KADER Asmal did not die a bitter man, but who would have blamed him if he had? His political career in South Africa after his return from exile followed two distinct trajectories. The first encompassed his participation in the drafting of the constitution and his service in the cabinet of Nelson Mandela.
During that time, Asmal helped construct one of the world’s foremost progressive societies, one in which the rule of law held sway, but within a framework of compassionate, humanitarian values aimed at advancing the position of the poorest in society.
During that phase, he enjoyed the unqualified support — and frequent public admiration — of Mandela, who saw in him a fearless proponent of reconciliation.
It helped that Asmal had a wicked sense of humour, for the society that was being constructed was one in which the humanity of the people stood in the foreground, with the machinery of state at their service.
Among his contributions beyond the constitution were the formulation of guidelines prohibiting the sale of arms to countries where they would be used to suppress democracy or wage unjust wars.
And he drove the drafting of rules on the declaration of private assets and the acceptance of gifts by public figures.
The second trajectory began when he found himself sidelined under former president Thabo Mbeki.
He resigned as an MP to avoid having to vote in favour of the disbanding of the Scorpions.
He was to witness growing challenges to his life’s work from within ANC ranks.
The constitution he had helped craft became an object of derision by a rising cohort of populist leaders.
Transparency and openness gave way to opacity as some public officials amassed vast fortunes while still in office.
The sale of arms to whomever became strategically significant swept away the high standard he had set in this terrain, and now South African arms and vehicles can be seen suppressing democratic protests all over the world.
Asmal found himself increasingly on the outside, one of only a handful of voices speaking out against the erosion of the country’s founding democratic values.
Finally he found himself outside the parliament he had helped to bring to life, addressing those protesting against the Protection of Information Bill about the need to fight against this pernicious legislation.
He occupied high office within the government, but that was a means, not an end. When the time came for him to stand with the protestors outside parliament, he did not hesitate to do so.
His was a life of service to the idea of a great South African society. Long may his legacy live.
*This is a draft leader for the Sunday Times
IT took days and thousands of Internet rumours for the authorities to come to their senses and issue a detailed formal statement on the health of former president, Nelson Mandela.
At noon on Friday, the deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe ended speculation that Mandela was at death’s door with these words:
“Madiba is well. He is receiving the best treatment from top doctors. There is no need for us to panic. There is no reason for us to fear for Madiba’s health.”
Motlanthe was speaking at Johannesburg’s Milpark hospital, until then off-limits to journalists.
Motlanthe, it must be said, prefaced his remarks by thanking the media for expressing the fears and concerns of the nation over Mandela’s health.
He seemed bemused by the extent of the attention given to Mandela, comparing it to an incident eight years ago when Mandela had been admitted to hospital with barely any interest shown.
Two important changes have taken place since then. The first is that Mandela has aged by eight years and, at 92, is much frailer than he was back in 2002.
The second is the advent of social media and the rise of public reporting on events.
Government would do well to ask itself what it is doing to adapt to this new media environment.
It is now possible for anyone with a cellphone to publish news and information to a national audience of what might be described as “key-influencers” via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
These mediums have brought greater freedom, variety and penetration to news, but they come at a price.
They are very good at allowing the events witnessed by users to reach a larger audience, but not accurate sources of hard news which is at some remove.
They do not employ the sorts of accuracy and fairness checks that newspapers such as this insist on prior to publication.
Most of the time these wild reports are treated for what they are: The sometimes witty thumbings of the uninformed.
But when they tap into a national anxiety such as that over the health of President Nelson Mandela, the dumbest thumb becomes a powerful sources of rumour.
Responding requires both agility and speed. Government and perhaps other institutions such as the Nelson Mandela Foundation, need to make their voices heard in real time and on the right platforms, mowing down rumours and speculation with detail and facts.
They would make a grave mistake if they believe that Twitter is an elitist phenomenon in a country where almost every adult carries a cellphone. Motlanthe did well to put out the fire, but he would not have needed to do this if communication had been open from the start.
In light of the vicious tongue-lashing Winning Madikizela-Mandela gave Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the Evening Standard, The Times decided to publish the (edited for lenght) text of a speech she gave in February. It was light, warm and touching. Read on …
Speech at Wits University to mark 20 years since Mandela’s release in February this year
The day the treason trial ended in 1961, Nelson Mandela came home with the ANC national executive committee members and said he would be back after a week. That week was to last for 27 years.
He was loving, fond of children, a people’s person and a very hard worker. His fearlessness, his unassailable morality, his unwavering commitment to the struggle for total freedom and his insistence on marching to his own beat were the hallmarks of his character. Read More…
Winnie Mandela’s assault on Nelson Mandela is quite astonishing. It was not very long ago that she accompanied him to the opening of Parliament and was pictured holding hands with Graca Machel and smiling.
The assumption was that old wounds had healed.
But yesterday’s Evening Standard published an interview conducted by the wife of VS Naipaul, Nadira Naipaul, which suggested quite the opposite.
Some key quotes:
* “Mandela let us down. He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside.”
* “Look what they make him do. The great Mandela. He has no control or say any more. They put that huge statue of him right in the middle of the most affluent ‘white’ area of Johannesburg. Not here where we spilled our blood and where it all started.”
* “Mandela is now a corporate foundation. He is wheeled out globally to collect the money and he is content doing that. The ANC have effectively sidelined him but they keep him as a figurehead for the sake of appearance.”
* “Mandela did go to prison and he went in there as a burning young revolutionary. But look what came out.”
* “I cannot forgive him for going to receive the Nobel [Peace Prize in 1993] with his jailer [FW] de Klerk. Hand in hand they went.”
Wow. Strong stuff.
YESTERDAY, Cosatu union Nehawu issued an unusual statement. It was a scathing comment on the pathetic state of public discussion under the heading “STOP INTOXICATING PUBLIC DISCOURSE AND FOCUS ON REAL ISSUES”.
The capital letters indicated the level of exasperation of the union with the high volume of mud being slung about by one or another faction within the ANC.
The statement said: “These puerile, attention seeking and rudimentary verbal sparring spats are an insult to the founding fathers of the New South Africa like Nelson Mandela who were principled, humble and inspiring leaders. Ours is a nation that was liberated through principled resistance and dialogue and we all should strive to defend and honour the legacy of all our heroes and heroines who sacrificed for our liberation and inspired our nation.”
What is certain is that their appeal for reason will be drowned out by puerile, attention seeking responses.
Just this week, the ANC Youth League rounded on the former Reserve Bank governor, Tito Mboweni, for taking the job of chairman of Anglo Gold Ashanti.
The appointment, which would until very recently have been greeted as evidence of transformation in the senior echelons of the economy was given this description:
“Tito Mboweni’s appointment into a mining corporation is not at all surprising and reflects the reactionary, nonsensical and backward views he expressed when he was the mis-Governor of the South African Reserve Bank that mines will not be nationalised in South Africa.”
Their anger appears to have stirred by Mboweni’s not questioning of the league’s plan to nationalise mines.
Nehawu’s despairing appeal will no doubt fall on deaf ears. But they are right to highlight the dangers posed by the poor state of the national debate.
JACOB Zuma really he can hide his bizarre sexual behaviour (impregnating multiple women out of wedlock) behind the fig leaf of “culture”.
He appears blissfully unaware of how this whole thing is playing out there. He has lost respectability and is the standing joke at the taxi rank.
Instead of accepting this he wants to accuse those who are unhappy of disrespecting his culture. Is he seriously arguing that it is good idea for a 67-old man to have frequent unprotected sex with multiple partners half his age? This in addition to several marriages?
Yep, he is. Read this extract from the Sunday Times interview with him today:
“We need this conversation that must help us reach a common understanding as South Africans,” he said.
He appeared shocked and surprised by the outrage that followed the scandal, telling the Sunday Times: “There are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Pedis and so on … How do we live together with an understanding that we understand each other?
“Values may not exactly be the same, but how do we bring harmony to this?
“Since Madiba (Nelson Mandela) said we must live together in harmony, we have not taken that discussion further.”
He said that while the constitution championed “unity in diversity”, South Africans were still looking at “things differently”.
In an apparent reference to concerns about his polygamous marriages, Zuma urged “all (South Africans) to respect all cultures”.
“How do we judge our values as a society? How do we judge other communities with whatever they practise? We need to create some platform to strengthen the respect of one another. We need to create a platform where there is no community that does not respect another.”
JACOB Zuma is coming under severe pressure of the sort not seen since he turned the screws on his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki.
By now the taint of scandal over his latest child out of wedlock ought to have lifted.
Zuma should be sailing in blue water after once more demonstrating to the nation his power to reach out, to unite and to bring a fresh approach to government in his State of the Nation address.
Instead he is still wading in the treacle and he appears unable to staunch the wounds his image has suffered.
The truth is that Zuma’s address was the weakest by a president in post-apartheid South Africa.
Aside from promising that teachers would be prepared for lessons (apparently we should thank him for this) and that Cabinet Ministers would have to sign “performance agreements” at some undefined time in the future, the address contained absolutely no new ideas.
Neither business nor labour were impressed with his jobs pronouncements, which rung hollow.
The nation tuned out and the chatter about his poor moral compass continued to dominate.
Zuma’s inability to summon his national reconciliation mojo, even as Nelson Mandela handed him a golden opportunity to do so by attending the speech, signalled the beginning of the end of his presidency.
The only reason the myriad factions of the ANC and the broad left have tolerated Zuma is because he offers the veneer of unity that voters demand of their leaders in this country.
Without that, he is just another bumbling philanderer.
There can be no doubt that talk within the alliance has turned to who will replace Zuma after his first term. Let’s hope that this time they make the right choice.
I stand before you this evening, 20 years since President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela walked out of prison.
We have chosen this as the day to call this Joint Sitting of Parliament to deliver the State of the Nation Address, to celebrate a watershed moment that changed our country.
The release of Madiba was brought about by the resolute struggles of the South African people.
You will recall that the masses of this country, in their different formations, responded with determination to the call to make the country ungovernable and apartheid unworkable.
We are celebrating this day with former political prisoners who we have specially invited to join us.
We welcome in particular those who have travelled from abroad to be here, Helene Pastoors, Michael Dingake from Botswana, Mr Andimba Toivo ya Toivo of SWAPO in Namibia.
We are pleased to be joined by members of the legal team in the Rivonia Treason trial – Lord Joel Joffe, who is now based in London and Judge Arthur Chaskalson.
We also remember and pay tribute to Mr Harry Schwarz, who sadly passed away last week.
He was amongst other things, a member of the Rivonia defence team.
We extend our gratitude to our friends and comrades in the international community, for fighting side by side with us to achieve freedom.
We extend a special welcome to the Mandela family. Read More…
TODAY, The Times front page marked 20 years since Nelson Mandela’s release. We carried a front page story on how the entire country would celebrate the event.
We carried an advertisement in our masthead for an insightful, moving article by Trevor Manuel looking back on 11 February 1990.
We carried a picture of Mandela’s statue outside the Groot Drakenstein prison against a wonderful blue sky dotted with clouds.
And, to the disappointment of some, we carried an advertisement for socialite Khanyi Mbau’s condom test which we ran in our center spread.
The disappointed wanted to know why The Times would spoil a good package on Mandela with a puff about condoms.
The answer is simple: South Africa, while it has much to celebrate, remains in the grip of an awful Aids epidemic which continues to take the lives of young and old alike.
Sonorous appeals by elder statesmen are not going to persuade this generation to use condoms. It’s going to take the word of a socialite like Mbau, who bravely admitted to contracting a sexually transmitted disease in our article, to do it.
The time for squeamishness and moralising has long passed. We need to do all we can to continue to hammer home the message about how to avoid contracting this deadly disease and we dare not slacken off, even when pressing national issues appear to be “more important”.
Khanyi Mbau putting out a message about safe sex is as important a message as that celebrating the anniversary of Mandela’s release. Perhaps more so, because it talks to the future.