IN FOCUS | Charles Nqakula: We ought to have spoken out

2017-06-15 11:22
(The People's War: Reflections of an ANC Cadre, by Charles Nqakula.)

(The People's War: Reflections of an ANC Cadre, by Charles Nqakula.)

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Charles Nqakula is a worried man. The ANC MP and former defence minister thinks deeply before he says: Only two things can save the ANC.

First, it has to go back to its core mission of listening to, and providing for, the needs of the people on the ground. Second, the president has to step down as president of the country after the ANC elects a new party president in December. This will enable the new president to be responsible for both the ANC outside and inside of Parliament,and bring unity within the party.

"But if we don’t, I’m very worried. I’m very, very worried. Because the ANC will not do well," he says, almost in a whisper.

Our interview takes place in an overheated conference room in the Ministry of Defence in Parliament. Nqakula seems rushed and it takes him a moment to relax and concentrate on our conversation, for which we only have 30 minutes.

His memoir, The People’s War: Reflections of an ANC Cadre, was officially launched on Tuesday night in Cape Town. An intimate affair marked the occasion, with close friends like Baleka Mbete, Jeff Radebe, Bantu Holomisa and Albie Sachs attending the small function at the Castle of Good Hope.

The book contains detailed reflections of his contributions to the struggle, as well as those of his wife, current Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and many other cadres.

It is a noteworthy book, as Essop Pahad writes in the introduction, because Nqakula gives credit, and attaches names, to the many comrades who participated in the struggle.

'We walked away when wrongdoing took root'

It is the postscript to the book, however, that has gotten everyone’s attention. It is almost 5 000 words of scathing criticism of the current leadership of the party, but also of those who lead the party to the deeply divided place it is at the moment. He ends it with a personal plea to President Zuma to step down after the ANC’s December 2017 elective conference and allow the new leader to start the healing process.

"The current ANC leaders are aware of the clear and present danger of a fissure in the ranks of the organisation brought about by factionalism and influenced by rampant corruption. Their problem is their inability to stop the rot and kick out the perpetrators," he writes.

Then, further on, he ponders a question posed by Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu during a small gathering of cadres.

"How did we get here? I have an answer: we walked away when wrongdoing took root and its putrid smell permeated all our endeavours. We wanted to keep our hands and noses clean. We are to blame as much as the current leaders are."

According to Nqakula, the signs that something was going horribly wrong were already there at the ANC’s 2007 conference in Polokwane, when slate politics reared its ugly head. This, along with the buying of votes, was suddenly an intractable force in the ANC.

"People did not care whether the people they were not going to vote for were very good cadres. They just produced the slate and they wanted their people on the slate. Side by side with the slate politics, there was money which was exchanging hands – which is very, very bad. We ought to have spoken then. We ought to have said the ANC is not like this. And therefore it has to be stopped here and now. We didn’t.

"There are other matters relating to this. We heard that corruption had set in. We ought to have understood that when votes were being bought that it was an indication that there was corruption. We heard how people were stealing from the public purse and again we did not speak. We ought to have spoken."

So why didn’t they?

"I suppose at the time, personally, I felt that we did not have concrete evidence. And if we wanted to investigate everything that was happening, particularly me who was minister of police right up to 2008, people were going to accuse me, as in fact it happened, that I was using state mechanisms to pursue a political agenda… People would have said it was a witch hunt."

'Future looks bleak for the ANC with Zuma at the helm'

By January of this year, Nqakula's book was ready for publishing, but he agreed with his publisher to wait until the ANC’s 105th birthday celebration on January 8th, to hear if anything significant came from it.

"There was our president addressing the ANC masses. And somewhere in his speech he is complaining about some tendencies within the ANC. And of course the question had to be asked, if the leadership saw all of this, why did the leadership not intervene? Which talks to the broader problem of leadership that is unable to lead," he says, hands in the air, exasperated.

Unfortunately, the ANC veteran says, there are no more leaders of the calibre of OR Tambo left in the ANC, and those who have already thrown their hats into the ring for the next election do not come close to it.

"But, still, when you have a new leader, with a new leadership core, the possibilities are much, much better than if we were to continue with President Zuma going to the 2019 election."

Even if that leader is the president’s preferred candidate, there would still be the possibility that the party would be unified, which would resonate with those people who did not vote for the ANC during the local government elections last year, he adds.

One thing is for sure. The future looks bleak for the ANC with President Zuma at the helm. The media and social media glare on the president has simply gotten too much.

"There continue to be serious allegations against him. He has become this target that everybody’s focusing on.

"Move him out of the picture and chances for the ANC become brighter," says Nqakula.

- Read the postscript to Nqakula's book, The People's War: Reflection of an ANC Cadre here.


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