Dear Comrade JZ, leave?with your dignity

2014-03-23 10:00

An open letter to comrade Jacob Zuma, by Marion Sparg

Dear Comrade JZ

I write to you on Human Rights Day shortly before we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our democracy. I write to you not as the president either of the ANC or of South Africa, but as a comrade. I met you in exile a long time ago.

I know you as someone who loves the ANC dearly and who has made an enormous contribution to the struggle for freedom in our country. I also know you as someone who loves nothing more than to work in our organisation at ground level.

One of my dearest memories of you is an image I have of you in exile sitting in a house in Lusaka, Zambia, with a group of young comrades sitting around you on the floor while you entertained them with stories from KwaZulu-Natal.

I have no doubt most of these stories were a combination of fact and fiction. That most of them included fact made them all the more powerful. And the fact that they contained fiction of course made them riveting. Each of them contained a powerful lesson.

You had returned to Lusaka along with other comrades like Joe Slovo after the tumultuous events of the infamous Nkomati Accord in Mozambique and you were determined not to let morale slip.

Most of the comrades you were talking to were young and had also been forced to retreat from Mozambique. They were understandably angry and disillusioned.

Another memory I have of you, many years later, is a meeting I held with you several years ago in Pretoria at Mahlambandlovu – what a change that was.

You, of course, were still the same JZ. But what a change the years had brought in how you were living.

Yes, the house was grander and all that. But that’s not what struck me. It was your loneliness, and that’s something that struck me when I used to visit Madiba there and in Cape Town during his presidency.

You could not have put it better when you remarked to me during that visit you were the “most dignified prisoner in South Africa”.

Yes, that’s how you described the time you spent in your official residence in Pretoria, surrounded by officialdom and security and little else. You spoke of your shock and sadness of the changes that came about when you were first appointed deputy president.

You loved to visit comrade Thabo Mbeki before that and would casually stroll over to visit him and had continued to do that during the evenings. But on the first evening after your appointment, you found yourself being followed by others – your security detail.

You would take long walks around Bryntirion Estate, but after a few days, found the security escort just too disturbing so you ended those walks you loved so much.

The security personnel were just doing their job and I am sure they were doing it as unobtrusively as possible. But someone with your experience in security could not have failed to mark their presence and be constantly aware of it and unable to ignore it as perhaps a civilian president may have been able to do.

During that visit, you also remarked to me you loved nothing better than to visit ANC branches and sit and talk to their members. At the time, some ANC branches in the former Transkei region of Eastern Cape had messed up badly and disgraced the ANC. You explained you had called the leadership of these branches together.

When you sat down with them, your first words to them were along these lines: “Comrades, before we even begin these discussions, let’s agree on one thing – you are a disgrace to the organisation.” And I knew then that despite all the years, you were still the same JZ I knew and respected from the exile days.

I repeat all of this, JZ, to emphasise and perhaps to explain to those who have not had the opportunities I have had to know you, that there’s a side to you they do not know. So often we tend to forget public figures do have many sides. We are influenced by what is presented in the media.

But I digress. My purpose of writing this letter to you is to talk about the Nkandla report and the decision I believe lies before you. The fact that no decision of “wrongdoing” has been made against you is not the heart of the matter, I believe. You are the president of the ANC and of South Africa.

Not only are we going into general elections but our country desperately needs a sign – one that says the sceptics and naysayers are wrong, that the so-called honeymoon period is not over and that the “ANC of the past” is not dead. And it’s not only the naysayers and detractors.

There are so many loyal, long-serving members of the ANC I know and have spoken to, including Umkhonto weSizwe veterans, who are truly heartbroken. And I don’t use that word lightly. They are heartbroken.

They are heartbroken not because they believe you as an individual have done wrong, but because they believe government has done wrong. They cannot believe ANC ministers have shamefully tried to dodge political accountability and say that public servants will be held to account if an investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) goes against them.

Of course, this must happen if the SIU’s findings go against them and other private citizens. But ministers have a political responsibility and a project of this importance has direct political oversight.

We cannot believe public servants must be asked to fall on their swords by ANC comrades who now hold positions as ministers in your Cabinet while those ministers sit in the background. It’s shameful.

These comrades of whom I speak, JZ, love the ANC and will vote for the ANC on May 7, as I will. But they all want a sign, JZ. And it's only you who can give that sign. Forget about the DA and their impeachment process, and their silly criminal charges.

The decision is yours to make. You have it in your hands to make a remarkable difference and demonstrate that the ANC has the strength it has always had – to show the country and give back the morale to all those I have spoken of in the same way you did all those years back in Lusaka.

What I speak of is the decision to resign, comrade JZ. Don’t wait. You have the moral courage, JZ. I know you do. It’s tough but it’s the honourable way.

Resign, not because you have done wrong, but because it’s the right thing to do for the organisation you love and the country you have sacrificed so much for.

You will have my undying respect.

Yours in struggle,

Comrade Marion Sparg

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