Home and Away: Bantu Holomisa

2012-01-14 10:29

Bantu Holomisa (56) might have established his own political party, the United Democratic Movement (UDM), in 1997, but it is the ANC that taught him the ins-and-outs of running one.

We meet Holomisa, UDM president and the party’s member of Parliament, at the Southern Sun Hotel at OR Tambo International Airport where he is staying (for the night).

The ANC’s “organisational ability” is one of the things he still values the most about the party he joined in 1994, just prior to South Africa’s first democratic elections on April 27.

In the two years that he was a card-carrying member before his expulsion in 1996 (because he criticised a fellow ANC national executive committee member), the governing ANC was led by “intellectuals and struggle stalwarts who taught you so much”, he says.

“Now you miss the voices of people such as Cyril Ramaphosa, Pallo Jordan and Chris Hani.

“Elders such as Walter Sisulu, OR Tambo and Bertha Gxowa.

“The Mac Maharajs (in other words, intellectuals) of that time were guys who knew their stuff. You miss that aura or stature and dignity.

“I can’t say the same now.”

His relationship with the ANC began before the party was unbanned in February 1990, when he was still head of the Transkei government.

Holomisa was the only leader of a homeland – most of whom were discredited as apartheid “puppets” – to work with the ANC underground, accommodating some of the party’s operatives in the Transkei.

He became a member in 1994 after he was asked by leaders of the party to join, and immediately became part of the committee set to strategise how to campaign for the first elections – a task that ironically prepared him for a future outside the ANC.

“That was a learning curve for me and the ANC was a well-organised machine at the time,” he says.

“I’m fortunate that I still have that background and the wisdom of many veteran leaders I worked with.”

In that same year, December 1994, he received the most votes from ANC delegates to the elective conference in Bloemfontein. But his career in the party was to be short-lived.

“I left at the time that things were still good. I miss that ANC that was accountable.

“If there was a problem, the leaders would call a meeting and find a solution. Nowadays, when people protest, the first people they (today’s ANC) call are the police.”

The ANC, says Holomisa, is now more “detached from communities” and “succession battles have taken over some of the important stuff in the party”.

Like Congress of the People’s founder member Lyndall Shope-Mafole, Holomisa remembers the ANC’s culture of discipline as one of its best characteristics.

“Being a man from the military

(a former army general in the Transkei defence force), I felt like I was home because discipline was the order of the day,” he says.

“Right now everyone speaks whenever they see a camera. You sense frustration in the way people respond to issues and challenges within the party.”

Despite all the challenges facing the party now, the ANC liberated South Africa and should be respected for that, says Holomisa. “You can’t take that credit away from them.”

But Holomisa also sounds a warning.

As the party turns 100 years (founded on January 8 1912 in Bloemfontein as the South African Native National Congress) and enjoys the fruits of fighting for liberation, the danger now, he says, is that “like many other liberation movements, if they’re not careful, ethnicity and race will rear their ugly heads and destroy them”. 

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