Thula Bopela on Lekota, COPE and affirmative action

An article first published on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website December 15 2008

Why some people are turning on the party of the poor once they are through the door of opportunity

Around 1995 Bongani Khumalo appointed me as his Corporate Affirmative Action Manager at Eskom, the power utility. He was Human Resources Director then at Megawatt Park, Eskom Headquarters. I left Durban where I had been working as Electrification Manager, Coastal, and went to work at Megawatt Park. 

The first task Bongani gave me was to assess the status of Affirmative Action at Eskom and make a presentation to the Management Board where he also sat. 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.

I went to Human Resources and asked to be given the information regarding how many white males, white females, black males and black females occupied management positions. I then prepared my presentation and appeared before the Management Board. The 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.

After this presentation, the Board tasked me to come up with a plan that would bring black male and female managers from 10% to 25% by the end of 1996. The plan I came up with required a massive promotion of male and female black managers and the appointment of a great number of black people to management positions. 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 blacks had degrees but did not have the required number of years of experience. So they could not be 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.

I obtained from the Board a ruling that blacks should be appointed on the basis of potential, not experience, which they could not have because of previous exclusion. The situation began to improve, though not fast enough. One white manager I spoke to about mentoring blacks so that they could master their jobs quickly, asked me how many years I would take to dig my 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.'

Then a strange thing happened. Black managers, who had been lucky enough to be appointed, turned against Affirmative Action! 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.

This brings us comrades to the heart of why gentlemen like Mr. Lekota have been heard to argue that Affirmative Action should be scrapped. They say it disadvantages whites! Lekota said this when he was Defence Minister, saying it was time to start appointing South Africans on the basis of skill and experience, not skin colour. I am told that the black generals who heard him saying it told him that Affirmative Action could not be stopped....because it had not even started in the Defence Force. Leadership in the Defence Force, even to-day, is still predominantly white. Yet, there was our black Defence Minister saying AA should be scrapped, because it disadvantaged whites!

He repeated it again last week, addressing the Jewish Board, and the papers report that he had to pause several times to allow the applause he got to subside. This was vintage Lekota, sucking up to whites! When I worked for him in the Ministry of Defence, he came back to his office from Parliament where he had been attacked severely for ignoring the plight of black Military Veterans. I put together a plan to address the plight of MK and APLA Veterans and gave it to him, and he did nothing about it. The plan was simple. It required the government to do the following for the Military Veterans:

  • Prioritize the MK/APLA Veterans in the Housing Scheme which the government is already implementing under Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, and get them out of the shacks where they are currently living with their families.
  • Give them access to free medical treatment in the Military hospitals present in all the nine provinces, a privilege only enjoyed by members of the former SADF who have retired. Veterans die of curable diseases like TB because they have no medical aid.
  • Allocate bursaries to their children who cannot pay school fees because of the poverty of their parents. Veterans have no jobs and many are unemployable because of serious illness and low education.
  • Arrange repatriation of the remains of those Veterans who fought and died in foreign countries.
  • Pay membership fees to burial schemes that already exist, so that when they die they have a decent burial. A dedicated burial Acre could be organized in all provinces where dead Veterans will be buried, instead of having to purchase burial space from municipalities.

By the way comrades we are not talking about a large number of people here. Veterans have been dying away since they came back to their motherland. I estimated at the time that the Veterans who could receive this assistance do not number more than 30,000. These are people who fought in armies where they received no salaries or pensions. They freed their land, but got nothing from their government. Lekota threw this plan away, the Minister of Defence.

When he resigned his position as Minister of Defence Popcru said 'Good riddance to bad rubbish!' His Ministry at the time of resignation was said to be riddled with tribalism, nepotism, incompetence and gross neglect of the welfare of black soldiers. He is out there, criss-crossing the country with his crony, Mluleki George (former Deputy Defence Minister) accusing the ANC of all sorts of things and claiming to be the defender of democracy, the judiciary, the constitution and the Freedom Charter. His main concern to-day is to see to it that whites are not disadvantaged! Affirmative Action should go, he says, to deafening applause from his white audiences!

Affirmative Action was not coined and implemented to disadvantage whites. It was put in place to correct the socio-economic imbalances that the ANC government inherited when it took power in 1994.

Take the Housing Scheme. Why is it implemented for blacks, and not whites? Is it designed to disadvantage whites? No sir. Whites have houses and do not need any housing scheme. The scheme is directed at the shack-dwellers who are invariably black. Where do whites live? In suburbs, period. Who are the people who toyi-toyi all the time, protesting about the notorious bucket-scheme, water supply, lack of proper health facilities and schools? Which children walk over twenty kilometres to school, and frequently have to learn under trees because there are no classrooms? White children? No sir, ours.

The largest number of people who are without jobs in this country are blacks. The highest poverty levels are found among us. Even those that are employed have to toyi-toyi all the time to get just a small percentage increase to their wages. When the teachers went on strike for two months, asking for a 11% increase in their salaries, white teachers were prominent by their absence. Why? Their salaries are satisfactory. COSATU is the largest and the noisiest labour federation in the country. Why? Because their membership, which is predominantly black, is the poorest. Terror Lekota knows all this, but his major concern these days is that whites are being disadvantaged!

He told his white audience that it is unfair to the young whites that his children, those of Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa should still be regarded as disadvantaged and be affirmed at the expense of young white South Africans who had nothing to do with Apartheid. A very interesting argument. Affirmative Action of course is not needed by children of people like him who have since 1994 become multi-millionaires. It is for the sons and daughters of those who have meanwhile remained poor or even sunk deeper into poverty. How many black families have fathers and mothers who own oil and wine companies like Lekota, and he uses himself and his personal circumstances to measure the need for the scrapping of Affirmative Active!

When Lekota was addressing his Convention at Sandton (note the venue), one of the people present at the rally said: 'I am a product of Affirmative Action, I owe everything that I am to-day to Affirmative Active. I am a professional now. Don't you see Mr. Lekota that present in this room is the cream of the country? We give you the mandate here and now to form the party that will lead us!'

There it is Shikota belongs to those who, through Affirmative Action, have made it to the top and now want to have nothing to do with the party of the poor, the ANC. The question we need to ask is what is it about blacks that make them turn against their own, once they have made it through the door of opportunity? I saw it happen at Eskom and I wondered. When the National Party took power in 1948, one of their most important goals was to wipe out white poverty, and they did.

Their Affirmative Action removed poor whites from the street corners where they stood begging on to well-paid jobs and decent housing. Can't we learn this lesson, even from such a depraved party as the National Party? 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. Africans make me think of a great number of old women and men who live lives of great poverty in the shack settlements, because the children they raised and educated, at great sacrifice, now live in suburbs and have forgotten about them.

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.

The great Julius Nyerere, Rais waJamhuri yaTanzania, (former President of Tanzania), told his nation a fable of the trees and axes. He said that the axes and the trees lived peacefully side-by-side. Their children played together, and the elders sat in the shade watching their children growing up. Then one day, the young trees came running to report to the older trees that the axes had attacked them. They said that some of them were dead or too injured to move and that they had left them behind. The axes had chopped them down. The older trees were amazed and confused. How could axes that had no handles chop a tree down? When they went to look, they saw the reason the axes now had handles, and the handles were made of wood! Other trees had agreed to become handles to the axes, and that is how the axes had become powerful enough to cut the other trees.

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.

We need to watch these African Defence Ministers, Comrades. Amandla!

Thula Bopela is a Head: Security Management at Parliament, and member of the media & communications team in the ANC Jhb region. This article first appeared on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website in December 2008.

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