How to lose friends

2007-11-21 00:00

Andrew Feinstein may be influencing people as he races about the country promoting and signing his book, but he is not winning friends in the ANC, whose embrace he once enjoyed.

His role in the last phase of the struggle for democracy - mainly as a strategist - was rewarded with a seat in the Gauteng legislature in 1994, where he helped to design the provincial economic structure and then became adviser to Premier Tokyo Sexwale.

Three years later, he was called late one evening to President Nelson Mandela's hotel room in Davos, Switzerland, where both were attending the World Economic Forum. Perched on the edge of his bed and wearing yellow pyjamas, Mandela told Feinstein to pack for Cape Town, where he served the next five years as a member of Parliament.

“I was absolutely thrilled. I felt enormously privileged and honoured. I didn't necessarily think that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but it was exactly what I wanted to be doing then,” he said.

Seats on Parliament's finance and public accounts committees gave him a role in the refinement of the new economic order. The non-partisan structure of the committees suited his vision of equity and justice and he was able to contribute to the quick resolution of early wobbles in the commitment to clean government. When the wheels began to come off in a corruption scandal that is still accelerating, Feinstein's commitment to fiscal probity cost him his place on the public accounts committee.

He resigned and went abroad with his multicultural family - he is Jewish, his wife, Simone, is a Bengali Muslim, and their children, a boy and a girl, have yet to decide.

Now he is the toast of book clubs, press clubs and talk shows, but an outcast in many of the circles he once considered home.

His book, After the Party - A Personal and Political Journey inside the ANC, has shattered the secrecy surrounding the internal party management of allegations of corruption in the R42-billion arms deal, and of President Thabo Mbeki's maverick views on HIV/Aids. It goes behind the scenes of the Presidency's successful effort to quash Parliament's investigation of alleged fraud in the awarding of arms deal contracts, and confirms the impression that Tuynhuys and the ANC headquarters trump parliamentary independence whenever it suits them.

One section confirms the original accuracy of a story for which the Sunday Times was forced to apologise in December 2000.

Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad summoned ANC members of the public accounts committee on November 8, 2000, and demanded that they reverse a unanimous committee decision to launch a multiparty investigation into the deal.

When a description of the meeting was leaked - Feinstein still insists he was not the source - Pahad raged at MPs and wrote, in the Sunday Times, that it was a lie to suggest he had sought to derail the inquiry. The newspaper offered an “unreserved apology”, which Feinstein now acknowledges was misplaced. “You had nothing to apologise for,” he said.

Although he considers himself a member of the ANC still, his admission that he leaked to the Mail & Guardian notes of a caucus meeting in which Mbeki reaffirmed his scepticism about the effects of HIV probably has sealed his exclusion from the party of power.

One anecdote, about how Finance Minister Trevor Manuel tried, in the Speaker's Corner coffee shop, favoured by politicians and journalists, to persuade him that the arms deal was clean, has cost him the friendship of a man he still admires greatly.

“In any parliament in the world, there are bars and coffee bars and rooms where MPs talk to each other across the aisle, even within parties,” Manuel said recently. “You don't write about those things, you don't expect MPs in discussion with each other to be running tapes. It doesn't work like that. It's really very unfortunate. So, no, I'm not keen on Andrew Feinstein.”

Other former colleagues are less critical. “We need people like him. Honest people who are prepared to tell the truth,” said a former ANC colleague who still sits in the party's parliamentary caucus.

Manuel was also involved in the first incident that seriously dented Feinstein's faith in the democratic nature of the ANC and warned him it might not always be a comfortable political home.

Manuel had presented the idea of a target range for inflation of between three percent and six percent a year to Parliament's finance committee, but ANC members decided to test the theory with independent research - and decided it was an inappropriate tool for a developing economy.

“We engaged as the ANC study group with Trevor, we disagreed and then we reached an impasse,” Feinstein recalled this week.

“The next thing we knew, we were called to Tuynhuys as the ANC study group - not the whole finance committee. Trevor was there, Mandisi [Mpahlwa, then Deputy Minister of Finance] was there, and in walked the President. He said: ‘The Cabinet has decided that we are going to have inflation targeting.'

“We tried to explain what our objections were and what our problems were. He said: ‘Comrades, the leadership has decided.' Then there was just silence. He got up, all smiles, and he shook our hands and that was the end of the meeting. We had inflation targeting,” he said.

The constitutional guarantee of a separation of the powers of the executive and the legislature had been shattered.

As a young psychology student at the University of Cape Town, Feinstein became involved in the Student Health and Welfare Centres Organisation, which took him into desperate areas blanked by apartheid from white consciousness.

“I was only 10 kilometres from my warm, cosy cottage in white Wynberg, but I was on a different, inhospitable, inhuman planet. I was angry, scared, ashamed,” he writes.

He left the country rather than do his national service in the military.

Unlike the majority of the people he was to work with over the next 20 years, Feinstein was not born into the struggle or forced into it by the tyranny white rule had inflicted on him. He was drawn to the struggle from the outside, looking in.

Around him were people who had been jailed, detained and tortured, and who would be again. Some had made bombs together, planted bombs and trained behind the Iron Curtain. They were tempered in the same fire and for them, as one veteran explained in a discussion about Feinstein's book, loyalty remains the only unqualified value. Although many of them share his concern about the path the party has taken under Mbeki, they regard Feinstein's betrayal of the party's secrets as unforgivable.

Those silent allies share his concern for the future of the country and the party, although few dare, from within, to say what they think should be done about it.

Feinstein, now London-based and on the way to publishing his second book, which will look more broadly at global corruption, is less constrained.

He believes Mbeki and ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma both need to withdraw from the succession race, to leave the field open to people like Sexwale, former ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa or current ANC administrator Kgalema Motlanthe.

“The challenge is to move beyond the unseemly factionalism, the free-for-all that we have, the cavalier way in which we treat our institutions of democracy, the cavalier way in which we allow conflicts between political and business interests.

“We have the mechanisms of accountability. They've got to be allowed to do their job unfettered by party interests,” he said.

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