I cannot defend myself from my remote heavenly perch, and leave it to the harsh and ruthless discipline of history to make the final call.
In this regard, I have been consoled by Gandhi who informed me that even seventy years after his departure from the material world, he is still being viciously attacked, by those who were not even born when he led the struggle to decolonise India, and which subsequently influenced the retreat of oppressors in the world. He informed me that the RSS/BJP alliance want to replace his picture with that of Shree Modiji on Indian currency notes. (There were also suggestions that Indian Muslims may develop their own, unique currency). According to Gandhi, the evil of ruthless politicians in the pursuit of power, privilege and patronage, (and who cynically manipulate the illiterate masses), knows no boundaries.
And I see this playing itself out on a regular basis in my beloved country. Over the past year, the daily media revelations of State Capture and corruption was shocking and almost incredible – how the former president, some members of his family, ministers, provincial leaders, and heads of state owned enterprises literary handed over the safe keys of South Africa to one foreign family. The ever-astute Pravin Gordhan, who played a critical role in the anti-apartheid struggle as well as in the negotiations for a democratic SA, estimated that the country (and especially the poor) was robbed of R250-billion – all in the name of “radical economic transformation”. There also appears to be a seamless connection between some leaders in the ANC and EFF, and the global, criminal underworld.
Full credit to the media for investigating and exposing the rot at all levels of government during the Zuma regime. Scorpio, amaBhungane, Daily Maverick, Mail & Guardian, and News 24 – take a bow. (The false information peddled by Tom Moyane and Jonas Makwakwa about the SARS rogue unit and reported shamelessly by the Sunday Times is an indictment on the media). As I had argued in my address to the International Press Institute Congress in February 1994: “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy … It is only such a free press that can temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen. It is only such a free press that can be the vigilant watchdog of the public interest against the temptation on the part of those who wield it to abuse that power. It is only such a free press that can have the capacity to relentlessly expose excesses and corruption on the part of government, state officials and other institutions that hold power in society”.
While he avoided wine, Jacob Zuma’s forte was women and song (Umshini Wami – bring me my machine gun; and more recently after the reinstatement of “charges of corruption, racketeering, fraud and money laundering”, the tune changed to Sengimanxebanxeba – betrayal by friends and brothers). I was always concerned about Jacob’s extravagant lifestyle and the way he attracted women – like bees to honey (please note that I was not envious – after all, who would have the gall to compete with me for the gracious Graca? And malicious social media posts that after my departure Jacob tried to woo Graca are simply not true!). I readily admit that on least two occasions I made generous contributions so that Jacob could liquidate his debts, and I warned him about his shady (South African) Indian benefactors who would invariably claim their pound of flesh.
Now please do not compare me to the Diaper Boy who has claimed on several public platforms that the majority of South African Indians are racists. (By the way, that cynical, sarcastic Maharaj columnist was spot on when he made comparisons with Idi Amin.) Let me readily assure you that my political ideas and radical induction were, to a significant extent, influenced by South African Indians, who also played a major role in the struggle against apartheid for democracy.
While studying at Wits, my political ideas and activism was influenced by Ismail Meer, JN Singh, Ahmed Bhoola, and Ramlal Bhoolia. At Wits “I was among white and Indian intellectuals of my own generation, young men who would form the vanguard of the most important political movements of the next few years. I discovered for the first-time people of my own age firmly aligned with the liberation struggle, who were prepared, despite their relative privilege, to sacrifice themselves for the cause of the oppressed”.
I was also impressed by the Indian community’s passive resistance campaign and mass mobilisation against the Ghetto Act of 1946 (which was subsequently responsible for the Indian government placing South Africa and apartheid on the UN agenda): “Housewives, priests, doctors, lawyers, traders, students, and workers took their place in the front lines of the protest. For two years, people suspended their lives to take up the battle. Mass rallies were held; land reserved for whites was occupied and picketed. No less than two thousand volunteers went to jail…”
For the first time, I had witnessed “an extraordinary protest against colour oppression in a way that Africans and the ANC had not. The Indian campaign became a model for the type of protest that we in the (ANC) Youth League were calling for”.
Back to the present and the future. There is no doubt in my mind that Cyril Ramaphosa was “a worthy successor to a long line of notable ANC leaders”. (One can only speculate about whether the course of history would have been significantly different if he had succeeded me as president.) His focus must be on the enforcement of law and order – without fear or favour, against friend or foe; and transparent accountability from those who are paid from the public purse.
The battle lines have been set, and there is an almost even balance between the forces of righteousness and unrighteousness (with a slight advantage to the latter as corruption has become a way of life in SA). But you can tilt that balance to favour righteousness. However, do not do it for Mandela – do it for your country – South Africa. Not for 67 minutes or one day, but rather 24/7. DM
Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity