Friend of Jacob Zuma: An abuse of parliament?

Paul Trewhela asks why a parliamentary official is able to launch such a ferocious attack on COPE?

An article appeared on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website on 21st January (see here) which gives cause for concern about the safety and security of South Africa's constitutional and parliamentary process. Readers should consult the article as it appears on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website, in order to make up their minds for themselves.

The article, by Thula Bopela, begins with a reflection on the limits to professional development of qualified black engineers in Eskom and ends with a threatening endorsement of the ANC under the presidency of Jacob Zuma. It suggests, above all, a totalitarian abuse of Parliament and of the supposed political neutrality of the civil service, a significant step towards the Zimbabwefication of South Africa.

Headed, "Why some people are turning on the party of the poor once they are through the door of opportunity", the article by Mr Bopela states that around 1995 he was appointed Corporate Affirmative Action Manager at Eskom, the power utility, by Bongani Khumalo, then Human Resources Director at Megawatt Park, Eskom Headquarters. Mr Bopela had previously been working as Electrification Manager, Coastal, at Eskom in KwaZulu-Natal.

His first task was to assess the status of Affirmative Action at Eskom and to make a presentation to the Management Board, of which Mr Khumalo was a member. "What he was telling me to do in fact was to make an assessment of the employee profile at Eskom and show which racial group occupied which positions in the Eskom hierarchy, nationally".

Mr Bopela's presentation revealed that 80% of Eskom managers were white males; 10% were white females, and 7% were black males, with the last 3% occupied by black females. He was then required by the board to come up with a plan that would bring black male and female managers from 10% to 25% by the end of 1996.

As Mr Bopela writes, the plan he devised "required a massive promotion of male and female black managers and the appointment of a great number of black people to management positions". He writes that that was when the problem started.

"White managers were opposed to the plan, and they put up resistance. They did not say so openly, but they resorted to strategies that would make the plan fail. When posts were advertised, they stipulated the number of years of experience in a particular job that were required".

Many black candidates had degrees but did not have the required number of years of experience, and so were not considered for the vacant positions. "The reason why they did not have the required experience was because they had been barred from holding management positions. Experience was now being used as a weapon to exclude them from being appointed to these positions".

When Mr Bopela then obtained from the Board a ruling that blacks should be appointed on the basis of potential, not experience, the situation "began to improve, though not fast enough". One white manager, to whom he spoke about mentoring blacks so that they could master their jobs quickly, asked him in return how many years he would take to dig his own grave. "I was puzzled by the question and before I could answer he said: 'You see, Thula, mentoring a black is like digging my own grave. When the black has learned everything about my job, he will then take over. I will be sent to retirement. If you people therefore want me to dig my own grave, I will take a lifetime doing it.'"

Bopela then states that black managers, who had already been appointed, turned against Affirmative Action. He states that they refused to appoint other blacks to management positions and instead promoted whites. "Some were overheard saying, 'In my department, I am the only black executive'. Being the only black executive in a particular department meant to them that they were the best among blacks, and they shut the door in the faces of aspiring black colleagues. It gave them a thrill to sit in a boardroom where each was the only black person, surrounded by a sea of white faces. Affirmative Action had opened a door for them, but once they were in, they shut the door and locked it".

Up to this point, the article by Mr Bopela provides an important contribution to a discussion on the limits to the professional development of qualified and experienced black graduates in South Africa: a field in which there is an acute scarcity of skilled and experienced personnel. His article suggests that there should be a strictly regulated formal structure to govern mentoring and skills transfer, with sanctions to follow in instances in which obstruction to skills transfer can be proved to have taken place, especially in situations in which qualified and experienced individuals have been employed in expensive consultancies.

The problem in Mr Bopela's article begins at this point, since he reveals that the real purpose of his article is an attack on the Congress of the People, and in particular on the former Minister of Defence, Mosiuoa Lekota. He characterises Mosiuoa Lekota and Cope as representative of a stratum of previous black beneficiaries of Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action, such as those in Eskom whom he describes as wanting to be the "only black person, surrounded by a sea of white faces", and whom he characterises as "sucking up to whites".

He makes a particular appeal for better benefits to go to former members of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the African People's Liberation Army (the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress), among whom, he writes, are people who are living in "shacks", have no jobs, are "unemployable because of serious illness and low education" and who die of "curable diseases like TB because they have no medical aid". He states that these people "got nothing" from ANC government under the previous presidencies of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, and that Lekota when Minister of Defence "threw this plan away".

While "claiming to be the defender of democracy, the judiciary, the constitution and the Freedom Charter", he writes, Lekota's "main concern today is to see to it that whites are not disadvantaged! Affirmative Action should go, he says, to deafening applause from his white audiences!"

There follows a lengthy and highly racialised critique of white privilege and black disadvantage in South Africa, extending to a critique of two wealthy members of the current National Executive Committee of the ANC, Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa, "who have since 1994 become multi-millionaires". He argues: "Our Affirmative Action benefits only a few among us, and once those few have benefited, they turn their backs on the rest of us, and champion the Cause of whites".

He continues: "Gwede Mantashe speaking in East London this week-end told us that the imperialists have always complained that the ANC is too strong. They said it needs to be divided, weakened and defeated. Why? Mantashe was giving us a broader view of what is going on in South Africa . He was telling us to observe the ‘hand' that moves certain politicians from the ANC to Shikota. Yes, local politicians are doing the talking, but the whole thing is orchestrated from beyond our shores".

This is followed by a parable from the late Julius Nyerere, former President of Tanzania, in which, according to Mr Bopela, Nyerere argued that "the imperialists" succeeded in turning African against African, and that this was the reason for the failure of socialism (ujamaa) in Tanzania .

"Nyerere was telling his nation that British MI6 had found a spy among his ministers, and the minister happened to be his Defence Minister. A coup was attempted against Nyerere, because the imperialists had learned that Nyerere planned to implement socialism in Tanzania, ujamaa. The coup failed. This is what Gwede was warning the nation about.

"That is why we hear our leaders talking about 'counter-revolutionaries'. Julius Malema puts it even more strongly: 'We are prepared to kill for Zuma!' Although to many people Julius sounds like a mad young politician, he is not. He spends time with people like Gwede, Blade, Buti Manamela and Fikile Mbalula and he gets to know that the split in the ANC is being engineered, financed and masterminded form overseas capitals".

The implication of Bopela's article is clear. According to him, the leadership of Cope represents a treacherous conspiracy of well-off blacks (clearly, the so-called "comprador" stratum) acting on behalf of "imperialism", and aiming at a coup d'etat. He directly associates Mosiuoa Lekota, as former Minister of Defence, with the supposed coup leader in Tanzania, concluding his article: "We need to watch these African Defence Ministers, Comrades. Amandla!" 

The context to this article, given prime space on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website, deserves attention.

Thula Bopela is the co-author with Daluxolo Luthuli of Umkhonto we Sizwe: Fighting for a Divided People (Galago, Alberton, South Africa, 2005), a reliable first-hand account of life in the ANC and Umkhonto weSizwe in exile in Africa, all the more valuable for being one of very few. 

Both he and his co-author, Daluxolo Luthuli, were recruited into Umkhonto we Sizwe as young isiZulu-speaking young men in KwaZuluNatal in the early Sixties, at about the same time as was Jacob Zuma. They received military training at the Odessa Military Academy in the Soviet Union and took part in the first serious military engagement by Umkhonto, the incursion into the Wankie area of Zimbabwe/Rhodesia in 1967 together with forces of the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (Zapu), then led politically by Joshua Nkomo and James Chikerema. Their book is an important first-hand contribution to the history of this campaign. 

In strictly military terms, the Wankie campaign was a failure for the ANC, though it did mean that its army was blooded and lessons painfully learned. After crossing the Zambezi into Wankie, Bopela and Luthuli followed different paths.

Bopela was captured by the military forces of the Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia and was sentenced to death, a sentence commuted to life imprisonment in 1969. He was released after 13 years in prison when  Zimbabwe became independent under Robert Mugabe, receiving further education in Africa, Europe and the United States, and graduated with an MA in marketing from Webster University in 1991. On his return to South Africa he became national electrification planning manager at Eskom, as cited here.

Daluxolo Luthuli, Bopela's colleague, was captured in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and then handed over to the South African security police, was brutally tortured and sentenced to ten years on Robbben Island, from where he was released in 1980.

In the mid-1980s he became convinced that Zulu-speakers were being "targeted and murdered" by the United Democratic Movement, which acted as an agency of the banned ANC. (Foreword, Umkhonto we Sizwe, p.10) He then became commander of the death squad of the Inkatha Freedom Party, was trained by the apartheid regime in the Caprivi Strip and was responsible for the murder of many ANC supporters. His defection as commander of the IFP death squads in the early months of 1994 - in which he negotiated with Jacob Zuma and met Nelson Mandela - put an end to acute danger in South Africa at a time when, as Luthuli and Bopela write, the country "teetered on the brink of full-out civil war". (p.255) At the time of the publication of their book in 2005, Luthuli was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the SANDF.

This book by Bopela and Luthuli provides not only an intimate portrait of the early years of Umkhonto weSizwe as a military force but of the carnage in KwaZulu-Natal in the Eighties and early Nineties. Luthuli gives witness to his own transition from the politics of national liberation to that of a tribally-oriented, Zulu-speaking killer.

The danger of another comparable transition in South African national political life is evident also in Bopela's article on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website. The Thula Bopela who signed his name as "Wankie veteran" on the website of the Mail & Guardian on 17 October last year (see here) can be assumed to be the same person as the author of Umkhonto we Sizwe: Fighting for a Divided People. Bopela's sentiments are the same on both the Friends of Jacob Zuma and the M&G websites.

His comments on the limitations in skills transfer to black engineers at Eskom, illustrated in the "dig my own grave" anecdote, are valid and deserve attention. So too his comments on the past political practice of the leaders of Cope, based on their track record in the Mbeki administration, as well his reflections on an implied effective Xhosa-speaking hegemony exercised by this grouping in the ANC in exile. (I discussed this on Politicsweb in an article last October, here).

Bopela misconceives the economy, however, as a metal pot, with a fixed volume.  He does not address an even more radical issue than limited skills transfer. Abstracting here from problems in South Africa caused by the global economic depression, this issue is the limits to economic growth posed by serious failings in the educational programme of the ANC government since 1994. There is no question that South Africa has failed since 1994 to emulate the progress in development of all-round qualified personnel shown by countries such as China and India , the precondition for an "expanding pot" (and not one of fixed or even declining volume). 

The ANC government inherited several excellent, first-world quality universities and the potential for developing a greatly superior national education system compared with what had ever existed previously. I am not sure that the quality of the universities has been sustained, and I see no reason to think that education at first and second level has made significant advances. This should have been the prime goal of the ANC in government: to sacrifice the present for the future, so that the education of the coming generations received top priority, and that no big mistakes were made in quality of provision. This has been a very costly failure to black people and to the country as a whole.

Bopela does not address this subject, however. Instead of asking how South Africa can be transformed into a high-skilled economy from a very fractured but basically low-skilled economy, his primary interest is fighting for a bigger share of the spoils in a fixed pot.

This limited, closed conception naturally leads to some nasty sentiments, with resonances both of Stalinism and Africanism. Always the finger is pointed outward, at some or other "enemy agent". This is the closed-mind psychology of those in exile who always shouted "imidlwembe" (traitors, stray dogs) when problems of lack of democracy were discussed within the ANC. Political paranoia of a classic Stalinist type is written all over Bopela's accusations about "imperialists", "counter-revolutionaries" and local politicians who are "orchestrated from beyond our shores...engineered, financed and masterminded from overseas capitals".

What Bopela expresses here is a revival under ANC government of the tyrannical mindset of the ANC Security Department (iMbokodo, the grindstone) in its camps in exile, characterised by former members of Umkhonto weSizwe as an "internal-enemy-danger-psychosis" (see here).

The most Stalinist element in his article, however, lies in the attribution immediately beneath it. There it states: "[Thula Bopela is a Head: Security Management at Parliament, and member of the media & communications team in the ANC Jhb region.]." A previous posting on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website described him as "Chief of Security in Parliament".

One is entitled to ask: What does that tell us about the "security" of Parliament, when a civil servant who is "Head: Security Management" in Parliament can with impunity write an article that makes such ferocious aspersions against certain members of Parliament and members of political tendencies with whom he disagrees? Where is the neutrality of the civil service, in matters affecting different political tendencies, especially where the civil servant occupies such a sensitive post?

Unlike Bopela, I believe there is no evidence that Nyerere's African socialism had any real grounds for success. His argument on the official Friends of Jacob Zuma website, coming from an ANC party apparatchik who doubles as "Head: Security Management at Parliament", is ideological hype that is being whipped up to create another "internal-enemy-danger-psychosis".

If this were to be the case, it would inflame the very passions that were pacified when Bopela's colleague, Daluxolo Luthuli, defected from his position as commander of the Inkatha death squads in his act of reconciliation with Nelson Mandela in 1994, an action importantly facilitated at that time by Bopela and Jacob Zuma. The destruction of the constitutional process so painfully put in place at that time threatens now to unleash again the dogs of war.

The recent murders of Inkosi Mbongeleni Zondi, Bongani Ngcobo and Sthembiso Cele in KwaZulu-Natal (see here), and the violent assault by IFP members on ANC members travelling to a rally at Nongoma (see here), together with the murder of the anti-corruption ANC whistleblower JimmyMohlala at Mbombela/Nelspruit (see here) suggest that the return of political murder is now a dangerously acute possibility.

In this threatening conjuncture, the language and concepts of individuals such as Thula Bopela on behalf of the ANC, on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website, are a major part of the problem, not of its solution.

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