This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
23 Jun 2005: Badsha, Omar
POM Sorry, you were saying it's a battle between - you said it was a battle for the soul of the ANC and I was saying, which soul?
OB Well what has happened is that the ANC as an organisation in effect gave so much power to Mbeki that he's now done away with the formal structures, the NEC and others don't really matter, and they've been feeling marginalised. Also, from what I would understand, that anyone within that rank who raises opposition or a threat, or potential threat, will know that he will unleash the Scorpions onto them, the power of the state, and to find material that can
POM So in one sense Mac is Mac always says that he went after him and that Hefer for him was not about the spy thing, it was about the abuse of power.
OB It's abuse of power.
POM He still believes that and he says
OB I think it's become absolutely evident with what has happened now because there are three or four people who actually, if you have the interest of the movement and your social democratic agenda, then those people would be your allies. Even if you had a fight with them you wouldn't grind them into the ground as he has done because those people are ideologically on his side, the Tokyo's and others. It's now no more socialist or anything. They are the big capitalists. So why do you use that sledgehammer against them? How did he do it? What did he do with Zuma? The enormous cost to the state and resources were put in the last three or four years to go for that particular group of people, it's abuse of power but power has become centralised, power has been centralised to the extent and I think it's justified by people in government that to make this state work and to deliver, because they found that there was a problem of delivery, is to now centralise power. So in fact the presidency has become such a powerful instrument, huge. Parliament is of very little consequence, it's a rubber stamp. It's a very frightening phenomena.
POM Actually Thabo has done things that Putin got criticised for doing in Russia.
POM He appoints all the premiers, he appoints all the DGs, he appoints the DGs of the premiers, he has a bureaucracy and the
OB So you've got centralised power and it's being exercised in the way that has created a lot of dissatisfaction. If you had centralised power and you exercise it in, say, America where you've got a huge bureaucracy that is able to translate that into action on the ground it's not a problem, but when you centralise power and there's no delivery and at the same time you want to control your party so that you can ensure that it will follow any policy positions that you put, you have to then undo all the years of work of the democratic participation and all of those things. South Africa has become in the last ten years a top down state, the NGOs, the mass democratic movement, all of that don't function, you don't rely on them, you've taken them out of the equation. Now what has happened is that dissatisfaction has grown and that dissatisfaction has coalesced around this Zuma thing.
POM The Zuma thing is the torch that gets the whole thing going.
OB Yes, because every province, every province had premiers or very strong people who have got grassroots support and has central intervention and that intervention has created a lot of dissatisfaction, that's one thing. The second thing is you can't have a country with 70%, 60% or even 40% of your people unemployed.
POM And they say the economy is doing a super job. I just saw it, the economy is doing terrific.
OB Yes, absolutely.
POM The coffers are at an all time high.
OB Absolutely, absolutely.
POM It's like unreality.
OB In those young people, unless you take them and regroup them into an army, which you can't do because we don't have conscription any more, you're not giving them, other than some of the women, quite a large number of young women you're giving them grants now because they're having babies, but the men, what are you giving them? What are these young dissatisfied people getting? And you've got now for the last five years a whole cohort of young people who have not had jobs. Now that's an enormous amount of time not to have jobs. The promise of jobs is there but they are not materialising fast enough. Those that make it into the system, those that make it educationally, can't make the universities. When you have two thirds of your students who come in in the first year dropping out by the second year, these are supposed to be the elite now, they've made it, they've got the lottery, and they now can't they're not equipped, financially they're in trouble. Those people come back and that's a recipe for disaster in a country for instability. It has manifested itself in many little things.
POM But when you say there's like a war for the soul of the ANC?
OB No, no, but then that group is now realising that the only way they're going to it's not just burning tyres in the streets but taking over the ANC. If that gets hold, that position takes hold in the ANC, then you're going to have people who are coming in to the party who have got no stake but want a stake. The party is now dominated largely by those who have been made into councillors and their supporters and made provincial MPs and MPs, parties become a party, an electoral machinery, but here underneath are the people.
POM The people, and there's no connection between the people and the party. The party says we speak for the people and the people say, you do?
OB It's going to be very interesting. There's a national strike that has been called on Monday, COSATU has called a national strike.
POM It'd better be better than the one they called in Zimbabwe.
OB But it's going to be interesting, it might give a pointer to where things are. Then there's this conference that is coming up, you never know. In the long term the state has to come up with or the people are now saying this position has failed, the Mbeki position has failed, GEAR has failed.
POM But Zuma was never I never heard Zuma articulate a policy.
OB He doesn't have to, he's just there.
POM He's the alternative by osmosis.
OB People who are articulating that in the trade unions and Communist Party and the youth, they are the ones who are articulating that.
POM So why do you think in this, coming back to it, would someone like Mac be targeted now? He's out of politics, he's been out of politics since 1999.
OB You need a diversion at the moment.
POM You need diversions. That's right. Get scapegoats, guys.
OB You need diversions. Your Soviet trials that Stalin had were not just because
POM One forgets, you know, all of these guys were in the Politburo, not in the Central Committee, they all said they were in the Central Committee but the thing is that Thabo was in I love the way William Gumede describes him as a kind of reluctant communist, but he's a reluctant communist who made it all the way to the Politburo. He certainly learned the organisational structures.
OB And the techniques.
POM And the techniques. Mac of course was in the thing, and Zuma was in the Politburo too, so they're the only three alive Politburo members left. Hani is dead, Joe Slovo is dead and who's the man was the first Minister of Intelligence? (Joe Nhlanhla)
OB Oh yes.
POM They were the members.
OB I have a picture of the 1991 conference, the five or six top people on the stage: Hani, Slovo, Thabo, Cyril Ramaphosa, Lekota.
POM Harry Gwala was there too.
OB No, no, yes, but in this picture, and the body language of those guys is - I'm doing a book at the moment and I'm ending off with that picture. And if you know the inside story and what has happened subsequently you'd see the body language, each one of them, they're all sitting next to each other but they're apart. I see it all the time.
I think Gumede in his book is also right in the sense that if you want a new type of state and a new policy you've got to have your policy, you must be able to ram it down the throat of your party. It was easy when Mandela was there and Mandela said, "Right, GEAR, chaps", and he put everybody down and there were no more questions, open questions. But Mandela is gone for five years and now you want to put forward new policy positions that you think are going to solve the problem of job creation and things like that. You want to put in two hundred billion into the economy in the next two or three years. That's serious money but is it going to create jobs and the debate is on so the only way you're going to win that debate is by purging your party of people and you've got no other option at the moment because things have gone, with the Zuma affair, over the edge, so you have to go the whole hog.
POM You've got to ride your tiger even as you know where your tiger is taking you.
OB Well that's my feeling of the situation and I worry about it, I think we are on a very slippery slope. We're on a very slippery slope unless 40% of the branches in the ANC decide no, we want a national conference, nothing is impossible, to resolve this leadership crisis.
POM Let me ask you just in terms of your opinion because it's something that - you know I have to end the Mac book. I can't wait for ever and I did enough books on Northern Ireland where events were flowing one way and I was flowing in a different way or whatever and you have to kind of sometimes cut. Do you think that with the Shaik verdict that Zuma should have stood down? He should have said you know no matter what I do, I took money, and the man has been convicted of corruption and a new South Africa needs a leader that goes out there and can speak to the world and the developing world is dependent on the developed world, in a certain way there's a new colonial power and it's called 'the developed world', they set the rules. I mean guilty or not guilty is beside the point. He would have to say, I -
OB Well he has stepped down.
POM Yes but should he have done it right away rather than creating a confrontation?
OB No but he didn't create a confrontation. He has been very clever, extremely, whether wittingly or unwittingly. He's come across as somebody who says look, I've not been
POM I've not been charged, therefore
OB But I am prepared to stand down. He stood down and then he was charged. He wasn't charged and then stood down. Whether that happened because of a clear thought-out plan, but his statement when he finished, when he stepped down that day after parliament, after Thabo made his speech, it's a very interesting statement, a very clever statement. It leaves the door open, it leaves the debate open, and whether he's sacrificing, goes and gets knocked out, he does that statement and his position then is one which is clear: I'm standing down and my country and my organisation is bigger than me.
POM This is from the structures?
POM Not as Deputy President?
OB Not as Deputy President.
POM This is when he stood down, when he said, "My organisation is bigger than me." Yes, very interesting.
OB Now he didn't come with a political manifesto, I don't think he would be coming out with a political manifesto. The struggle now in the policy positions in the ANC is where it's going to be fought and I don't think it's going to be this conference is not one of those conferences where people just accept what the leadership says.
POM It's past that point.
OB It's past that point. But whether he stood down or not I think he has stood down and he's come out quite clear that here he is, he's been asked to stand down, but at the same time he's been crucified but he's acting in a correct way of diversing himself from the ANC, because if he remained in the ANC structures he would then act as a counterweight to anything coming from and paralyse the organisation that way if he wanted to. But he's saying, no, whatever his reasons for that are. It comes out in the public mind that he's a reasonable man, he's not unreasonable, he's not adventurous and he's doing something good for the country. The newspapers have gone for him and say, well The Sun was saying he was wrong all the way and others are saying, no, let him get his day in court. But in the public mind I think there are two things that stand out that there is a conspiracy.
POM That which?
OB There is a conspiracy and it comes from Mbeki's office. I think that no matter you know politics is perception, 90% of it, and I think that perception has taken hold.
POM That the whole thing has been orchestrated by Thabo?
OB And it's difficult to move those perceptions.
POM OK, before I get Pat out of here and get Mac, a little bit about Tim. You knew Tim from the time she was in Durban. Was it when she was at Sastri? Was that where everyone - ?
OB No, no, Tim I came to know in the sixties through old man Dockrat and her brother, MJ.
POM This is the late fifties, right?
OB No, no, sixties. I didn't know her in the fifties.
POM OK, so you were after she came back to Durban after Mac had gone to jail?
POM So you didn't know her before?
OB I didn't. And, yes, most of the families and wives of people who were on Robben Island, especially that period, it was not the easiest of times for them. There were very few people who would socialise with the families other than their own close family. Tim was one of those very independent persons. It was tough but she worked. She's a nurse, she worked night shift only, never worked on the day shift, because you know you can take alternate day and night. She worked night shift throughout that entire period. The only time she took off was the weekend, she would come on Friday morning from the hospital. She stayed with her brother in a flat in town.
POM So she stayed with ?
OB Not MJ, with another brother, he's late now also, what was his name? Sorry.
POM Was he the third brother? Not MD?
OB No, no, he was after MD. He was a businessman, ran a bucket shop. He wasn't really political like the others. Not that he wasn't, he was political, anyone who has family but he was a businessman, he ran a bucket shop, you know gambling, horses.
POM OK, yes, yes.
OB But he was a very nice guy and so she stayed in the flat with him and she would come on Fridays and then on Fridays then we would get together and she would cook for us, myself, her brother, MJ and Dockrat, Rick Turner, the late Rick Turner, the one who was assassinated, he was also part of that group which would meet, and they were all banned. Rick was then and Doc, but we would meet.
POM Now was she concerned about going to the UK?
OB Well she was always concerned, she was totally devoted to Mac, but like all wives you're concerned now about what happens when the husband comes out, whether he's going to have a job. You knew that he was going to be banned because everybody that came out was banned. And so, you know the anxiety levels grow and you could see this picture, she just had it in her head that when he comes out he must have a flat of his own and she must go out and So she saved up but she left the country. She wanted to get out and settle somewhere else so that he could come out of the country and he couldn't leave her. It just became something overwhelming, the position in her head. But in my own sense it was like also a way of escaping from the reality of living as husband and wife again under the South African situation. But one doesn't really know. She just left. We couldn't dissuade her from leaving.
POM Let me ask you, when you came back, not that I would ever quote you on this but it's something that I am seeking confirmation of because other people have said it, and that is that her bitterness with Mac arose from the fact that she believed that he was playing around with Zarina when they were in London, before they got divorced, and that essentially he left her for another woman.
OB Yes, I think so.
POM And her bitterness with a lot of guys in London was that they didn't let her know what was going on.
OB Yes. One tried to not raise those issues, you don't want to raise them but you could feel that. But at the same time she's not bitter now, she's very loyal to him.
POM Oh yes.
OB She's very loyal to him especially recently from others I've heard around what has happened in the Hefer Commission.
POM Yes, I saw her after that.
OB It's a tragedy, an incredible tragedy that, and these people have paid such a great price in their lives. But what can one say? Two people, you think you know all the answers.
POM No-one does.
OB Nobody does, nobody ever does. And it is, like I think prisoners anywhere in the world, especially political ones, when people come out of prison and they try to rehabilitate themselves.
POM They're changed.
OB They change.
POM Twelve years is a long time.
OB Absolutely, yes, and twelve hard years for both. There were lots of families. Zuma never had a visit from his family. Did you know that?
POM I never knew that.
OB Because his mother was always afraid that if her boss knew that her son was on Robben Island she would have lost her job as a domestic. I remember us struggling for years to try and get Dolte Nyenda's(?) daughter to go and see her mother. Dolte didn't have a visit for the first five years. The daughter was afraid, terrified. So you get these stories and it applied to so many people. Some people became absolutely terrified of even travelling to Cape Town, to get them onto a train to go for the first time in their lives on their own, it's a huge thing, they don't know anyone on the other side. You have to organise people to meet them and those people couldn't communicate sometimes with these people. It's a bit frightening. With Mac, disciplined, he's going to use his time, visiting time, in just
POM It's business.
POM This is what I need.
OB This is what you do. And it was always difficult for Tim, she was looking forward to visiting.
POM And he was just making demands, making demands on her. That's what he said - hey, I want you to do this, I want you to do that and the bloody other. Do it, do it, do it, without ever saying by the way, how are you doing?
OB Well I'm not sure, but, yes, it was a very traumatic thing for her. She'd come back and she'd say, "Bloody bastard!" But that was Tim, she swears like a trooper, but it hurts enormously. But she was very loyal. I remember sometimes, I remember one occasion I think he had to go to hospital and he'd asked Tim to come and she didn't have the money immediately. I had no job, steady job, I was working as an artisan, and I had to go to one or two of his comrades and said, "Look guys, I need the ticket." Because normally you have to apply to the Red Cross but there was no time for all of that. Then they all turned me down. They were some of his so-called closest friends. Then I just had to say, "Here, all right, loan me the bloody money. I'll pay you back", which we did. Now, you know, to go to Robben Island after all of that shit, it was tough, tough.
POM His closest comrades wouldn't lend the money because?
OB Well many of these guys didn't want to help the old comrades, but as soon as those comrades came out they were all there.
POM The usual.
OB The usual. I always smile to myself because I watched this thing. You learn a lot about human nature. But they struggled and Tim, like I think all of them, saved up every penny, no splashing out, no life. She didn't have a life other than work and some of us visiting and sitting and having a drink now and then and taking her out to a cinema or a show. I remember one day Athol Fugard put on a play, Boesman & Lena, at the YMCA. It was packed, it became like a political thing this play, packed to the rafters. This play is a very powerful, powerful play about two people, two poor people, but it was a metaphor of people moving from one place to another and not having a place to rest, exiles within their own country. And there was, I think, a scene of prison, I can't remember, she was sitting next to me and sobbing, sobbing. But you know still active inside, internally, she wasn't pro-political, she was still active in her way, carrying messages between people and did her thing. Her leaving I think was largely due to this not knowing how to handle this man, thinking that she would be able to deal with him in a different environment as opposed to this side, but also psychologically she just broke down as far as I'm concerned, couldn't deal with the facts. I think it's a difficult thing to talk about but all of them, all the women I knew who had husbands on Robben Island, it was a very difficult thing for them when their husbands came back, or sometimes for the husbands because some of the women also had other partners.
POM It's the whole question of sexual am I still appealing, does he still like me?
POM Will he look at me and say, my God! That's not the woman I married or I knew.
OB Yes, yes. I think the sexual thing is very, very strong.
POM That's really interesting.
OB It's an extremely, extremely strong aspect of the women I knew, many of them, because we had a network, a support network virtually, and you sat and listened to people and you just observed the great trauma.