“Mandela’s guiding Light will be missed but South African will not perish”

-Gen Bantu Holomisa

By Ajong Mbapndah L

Holomisa delivering a vote of thanks at Madiba's final memorial
Holomisa delivering a vote of thanks at Madiba’s final memorial

The larger than life image of Mandela with his legendary spirit of reconciliation and strong moral  credentials makes his absence a source of concern on the future of South Africa. The concerns are even more founded with the inequalities that abound and growing frustration from the majority whose economic fortunes have not changed much since apartheid ended. Lending his voice to those offering reassurances on South Africa surviving the absence of Madiba is Gen Bantu Holomisa, President of the United Democratic Movement. Holomisa , one of the last people to see Mandela in his last days was entrusted with the responsibility of giving a vote of thanks to all those who worked to give the celebration of Mandela’s life the grandeur it deserve.

“His guiding light will be missed but South Africa will not perish,” says Holomisa who heads the United Democratic Movement.  General Holomisa once a very popular figure with the ruling ANC before his expulsion , thinks it is time for South Africans to cast votes based on whether services were delivered or not and not just from historical perspectives. Interviewed by Ajong Mbapndah L, Bantu Holomisa shares his personal experiences with Nelson Mandela, his party-the UDM and other political developments in South Africa.


General Holomisa as the world mourns the passing of President Mandela what is your reaction?

I mourn as the people of South Africa, and indeed the world, mourn. But, I also grieve for the loss of a man who I considered a personal role model and father figure.

You probably met with Nelson Mandela several times, what recollections do you have about the man, what were some of the things that struck you about him when you two met?

I met Mr Nelson Mandela for the first time at his old four-roomed house in Soweto five days after his release from prison. When one considers where he had been (just a few days before) it was quite extraordinary that he made everyone feel welcome in his home in such a jovial and energetic manner – a style he maintained whilst he was president and even in the years after his retirement from public life.

I fondly remember times during our travels over the world, when he teasingly introduced me by saying: “Here, accompanying me is Bantu Holomisa… a dictator from the Transkei”.

At another occasion, in December 2007 during our annual Christmas lunch, Madiba received a phone call from President Jacob Zuma wishing him a Merry Christmas. Madiba said, with a deadpan face, “Nxamalala, ndinoBantu apha ndimgadile angasibhukuqi, ngoba ungumbhukuqi”. Roughly translated: “Nxamalala [Mr Zuma’s clan name], I am here with Bantu, we are enjoying lunch, but I’m keeping an eye on him so that he does not execute a coup d’état because, remember, he’s a specialist.”

What in your opinion is the biggest legacy he leaves in South Africa and on the world stage?

Bantu Holomisa (2nd left) waves to crowds from a helicopter while Nelson Mandela looks on, (seated back right) Bantubonke Harrington Holomisa (25 July 1955) is a South African Member of Parliament and President of the United Democratic Movement (UDM). Previously a member of the ANC, he was explelled from the party after, among other things, testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in 1996.Source ANC Archives
Bantu Holomisa (2nd left) waves to crowds from a helicopter while Nelson Mandela looks on, (seated back right) Bantubonke Harrington Holomisa (25 July 1955) is a South African Member of Parliament and President of the United Democratic Movement (UDM). Previously a member of the ANC, he was explelled from the party after, among other things, testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in 1996.Source ANC Archives

The spirit of reconciliation – a lesson he taught by example. How to listen; to acknowledge the dignity and views of the person on the other side of an argument. He also taught us to find common cause in spite of our differences.

Madiba was extremely concerned about poverty and education. He saw education has one of the tools to fight poverty. Every step he made was made with the view to free South Africans from the scourge of poverty and to ensure that each child receives a quality education.

Clearly Mandela’s passing has left a huge void, how does the present generation of leadership in South Africa managed the country in a way that the ideals he sacrificed his life for are preserved?

Madiba handed over the baton many years ago and had not for some years influenced decisions on daily basis. The doom prophets said South Africa would go to the dogs after he stepped down and it did not happen. Yes, we will miss his guiding light, but it is wrong to suggest that South Africa would somehow perish in his absence.

We are still grappling with the Apartheid legacy and to think that the damage and hurt will disappear over night is foolish. However, our Constitution is the contract that South Africans have with each other and we should at all time strive to live by those standards. Then there is the collective consciousness of our Nation and this includes the current day leaders of this country and those of the future. Nelson Mandela’s teachings and example form a part of this consciousness; we are accountable to ourselves and to each other.

I also think that there is an element of thinking: “What would Madiba do?” – just like that little voice of your elders in your mind, he now forms part of that choir that “regulates” our behaviour.

Still on leadership, how would you size the current leadership under President Zuma, where has he failed, where has he succeeded?

While there are many challenges facing the Country, the ruling party has also taken significant steps to improve the lives of the poor and President Zuma must be given credit for the things his government has done right.

Unfortunately he has made a number of critical mistakes, the Nkandla saga being the worst – it boggles the mind how this mess was denied, covered up and justifications conjured from thin air.

He was also shortsighted in the appointment of his cabinet. Aside from the obvious bias towards persons from his home province, he was also let down by the people in whom he placed trust. Names that come to mind are Ms Dina Pule and the USAASA debacle as well as the Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, and the Public Protector’s findings on the lease agreement of their head offices in Centurion.

Obviously he will be in the race for a second term, what are some of the serious issues South Africans should consider in picking their next President?

Each South African has to make up his or her own mind based on the ruling party’s performance, and this includes President Zuma’s term, over the past two decades years.

There is still an element of people who will vote for the ANC because of the Struggle history, but I think voters are more-and-more casting their vote based on service delivery, or rather the lack thereof.

Institutionalised corruption should make voters think twice, in other words, do they want another five years of the unapologetic looting of state resources? The reality is that South Africa has been on a slippery slope for the past 19 years. Some of the most devastating corruption scandals go as far back as Sarafina-2, the Arms Deal, Oilgate, Travelgate, as well as the Chancellor House/Hitachi and Eskom Deal.

What is however disconcerting is that, instead of decreasing, corruption flourished under President Zuma’s watch and he himself was caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

In addition, our people have been disappointed with the poor quality of the infrastructure that the ruling party provided over the years. Electricity is not reliable; water projects are launched only to break down after a few months and the RDP houses are worse than those built for blacks by the Apartheid government.

Where President Zuma and his government failed completely was on the question of employment.

What is your reaction to the criticism that while apartheid may be gone, the ANC leadership has succeeded in empowering a few people at the top with a majority still languishing in poverty?

I think the criticism is justified and to compound matters Government shows a fondness of engaging in ‘elite projects’ such as building soccer stadiums, the Gautrain, the much hated e-tolling system, etc.

Whilst some of these serve a good cause, we are doubtful of others. Government has its priorities all wrong! How can these elite projects be a priority whilst millions of South Africans still need access to a basic thing as clean water? The priority must be to use the resources of state to deliver basic services.

May we know what vision your party has for South Africa, and how different it is from what the ANC represents today?

§        For many years, the South African economy relied on labour intensive sectors like mining, agriculture and the textile industry to provide employment opportunities for the poor.

In 1994, the ruling party inherited an economy in which the previous regime was not reluctant to intervene, albeit under separate developments. However, due to the ruling party’s misplaced confidence in globalisation and the free market system, incentives to these strategic sectors were hastily withdrawn, resulting in millions of jobs being lost.

The UDM has since its formation said that for GOVERNMENT TO DO MORE! Government has a responsibility to intervene and protect the South African economy and South African jobs when necessary. Whilst Free Market Capitalism is the best economic system developed by humanity, it is still fraught with weaknesses and failures that must be actively managed.

§        The United Democratic Movement has a consistent track-record in fighting issues on principle. An example of this courage of conviction is that the UDM took the ruling party to the Constitutional Court to challenge the floor-crossing legislation.

We bat from the anti-corruption wicket, consistently promote clean governance and respect for rule of law. The ANC does not seem to understand that by tolerating corruption and allowing its members to act as though they are above the law undermines the most fundamental promise of government: earning and keeping the trust of the people.

§        Also, the UDM is of the view that South Africa needs to move towards a mixed electoral system, that draws from the strengths of both the proportional and constituency-based electoral systems. Our people should be allowed to directly elect their president. In addition, the cabinet appointed by that president should be subjected to the scrutiny of the Parliament’s Ethics Committee before they are sworn in – this kind of vetting would have allowed President Zuma to avoid a number of potholes.

How do you market that vision to South Africans and are you considering running for the elections?

Yes the UDM will be participating in these elections and it will be for the fourth time since 1999, in fact, the seventh if you also count our municipal election campaigns across the country.

Marketing our vision is a difficult question to answer without sounding self-pitying. The UDM has from its inception expressed strong views on the need to level the political playing field, because there are certain inherent disadvantaged for opposition parties.

The current system for the funding of political parties only serves to make the heavy weights stronger and those who box in the middleweights are eventually forced to fight as featherweights.

Proportional funding does not provide for the growth of all political parties but benefits only one party and this is therefore does not foster a healthy democracy. Unfortunately the big corporates, that have democracy development programmes, apply this same model when they spend their budgets.

Other factors that contribute to this skewed landscape is the bias of the so-called “public broadcaster” and the use of the state machinery with their “communication budgets” to conveniently (on the eve of elections) remind South Africans of the “wonderful things” “they” (in other words the ANC) have done for our people. .

A party can have the best policies in the world, but if you are unable to market those, it becomes demotivating. The UDM has however never given up the good fight and every election we find the energy and courage from somewhere to hit the campaign trail hard.

It is a fact that the UDM has never had the resources to use fancy spin-doctors and launch sophisticated nationwide advertising campaigns – the party has always grown through mere word of mouth.

“Nelson Mandela’s teachings and example form a part of this consciousness; we are accountable to ourselves and to each other.”The advent of social media has made it easier for us to communicate with South Africans, especially the youth. Widely accessible cellphone technology makes it easier for people to access the internet and social media, but the UDM will not have the funds to drive SMS and/or email campaigns as some of the political parties are already doing.

There seems to be quite some dissentions within the ANC, the widow of Steve Biko has a party, Julius Malema has a party, is this a healthy development for democracy in South Africa?

I start off by welcoming the new kids on the block and wish Dr Ramphele and Mr Malema the best of luck; they have the same rights as any political organisation to battle this out with the rest of us.

This is an interesting dynamic in South Africa, but the proliferation of political parties is hardly a new phenomenon. It has been a common, in many democracies across the world, for aspiring politicians to establish “new political parties” on the eve of the elections – each believing they have the magic recipe to fix all.

As the Congress of the People discovered the hard way, it is not very easy to retain the imagination of voters and the jockeying for positions inside a party sometimes does more damage than good.

The UDM is on record saying that the results of the 2009 National and Provincial Elections showed that the South African electorate wants a system where two large parties, of similar strength and size, compete for the mandate to govern.

A number of political parties have been talking along those lines, but one cannot realign the South African political landscape merely for the sake of opposing the ruling party – any such “marriages of convenience” has a slight chance of succeeding.

We however have a wonderful example on home soil of such strange partnerships that works i.e. the Tripartite Alliance. Where else in the world do communists and capitalists, labour and big business, sit around the same fire? As a testimony of how difficult it is to manage such relationships, I think it has recently become a little more difficult to manage them with the labour organisations flexing their muscles.

Last question Mr Holomisa, what future do you envision for South Africa in the post Mandela era?

It seems too obvious to actually say this, be we have to constantly have to remind ourselves to stay on course.

I join all South Africans in hoping for the best and doing my part to ensure that we fulfil the original agenda – which is to improve the lives of all South Africans; to ensure that our Rainbow Nation becomes a Winning Nation where all prosper and live in dignity.


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