Years not kind to Gqozo

2004-04-07 11:01

King William's Town - Ten years ago he was living in a presidential palace, with a gold-braided uniform, a bevy of bodyguards and a country at his command.

But South Africa's first decade of democracy has not been kind to Oupa Joshua Gqozo, former military ruler of the Ciskei.

Today he lives in a dilapidated farmhouse, too poor to pay his family's electricity bill, running a bed and breakfast business to put food on the table, and sadly disillusioned with the world in general.

Gqozo worked for the department of prisons before joining the South African Defence Force (SADF) in 1975 and impressing his superiors enough to win the Pro Patria medal for "suppression of terrorism".

He moved across to the Ciskei Defence Force when it took its so-called independence from apartheid South Africa in 1981, rose rapidly through the ranks to brigadier, and in March 1990 he led the bloodless coup that toppled Ciskei's founding president Lennox Sebe.

Initially the new military ruler was the darling of the then-recently-unbanned African National Congress.

But then, fed with disinformation by covert SADF military intelligence operatives, he turned against the organisation and soon was claiming in public the ANC wanted him dead. The antipathy climaxed in the 1992 Bisho massacre, where Gqozo's troops gunned down 29 ANC marchers.

Gqozo vacated the presidential palace ahead of the first democratic elections in 1994.

He formed his own political party, the African Democratic Movement (ADM), to contest the polls, predicting that after the elections he would "be back with authority", and declared Nelson Mandela would probably best serve as minister of information or foreign affairs in his cabinet.

However the ADM failed dismally and disbanded later that year, and Gqozo's fortunes went downhill from there.

In 1996, ahead of his appearance at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing into the Bisho massacre, he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital reportedly suffering from depression.

Two years later he was fined R10 000 after being convicted of illegal diamond dealing.

In 2001 he was shot in the chest, head and neck while providing protection for a traditional healer in the Middeldrift area, which left him with a speech impediment.

Today Gqozo just managed to hang onto his farm following a probe by Judge Willem Heath into Ciskei government land deals.

Despite his speech impediment, he manages to communicate well enough; but demands pen and paper when he cannot be understood.

"I used to be proud of my country," he writes. "I worked my guts out; I had too solid principles and morality - but the ANC took me to shatters.

"They drive around in four-by-fours, they are multi-millionaires. But the people are poor. I'm sick and tired."

Asked whether South Africa as a whole has got better over the last ten years, Gqozo says: "People don't want to hear the truth. People hear what they want to hear. I have given up."