EXTRACT | Mandela, Mbeki and Beyond

Tony Heard, in 2005, hands Nelson Mandela a framed copy of a picture taken when he illegally interviewed banned ANC leader-in-exile Oliver Tambo. The interview led to Heard's arrest and charge under apartheid-era security legislation.
Tony Heard, in 2005, hands Nelson Mandela a framed copy of a picture taken when he illegally interviewed banned ANC leader-in-exile Oliver Tambo. The interview led to Heard's arrest and charge under apartheid-era security legislation.

This book lifts the veil on crossing a chasm in South Africa - from newspaper editor opposing apartheid repression to adviser in the Presidency and government in democracy. It is the personal story of Tony Heard, former Editor of the Cape Times, moving from journalist to spin-doctor, consultant, speechwriter and other official business.


These thoughts are specially aimed at fellow whites, many of whom benefited from over-privilege in the receding past. I must say that I do not like racial categorisation and group thinking, but this is a community that I come from and engage with and might even understand.

They were "free" when all other groups were downtrodden.

That's simply our history.

I recall how, when I was young, the whites in my country numbered three million. Now they are around 4.5 million.

So, looked at overall, though the percentage of this once-ruling minority compared with the total population has roughly halved (i.e. from 20% to 9%), the total physical number of whites has gone up by 50% (from 3 million to 4.5 million).

That leaves a sizeable number of whites still here, despite some elites exporting their children and money, and citizens having left without being picked up in emigration figures. They enjoy a tolerably good life despite the daily fears and insecurities, for instance over violent crime and adverse economic conditions, and which impact far more devastatingly on the poor majority who are black.

Having lost exclusive power, which was always inevitable, the privileged minority can still play a role of influence for the good. That depends on deploying their skills, maintaining their commitment to the country and never relying on their race, which in the past was the tragic mistake, the effects of which we still feel.

In return, most of the previously privileged can expect relative security, economic stability and growth, among the other crucial benefits of a constitutional democracy. And, importantly, a government that is held to delivering on its promises in practical ways, and not hiding behind rhetoric and exaggeration.

Those things must be guaranteed to all, not just a section of the population. The guiding principle is in the Freedom Charter: ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it.’ That is fundamental, and we must defend it against all comers.

The privileged people (in fact it is now a growing non-racial elite) are small in numbers but have a chance, with the mass of South Africans, constructively to back what Ramaphosa sees as his inclusive campaign of Thuma Mina (send me).

This must extend to showing understanding and not pig-headedness over difficult issues that have to be tackled, like land reform after historic black deprivation, and in helping to drive black economic empowerment to the successful point where it can, one day, be declared redundant.

Until then, it is absolutely necessary to work away to correct the wrongs of history. Anything less is unthinkable. All South Africans should be collaborating to achieve this state of affairs, not fighting over the very principle of BEE, and other corrective action.

Take note, DA.

In contrast to actively supporting the inclusive approach, minority groups, sadly, can so easily turn neutral or negative, especially in hard times economically. It is hoped that that trend does not entrench itself, though we all see evidence of it already.

People must of course choose their own roads to the future, but one can express the hope that enough of the minorities take the broad-based Ramaphosa option to strengthen the common ground in the population, whatever their party affiliation or persuasion. The country could be entering a period of coalescing among parties, anyway.

The important thing is to accord all people the dignity and courtesy that lies embedded in the Constitution. That means living this out in our daily lives.

Just one practical idea would be to add to the list of National Orders a special award to recognise acts showing highest respect for dignity of fellow citizens, and appropriate acts of exemplary courtesy shown in society.

The general public and media could well support this strongly, in view of the uniting effects.

Many blights will remain on our landscape despite whatever progress is made.

There could well be further setbacks and shocks ahead. That is sadly due to factors such as the intractable nature of politics, and also a legacy of colonialism, racial serfdom and some slavery deep in our history.

Things were vastly exacerbated by slower than intended medium-term delivery since democracy, inaction on land demands and the lost, corrupt Zuma years. Extremist populism has not helped, but may it subside.

In the broader context, more encouragingly, we live in a demonstrably free society, a gradually deepening democracy in a world where freedoms are, paradoxically, under new attack from narrow nationalism, chauvinism and political hooliganism. The old post-war world that I grew up into has gone. No one, then, dreamed of a 4th industrial revolution, or of an era of 5G, let alone lightning-fast computers.

The lure to action is that we in South Africa can, under Ramaphosa, again become an exemplar nation, as we were, and remained, more or less, through the times of Mandela, Mbeki and Motlanthe.

We need real equality and shared dignity, working with and not against our fellow citizens. It means getting into others’ heads. It means trying to understand why people feel so strongly, and indeed angrily, about issues, such as yearning for their own piece of Africa after colonial-era racist dispossession.

We have the dubious distinction of being economically one of the most unequal countries in the world judged by the rich-poor figures on record. We have to end that wealth gap, as soon as we can.

We must roll up our sleeves with the rest of the country, be prepared to make sacrifices, and end a situation which excludes too many of our people from even getting a job. As Mandela warned us when he retired, these things are in our own hands now.

Our start was a tolerably good one in 1994–2007, then came some faltering, a world slump and then our own plunge under Zuma.

Minorities, though small in numbers, retain many of the skills and material privileges long denied the masses. It's payback time. The privileged, particularly, should pitch in and not whinge perpetually or stand on the sidelines waiting for miracles that may not happen. We need new and creative ideas to make elusive things happen.

South Africans should by now at least see more clearly the outlines of a generation of sound leadership coming into focus, given the right succession planning and delivery to the masses.

The alternative to national progress for all our people is too ghastly to contemplate. We could well jettison all we have achieved since democracy arrived.

Let us all work to keep our eyes on positive factors, without faking facts. En route, let us be free to celebrate our diverse cultural heritage, to support the political party and lifestyle of our choice, and to value our freedoms – and have abiding respect for the lives and dignity of all.

It's all there in our Constitution.

- Extracted from Tony Heard’s book, 8000 Days. Mandela, Mbeki and Beyond. The inside story of an editor in the corridors of power. (Missing Ink, 2020)

- Heard, a former Editor of the Cape Times for 16 years, was arrested in 1985 under security laws for defying censorship by interviewing banned Oliver Tambo of the ANC, and later dismissed from his job. With democracy's advent in 1994, he joined Mandela's administration. In all, he served 22 years as adviser and speechwriter in government, 10 of those in the Presidency (2000 to 2010). A previous book, The Cape of Storms (Ravan Press, 1990), covered his journalism over more than three decades.

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