Newsmaker: Far from retirement

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa. Picture: Lucky Nxumalo
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa. Picture: Lucky Nxumalo

Retiring from politics is not on the cards for Bantu Holomisa, who has been the president of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) since its launch two decades ago.

His focus is on reviving the party and chasing those elusive membership numbers.

Those who want to see the former Transkei Bantustan army general’s back are going to have to wait a little longer.

Holomisa says he has not even applied his mind to handing over power.

As the UDM celebrates its 20th birthday this weekend, the charis

If all goes well, the younger generation’s leaders and “orators” will make up 45% of the UDM’s MPs and MPLs by 2019.

“If we don’t accommodate the youth or if we don’t train them, they will go to a political home where they will be accommodated – like the Economic Freedom Fighters [EFF],” he said.

Holomisa has become a central and respected figure in politics, cracking the whip on the ANC whenever it is necessary, holding those in power to account and setting the wheels in motion for the removal of, among others, former Independent Electoral Commission chairperson Pansy Tlakula.

Recently, he has been a key player in the coalition politics that have put the smaller parties in the driver’s seat at some municipalities, including Nelson Mandela Bay.

From helping the ANC ascend to power in KwaZulu-Natal in 2004 and later helping the DA to take over Cape Town, Holomisa has been a key player in coalition talks. After last year’s local elections, the UDM and the EFF shifted the ANC out in places.

But he insists that handing over power is not part of his plan at the moment. In fact, he gets a tad agitated when asked when he will hang up with fighting gloves.

“The thing with politics is that I might say I’m going tomorrow, but they may stop me – or I can again change my mind.

"I haven’t thought about that and haven’t even put a time frame for my stay because we are strengthening the party, so don’t be in a hurry,” he told City Press on Thursday.

“So, in terms of retirement, haai, it’s not in my vocabulary. I must just be frank with you and not mislead people.

"Over and above that, the structures of the UDM would be free to choose their president at their next congress.

"They are free to elect their own people. But that doesn’t mean Holomisa will run away. I’m part of the party, and there permanently as a UDM member.

"But, for now, there is no plan for me to retire, especially given that you still have those political dinosaurs around here,” he said.

This was in reference to politicians including Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and SA Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande.

“So why target Holomisa? Sometimes I sense that my independence or independent mind is not welcome by some parties or individuals.

“The party has not had great luck over the years in terms of membership, but we have received enough votes in each election to keep it afloat and in Parliament.

"We make a noise where necessary"

In 1999, the UDM won 14 seats in Parliament (with 3.42% of the vote); in 2004, it was nine seats (2.30%); in 2009, four seats (0.85%); and in last year’s elections, the UDM maintained its four seats, along with a 0.25% increase in the vote.

Holomisa pointed out that people had been writing his party’s obituary since it was founded under very difficult conditions in 1997.

“The naysayers failed in their resolve to destroy the UDM completely. Instead, it’s the ANC that is disintegrating,” he boasted.

His party will use this implosion to its advantage.

“The UDM, therefore, will remain attractive because we are not about issuing of tenders for the elite, but we make a noise where necessary.”

Once a staunch ANC member and a minister in Nelson Mandela’s presidency, Holomisa already foresees the death of the ANC as it continues to score own goals.

He was expelled from the ANC in 1996 for ill-discipline and bringing the party into disrepute after telling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that then public works minister had been involved in corruption when she headed the Transkei and that the ANC and some of its leaders had received funding and favours from controversial casino magnate magnate Sol Kerzner in return for protecting him from prosecution.

Holomisa and party members are criss-crossing the country as part of their mission to revive structures.

Holomisa said his deputy was in the process of identifying youngsters, particularly at tertiary institutions, to join the party.

There was also a plan in place to launch a student movement.

“Those are just some of the tasks, and we are working on those issues to strengthen the party,” said Holomisa.

He sang the praises of UDM MP Nqaba Kwankwa, saying the party needed to produce more young leaders like him.

Holomisa said he had no intention to merely groom a person to take over from him – as had been rumoured with Kwankwa.

In fact, it was Nkwankwa’s responsibility to ensure a new crop of youngsters rise through the ranks and move the UDM forward.

“We have been fortunate so far that Kwankwa is learning fast; he knows the culture of the UDM and he knows the rules of Parliament because he was our researcher.

"He knows the party because he rose through the ranks – he was the deputy secretary and now he is deputy president,” said Holomisa.

“One has to be careful about grooming a person. It must be a case of the UDM growing future leaders so that you can choose from those leaders.

“To groom one individual ... people might flatter you to say they like this person, but it might backfire like the case of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the ANC. The Dlamini-Zuma scenario must be avoided in the UDM.”

Holomisa hopes 2019 provides a chance for his party to grow.

“It is time for South Africans to reward us,” he said.

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