Pallo Jordan falls on his sword

Former cabinet minister resigns from parliament over Sunday Times report that his academic qualifications are non-existent

The African National Congress has accepted the resignation from parliament of former cabinet minister and leading ANC intellectual Z Pallo Jordan. This follows the revelations in the Sunday Times on September 3rd that Jordan - who was widely referred to as "Dr Pallo Jordan" and who claimed, in his official curriculum vitae, to possess "numerous degrees" - had been unable to stand up these qualifications when challenged by journalist Gareth van Onselen.

In a statement issued late on Monday afternoon ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said Jordan had provided a "detailed explanation" on the matter to the party and had apologised "to the ANC, its membership and South Africa as a whole." He added that Jordan had also offered to "resign his membership of Parliament, the National Executive Committee of the ANC and the ANC." The ANC leadership had "accepted his resignation from Parliament" while the question of his continued membership of the NEC and the party had "been referred to the structures of the organisation."

Mantashe commented "A man of Comrade Pallo Jordan's intellect does not need to perpetuate deceit; he must be given time to deal with his guilt. As the ANC, we have accepted his public apology; to apologise was not an action of the faint hearted."

Earlier in the day the Office of ANC Chief Whip, Stone Sizani, had released a statement reaffirming "our unshakable respect, admiration and confidence in [Jordan] as one of the movement's most treasured assets with a unique and unparalleled knowledge and experience on a wide range of social, economic and political matters." The statement added that calls by the Freedom Front Plus for parliament to take up the matter of Jordan's apparently fraudulent qualifications were a "mere publicity gimmick."

Yesterday, the Sunday Times reported that Jordan had gone to ground after its report the week before. "Close friends, comrades and neighbours have also not seen or heard from Jordan, some saying they were worried about him", it stated. The Sunday Times also quoted Business Day editor Songezo Zibi as saying he had discontinued Jordan's column after he had "inexplicably failed to file his column three weeks ago, missed his deadline by two days last week and has not responded to numerous attempts to reach him since." In his weekly column this morning Zibi wrote: "Around midmorning on Sunday, Jordan finally responded. He indicated that he was overseas and it would be best to discontinue his column, ‘for now', he said."

After the original story broke a number of progressive intellectuals rallied in support of Jordan. Professor Steven Friedman of the University of Johannesburg and Professor Mary Metcalfe of Wits both commented that an absence of a PHD would in no way diminish Jordan's intellectual stature. Over the course of the week they were joined by a number of other leading opinion-makers.

New Age editor Moegsien Williams wrote, on August 6th, that the "liberal media would like us to believe that Pallo Jordan is a faux intellectual... One can sense the schadenfraude in certain quarters, the high fives and the fist pumps. Ah, another uppity darkie brought down! One of the brightest in the ranks of the ANC has been put in his place, has been the tone of the reportage."

Williams wrote that Jordan had a "distinguished history of service" to the overthrow of apartheid and the creation of the new South Africa, regardless of his qualifications. Moreover he was an "outstanding intellectual" whose outspokenness, in exile, had led to his imprisonment by the ANC's security arm, Mbokodo, in June 1983. He also cited the incident when, in 1989, Jordan had to step in at the last moment to deliver a speech to the French National Assembly after Thabo Mbeki was incapacitated. This he did without notes and with distinction. Williams concluded, "Jordan bereft of academic paper qualifications? When it comes to grey matter, he is worth at least half a dozen doctorates. PS My advice to Jordan is simply to come clean... Those of us who know him will continue to respect him regardless."

In an article for the Mail & Guardian online on August 7th American journalist and author Danny Schechter questioned the reporting on Jordan's qualifications. He asked: "Given all the slime and sleaze in South African politics, is it the Pallo Jordans of the world we in the media should be going after? ...How important is this tempest in a teapot that appears to be the consequence of an unfortunate error of ego and overreaching, encouraged, no doubt, by party apparatchiks?"

He also attacked Van Onselen, whom he described as a "very eager investigative reporter, keen on exposing a widely admired freedom fighter". Schechter commented:

"[Jordan] certainly didn't handle that pursuing news hound from the Sunday Times well. He assumed he was an honest truth seeker, not a malicious career destroyer. He didn't check on the reputation of this finger-pointer (and his connection to a rival political party) and unwisely thought he could negotiate with him or neutralise his negative intent. The ‘reporter', if that's what he is, wanted to take him down and he naively played along, incriminating himself further."

In an article for the Mail & Guardian, August 8th, SAHRC deputy chairperson Pregs Govender suggested Jordan's questionable claims as to his qualifications were an understandable and all-too-human "act of vanity." She noted that with two honorary doctorates she was often referred to as "Dr". She noted: "I have received SAHRC business cards with "Dr" before my name. Over time, it is easy to slide into complacency and not "waste time" with constant engagement on titles, to begin to enjoy the accompanying status. None of us is without vanity."

After the ANC announced Jordan's apology and offer to resign on Monday former Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa tweeted:

Gareth van Onselen also tweeted in response:

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