In this edited extract from the authorised biography of UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, Eric Naki describes how the former Transkei liberation hero and one of the most popular leaders of the newly unbanned ANC fell from grace when he testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that, among other things, Stella Sigcau and her Cabinet had accepted a bribe from Sol Kerzner
Bantu Holomisa: The Game Changer by Eric Naki
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Bantu Holomisa’s presentation to the TRC [on May 22 1996] was much anticipated and there was a huge media presence at the Great Centenary Hall in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. His submission and the revelations of corruption which it contained created a great sensation. After he finished his testimony and handed over the secret files to the TRC chairperson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Holomisa left the gathering. This would not be the end of the story for him.
According to the party, Holomisa’s actions put the ANC into disrepute because Stella Sigcau was an NEC member and minister in Mandela’s Cabinet. Holomisa was criticised for not taking the matter to the ANC leadership or the party’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee or one of his Cabinet colleagues. But he was adamant that he had notified Mandela in advance about his testimony and that Mbeki was aware of it too, yet neither had contacted him and tried to stop him.
On August 4 1996, Holomisa was hauled before the party’s national disciplinary committee, chaired by Professor Kader Asmal, to answer for the contents of his submission. But he refused to appear before what he termed a “kangaroo court” and rejected the presence of Asmal as chairman.
He demanded that the committee be chaired by a neutral person, not by a member of the current leadership, as in his view they were all compromised by the fact that Sol Kerzner had admitted to funding the ANC’s election campaign in 1994. Asmal was then replaced by Dr Zola Skweyiya as chairperson, and Holomisa subsequently agreed to appear.
But by then the party leadership had closed ranks against him and a media campaign ensued as the ANC fought him by all means it could muster. He was expelled from the party on September 30 1996.
Holomisa and Mandela did not speak to or see each other for some time after he was shown the door by the party. “We first saw each other again when he invited me to his house at Qunu. I regarded this as an opportunity to hear from him personally what he had told a radio station about my case.
“To the radio interviewer Mandela had said that the top two matters that he felt his presidency had failed to handle well were, firstly, the Sarafina II saga, in which millions of rands were misspent by the department of health on a controversial HIV/Aids awareness play. Madiba presented my disciplinary hearing as the second issue that was not properly dealt with, and said the decision was a mistake. This contradicted his earlier statement to the media that nobody was going to apologise to me for the ANC’s action.
“During our meeting at his house in Qunu, I asked him whether his utterances on radio meant that as the ANC they were conceding that they had made a mistake in expelling me from the party. After Madiba had finished talking, I responded by saying: ‘I accept this concession from the ANC, which I view as an apology from you on the ANC’s behalf. As a result, I am withdrawing my court challenge to my expulsion.’ I decided to withdraw as I felt that there was no need to pursue it any longer since I had been vindicated.” Holomisa said to Madiba that in the light of this, they should continue with their lives as before and not let the matter affect their relationship.
“Let’s continue eating our umngqusho and meat together as usual.”
The decision to withdraw did not mean that the political battle was over. After he left, a frenzied propaganda war against him was initiated at the senior level of the party. The ANC launched a campaign to discredit him, which continued until the 1999 national elections.
As part of its campaign, the ANC’s department of information and publicity issued a pamphlet entitled The Rise and Fall of Bantu Holomisa in which it vilified him. The booklet was distributed to all structures of the ANC, including branches and people in the street, from door to door and abroad via email, soon after Holomisa was expelled.
Holomisa replied to this with an even more damning document entitled Comrades in Corruption. His point-by-point response was far longer and more detailed than the ANC pamphlet and went deeper to reveal the many skeletons in the party’s cupboard. Holomisa highlighted the corruption, incompetence, sleaze and nepotism in the party and described how ANC party funds had been misappropriated and were unaccounted for.
Many ANC leaders, then as now, did not agree with the ANC pamphlet and admitted privately that Holomisa’s contribution to the party ought to have been acknowledged rather than rejected. Among senior members who opposed Holomisa’s expulsion was Mathews Phosa, an NEC member who later became the ANC’s treasurer-general. Phosa, who is known for his outspokenness, independence of mind and reasonableness, warned the organisation against the decision. He said he was not convinced about the need for Holomisa’s expulsion and worried about its implications for the party.
The Rise and Fall document failed to have its desired effect – to tarnish Holomisa’s image in the eyes of the public. Indeed, its compiler, Jeremy Cronin, speaking to the author of this book in February 2017, expressed his regret about writing it. He felt used by the ANC to do its dirty work, particularly by Mandela, who commissioned him to write it. Cronin said he was caught between a rock and a hard place when Mandela, after the spat with Holomisa and his expulsion from the party, called him and requested him to write a document that would give an “assessment” of the man.
“Holomisa played a very important role in advancing our struggle as a homeland leader. But the only thing was that he did not understand how to work within an organisation. I think that is a minor weakness which the ANC should have understood from a new and young member like Holomisa. I think we were too harsh towards him, something that I regret as an author of that booklet,” Cronin stressed.
“I am sure that he was right about the Stella Sigcau issue, but he did not understand the culture of the ANC of keeping everybody in the tent, the culture that Oliver Tambo inculcated in the movement. He refused to retract his statement about Sigcau’s involvement in corruption. I think Holomisa was a great loss to the ANC.
Holomisa’s expulsion from the ANC did not bother him so much as the fact that Mandela had played what seemed like a leading role in the whole process. After he left, he lost his position as deputy minister, as he had expected. But in addition, the ANC government decided to withhold the payment of Holomisa’s pension for the period that he had served in the Transkei Defence Force and on the military council. This was an instruction issued to the defence minister, Joe Modise, and the chief of the SA National Defence Force, Georg Meiring.
“I personally suffered and it caused great pain to my family when the ANC government suddenly decided to keep my retirement pension, but they gave it to all the other homeland leaders. It was to be a 10-year-long battle that only a few were aware of. We struggled to make ends meet as a family. I could not educate my children, while all my insurance policies lapsed. I learnt then that losing a job is no child’s play if you have a family to take care of. My wife was the one who had to take the burden for our children’s needs. My cousin, Nomfanelo, and her husband, Khanyisa Magwentshu, even lent me their car when mine was in an accident,” Holomisa said.
Despite Mandela’s part in Holomisa’s expulsion from the ANC, the two men’s friendship continued. Holomisa remained Mandela’s confidant and the latter always invited him to be part of the Madiba family gatherings, whether in Qunu in the Eastern Cape or in Johannesburg. Often, Holomisa was asked to act as the family spokesperson on various occasions, including the death and funeral of Mandela’s son Makgatho.
After being briefed by his family about a family matter, Madiba would insist on discussing the issue with Bantu. Even the ANC leadership accepted the relationship between Mandela and his “son”: that Holomisa was leader of an opposition party was a non-issue as far as Mandela was concerned, and that became the position of the party as well.