How far we have fallen

2014-11-06 00:00

Aziz Pahad’s memoir serves to remind us of a time when we were lauded as an example for others to follow

ABOOK that has just been published offers valuable insight into South Africa’s negotiated settlement.

This time it is from the ANC’s perspective and has been written by Aziz Pahad. Although this is Pahad’s personal memoir, it fits in with and complements other publications on the build-up to the negotiated settlement. Pahad was one of a handful of negotiators testing the waters regarding a settlement. He was involved from inception in secret meetings with protagonists representing the apartheid state.

The book highlights why we were once lauded as a great nation and as an example for others to follow. It took remarkable skill on the part of the negotiators on both sides to develop trust, to see the bigger picture and to know when to compromise.

Pahad’s Insurgent Diplomat: Civil Talks or Civil War? is best read alongside those earlier publications — Robert Harvey’s The Fall of Apartheid: The Inside Story from Smuts to Mbeki and Willie Esterhuyse’s Endgame: Secret Talks and the End of Apartheid.

However, after reading these books, realisation hits home as to how far we, as a nation, have fallen from our once-lofty perch.

Pahad said a reason he wrote the book was as a criticism of the mistakes made since the country’s negotiated settlement. He told sister newspaper City Press that corruption and greed have alienated many supporters of the ANC, and others have joined the party for the wrong reasons. “It is now time to reflect seriously on the flaws of the organisation. We must be frank and honest, and hold informed debates about issues affecting our people,” he said.

Another aspect that bothers him is that 20 years into democracy, South Africa still remains deeply racially divided. He said: “We must talk about the fear between whites, blacks, coloureds and Indians. This was, after all, how we negotiated for months and years prior to 1994.”

In fact, some of Pahad’s best writing is reflected in his descriptions of the thawing of relations. He writes about the misconceptions held, the substance of the debates and when breakthroughs were made. He said that those involved in the secret talks in the build-up to the negotiated settlement, once sworn enemies, remain firm friends even today.

So, here is the irony of it all — two people on the same side of the negotiation table have now had a falling out. What happened between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma? Is it a case of power corrupts?

Pahad said in his book: “I have attempted to demonstrate the resilient power of dialogue and the necessity of building trust and confidence with our adversaries. If we did not pursue the path of negotiations with ingenuity and flexibility, the ingredients of a potent brew of civil conflict would have been all too palpable and real.”

These are wise words indeed, at a time when intolerance levels in our country loom large. Just think back to August, when our own Parliament resembled a war zone.

A subtext of Pahad’s book is clearly the calibre of ANC members today. There seems to be a hankering for the political education and the informed debate that was at the heart of ANC politics. In his postscript he writes: “There are many morbid symptoms that conspire against our ability to address the deeply embedded legacies of poverty, inequality and unemployment. There are growing levels of corruption, alienation, political and tribal factionalism and demagoguery in our movement ... In short, we need to reclaim the ideological and political centres of gravity that have shaped the Congress movement.

“In this regard, we must continue to strive to develop politically literate and ideologically committed cadres.”

He told the City Press that he also wrote the book so that the youth of today can realise that the struggle was driven by quality citizens and not by corrupt nepotists. His book serves as a reminder of how much we as ordinary South Africans still need to know about our own history. It gives the reader a renewed appreciation of the complexity of the negotiated settlement and shows that much more still has to be written on this fascinating chapter in our lives.

Above all, it reminds us of our lost innocence. We may have been clever at negotiation, but we were clearly outwitted by the silver-tongued arms dealers. Promised offsets such as jobs and investments failed to materialise.

Now we appear to be further compromising our economy with the pending signing of a dubious R1 trillion nuclear deal.

Help! Where are the quality citizens?

• Insurgent Diplomat: Civil Talks or Civil War? by Aziz Pahad is published by Penguin Books.

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