A life and death struggle to save democracy

Paul Trewhela writes on Musa Xulu, the RET faction, Thami Zulu and electoral reform

In an article on Politicsweb on 2 August headed "Ramaphosa: Chief Accomplice of WMC [White Monopoly Capital]: Musa Xulu says the President, the Constitution and the Judiciary are all failing the Black people of SA", Musa Xulu issued a a stark threat to the president of South Africa and the African National Congress, founded a century ago on the principle of anti-tribalism. 

Xulu's article shoud be studied with care. It conveys the political programme of the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction inside and outside the ANC, which only three weeks previously had laid waste to shopping malls, ATMs, pharmacies, schools, the economy and human lives across South Africa, but particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng - the main zones thirty years ago of the carnage of the Inkatha/United Democratic Front conflict.

Three months later members of the same RET faction took hostage of three of  Ramaphosa's ministers - the minister of defence, her deputy minister and the minister in the presidency - for three hours in St George's Hotel in Irene: not an insignificant matter in a still fragile and untested democracy.

Xulu's implied threat to the constitutional government of Ramaphosa and his ministers reminded me of an article he published 12 years earlier on Politicsweb on 31 March 2009, in response to three articles I had written. His article was titled "What really motivates Paul Trewhela to peddle lies against Zuma? Musa Xulu responds to efforts to link the ANC president's name to wrongdoing in exile."

Contrast now the condition of the economy and social order in South Africa in 2009, when Xulu published that article, with the economy and society in South Africa today, not least following the depradations of RET. And in between, the nine years of Jacob Zuma's presidency, from 9 May 2009 to 14 February 2018.

Xulu's ire was aroused at the start of Zuma's presidency in 2009 by my three articles, which I summed up again on Daily Maverick in 2018, in another article, "The murder of Thami Zulu: A call for a formal judicial inquiry" (15 February).

My argument remains the same: that, in contrast to the formal inquiry into the death in October 1971 of Ahmed Timol while in Security Branch custody in Johannesburg, the murder by poisoning of a high-ranking commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Thami Zulu, in Lusaka in November 1989 in a context under the political, military and security command of Jacob Zuma has never been investigated by the ANC or by the courts, so as to identify the assassin (or assassins).

There was never any question that Thami Zulu (known as TZ, birth name Muziwakhe Ngwenya) was killed by being given a poison, diazinon, to drink. The poison was identified forensically, and acknowledged in a report by a high level ANC commission which included the jurist Albie Sachs - subsequently a drafter of the Constituion and an eminent judge in the Constitutional Court. Yet, absurdly, the commission shirked from asking: who did it?

It is this ABC argument of mine which outraged Professor Xulu. In this sense, the whole judicial process in South Africa, as well as elementary decency, remains compromised to this day.

The only explanation I can find for this total closedown by ANC for more than 30 years by ANC about this murder (which it acknowledges) is in one word - fear.

Fear of the political, social and human life consequences, if it were to do the obvious and pose the question in an ordinary, formal, judicial inquiry.

I have my own explanation for this total, absolute, top-down fear in ANC, but for now I will leave the issue to readers to figure out for themselves. It is a national issue. Let the nation ask the question. That at least would do justice to the family of Muziwakhe Ngwenya, the testimony of whose parents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, on 26 July 1996 in Soweto, can be read by anyone online.

Mr Philemon Ngwenya, Thami Zulu's father, a headmaster, said that his daughter-in-law, TZ's wife, "phoned me to say TZ was now in an ANC cell and in solitary confinement and that he was being tortured. At my expense, because the South African Council of Churches could no longer finance me to fly over to Lusaka, I bought my own air ticket and could not afford the second one for my wife. I reached Lusaka by air and was received by Dr Ralph Mgijima at the airport. [TZ was poisoned in the house of his friend, Dr Mgijima, who was ill in hospital at the time].

"This time no ANC official from headquarters would see me. I persistently asked to see Mr Nzo and Mr Jacob Zuma, and this was all in vain. At the time Zuma was in Swaziland I was told and would soon return to Lusaka. On his return from Swaziland to Lusaka he still would not see me."

A jailer at Green House in Lusaka where TZ had been held prisoner, Sindiso Mfenyana, "told me that I would not see my son, TZ, unless Mr Zuma gives permission and Mr Zuma was away on official business in Swaziland. From Swaziland he would proceed to Harare. ...

"From there it was a question of going to headquarters daily, waiting for Mr Zuma to come back. On his return Mr Zuma would not see me personally when I got to Green House. He spoke to me through this gentleman Sindisiwayo and told me that he would send my son to the hotel, which thing they never did."

Mr Ngwenya concluded: "There were very few people who were in contact with TZ during that period. When he was released he was released to Dr Mgijima. There are very few people who were with him. So the ANC could have followed that up and by now we would be knowing who poisoned him.

"Some of them, some of these people, were Chris Hani, Jackie Modise, Dr Zakes Zumukai and Dr Ralph Mgijima. Why is the ANC not finding out who poisoned TZ."

Jacob Zuma's behaviour towards Mr Ngwenya was 180 degrees in contrast to how he responded to the parents of Ben Langa, who was murdered by MK assassins in Pietermaritzburg/umGungundlovu on 20 May 1984, two of whom were later hanged by the apartheid regime.

As recorded by South African History Online, "In 2013 President Jacob Zuma again apologised to the family of Ben Langa at the funeral of his brother, former Chief Justice Pius Langa, for his assassination at the hands of fellow ANC members during the 1980s. Zuma used the televised official funeral of Justice Langa, held at Durban’s City Hall, in August 2013, to address the highly sensitive issue of Ben Langa’s shooting by Lucky Phayi and Sipho Xulu in Pietermartizburg in 1984." 

Zuma spoke to the congregation, saying: “We promised to investigate. We did investigate and that’s why we were able to get the truth. ...

"During the 1980s I was a member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress in exile. I'm now the President of the organisation. I delivered the ANC's submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. ...

"I was party to the decision that our then President, Oliver Tambo, met members of the Langa family to explain the unfortunate circumstances that led to Ben Langa's death and apologised for the tragic loss of a young life."

As TZ's mother, Mrs Ngwenya, explained to the TRC: 

"The military wing was with him, they supported him right through. Even at the time when his corpse was fetched from Zambia, they were with him. They were working with the family. They had nothing against him. The people who were not working with him, that is the security, is the group that had something to do with him. That contradiction, which shows that there was a little clique.

One of the papers quoted that there was a struggle of power. And of course we know, my son said it when we had gone to see him the last time, in Zambia. He said that there was bad blood between him and Jacob Zuma. It was mentioned in a number of papers that Jacob Zuma was not happy that he was appointed a commander in Natal. It was found in all the papers. We kept these papers.

In a similar way to that of Xulu's article on Politicsweb on 2 August this year, Zuma addressed mourners on 6 August this year at the funeral of the brother of his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in Bulwer, KZN, in a highly political spirit, stating that party members should "rise and save the ANC".

The Sunday Times reported the next day that "In other rumblings of open rebellion against President Cyril Ramaphosa's leadership, ANC members aligned to Zuma's backers yesterday staged a protest outside the party's Moses Mabhida regional offices in Pietermaritzburg."

It reported Zuma as saying: '

"If I was not on house arrest, I would have explained to voters why it was important to vote for the ANC despite its shortcoming and would have convinced them to not punish the party but rather to hold leaders accountable.' He said members are angry because leaders are focusing on 'factional politics'.

"Zuma also expressed dissatisfaction with ANC supporters who did not vote, speculating that this was punishment for the party's endemic factionalism. But he said it had only served to advance 'the campaign to reduce the ANC's majority'.

"'The plan is to weaken the ANC, and some who are leading that campaign are from within. If you don't vote you are hurting the ANC when it is not at fault. We must hold the individuals accountable but not harm the ANC,' said Zuma."

There is clearly now an open conflict in ANC and in South Africa, in which the phrase "rise up" can appear to mean either physical violence or not.

Whichever interpretation is appropriate, ANC and South Africa now face a radical and possibly violent choice: between the "reform" programme offered by President Ramaphosa or the RET programme of ex-President Zuma and Xulu. 

Ramaphosa's government is indeed supposed to be committed to reform, after it was required by the Constitutional Court following the ruling by Judge Mbuyiseli Madlanga on 11 June 2020 on the application brought by the New Nation Movement and Chantal Dawn Revell that voters must be allowed to choose individual, independent candidates by name within two years of the ruling.

Judge Madlanga's historic ruling has brought the issue of electoral reform to the centre of South Africa's - and the ANC's - political life. It is a subject that cannot be avoided, relating to a fundamental issue of democracy.

The response of Ramaphosa's government has been timid, pathetic and evasive, completely inadequate to the massive crisis facing South Africa and the ANC itself. As Michael Louis, the chairperson of One South Africa (OSA), responded to the ANC National Executive Committee's decision to choose a minimal, next-to-no-change report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee: 

"In effect, it takes an ultra conservative approach to the Constitutional Court's ruling. It is clear that the ANC does not want independent candidates to run and will make it difficult for them to do so. The minority report rejects a constituency-based election, although it does promote that provinces will become constituencies, and the Independent Electoral Commission will determine the number of regional representatives for each region that go to Parliament."

Once again, the ANC government has baulked in fear of shedding its Soviet-type, top-down system of party list, appointee MPs, despite the tremendous opportunity it was given of going to the people of  South Africa in the manner of the Mass Democratic Movement in the late 1980s, to win support for genuine electoral reform that would bring far greater power to voters over MPs.

It is a blind and cowardly response to the threat from Zuma's RET faction, by comparison with the call for genuine democratic reform which has been made on Daily Maverick and other media sites by the former MK commander, Quatro prison veteran and DM Insider, Omry Makgoale.

As Makgoale argued in his article, "Ramaphosa: Caught between political opportunism and morality" (4 May 2018):

"Ultimately ANC politicians can only be cleaned by the people of South Africa through a reform of the country’s parliamentary electoral laws, so that 75% of MPs should be elected by constituencies (equivalent to 300 MPs) while 25% (equivalent to 100 MPS) will be selected by proportional representation and the party list in the same way as at present.

"That is what the majority of the Slabbert Commission – appointed by Thabo Mbeki’s government – recommended as far back as January 2003, but nothing was done about it. The result was Jacob Zuma and the Guptas, with a captive parliament held hostage by the executive and the executive kept hostage by a corrupt, neo-colonial, foreign clique."

Where is the leadership to defend democracy, the rule of law and the Constitution - as well as the ANC's founding principle of anti-tribalism - against assault by the warlords of tribalism and corruption?

An earlier version of this article mistakenly described Professor Musa Zulu as the author of the stage production "House of Shaka". Professor Xulu has contacted us to point out he is not the same Musa Xulu who authored the Politicsweb articles which Paul Trewhela is responding to. We apologise for the error.