Gareth van Onselen
Gareth van Onselen explains his choices, and lists the near misses
Introduction: what the ANC really thinks
I have below compiled what I consider to be the 10 most disturbing things senior leaders of the ANC have said over the past 18 years.
Each quote was selected because it does one or more of three things: First, it reveals what the ANC really thinks. Second, it was said by a senior statesperson and so is important. And, third, it had a powerful impact on current affairs. Significantly, and almost without exception, each of these quotes were never publicly repudiated by the ANC.
Individually and collectively, they reveal the ANC’s true attitude and, in the majority of cases, speak to a mindset and analysis fundamentally detached from reality or profoundly at odds with best democratic practice; if not, then just cold and callous.
Of course, this is just my opinion. And, if anyone reading this thinks I have missed something significant or, indeed, that my selection is wrong, speak up. The point of this article is to start a discussion.
What do you think is the ANC’s most disturbing quote?
One final disclaimer, I have tried to make sure the quotes cover a range of issues. There are some subjects – Aids, for example – on which so many disturbing things were said, one could compile a stand alone list on that issue exclusively. In this regard I have included at the end of this article a section called ‘near misses’, which sets some of those out as well as my reasons for excluding them.
Here, then, in no particular order, are my top 10.
The ANC’s all-time top 10 most disturbing quotes
1. “We’ve been standing here for 26 seconds and nobody has been raped.”
A quote which reveals the callous attitude and sustained denial which, for a long period of time, defined the ANC’s response to the high crime levels in South Africa. Said on 2 February 2000 by the late minister of safety and security, Steve Tshwete, and former minister of justice and constitutional development, Penuell Maduna. The two were speaking on the American television program ’60 minutes’, during a CBS broadcast, and commenting on the statistic that one person is raped in South Africa every 26 seconds, something they clearly thought they had disproved using their own special kind of logic.
2. “[The ANC is] more important” than the Constitution. “No political force can destroy the ANC – it is only the ANC that can destroy itself… “[the Constitution is only there] to regulate matters.”
The definitive quote when it comes to the Constitution and the ANC’s attitude toward it. From cadre deployment through its various attacks on the judiciary, it is this sentiment that still motivates much of the ANC’s action today. Said by then-ANC national chairperson Jacob Zuma, during an address to ANC delegates at a regional meeting in Durban, on 17 November 1996. Zuma was explaining the ANC’s decision to remove Patrick Lekota as Free State premier (Lekota had exercised his constitutional right to fire an MEC without consulting the ANC NEC. In response the ANC NEC had removed from office and Zuma was deployed to reinforce the principle that party members were accountable first and foremost to the ANC.)
3. “We need to look at the question that is posed, understandably I suppose: does HIV cause AIDS? AIDS the acronym stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Now I do believe that is a sensible thing to ask: does one virus cause a syndrome? A virus cannot cause a syndrome. A virus will cause a disease.”
The theory that HIV did not cause Aids and the thinking that underpinned a sustained long assault on best medical practice and, with it, the hopes and needs of thousands suffering from HIV/Aids. Said by then-president Thabo Mbeki in the National Assembly, on 20 September 2000. What followed would be almost a decade of denial, the promotion of quackery, the courting charlatans, the refusal to implement court orders, the denouncement of antiretroviral drugs, the vilification of those who stood opposed to this kind of thinking and, finally, the ultimate price for those in desperate need of the state’s help.
4. “God expects us to rule this country because we are the only organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back. We should not allow anyone to govern our city [Cape Town] when we are ruling the country.”
Of the many statements Jacob Zuma and the ANC have made, along the lines that it will govern until the end of days, this is the definitive one. Said by Zuma at an ANC rally in Khayelitsha, Cape Town on 4 May 2008, it illustrates perfectly the ANC’s attitude to power: that it governs not by the democratic will of the people, but by divine right and that South Africa belongs to the ANC, as opposed to its citizens. It represents the very antithesis of democracy and freedom of choice.
5. “I did not join the struggle to be poor.”
I was somewhat hesitant to include this quote because, on face value, it is defensible. Who in their right minds would struggle to be destitute? But it is the context in which it was said that makes it infamous. Said by ANC national spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama in November 2004, in defence of his involvement in a BEE deal involving the sale of a R6.6 billion stake in Telkom to a consortium led by former director-general of communications Andile Ngcaba. Ngonyama alone stood to make up to R160 million. Around this period there were a range of BEE deals, each of enormous value, which time and time again, would be awarded to companies loaded with the same broad group of ANC. It was through this kind of ‘redistribution’ that ANC created a wealthy, politically connected class that not only benefited repeatedly from BEE but, in turn, would fund the ANC and its activities. If it was not technically corruption, certainly it was ethical corruption on a grand scale.
6. “The African National Congress congratulates the people of Zimbabwe for a successful 2002 Presidential Election.”
The ANC’s official response to the 2002 Zimbabwean election, from a 13 March 2002 statement on the outcome. Another quote that speaks the ANC’s sustained denial on a fundamental issue that affected negatively the human rights of thousands. Although Robert Mugabe narrowly won, the result was condemned by the Commonwealth, foreign observers and government, the media and Zimbabwean opposition figures as not free or fair. And with good cause. Among a myriad other problems, the number of polling stations in urban areas and MDC strongholds was reduced by up to 50%, some 1 400 opposition members people were arrested during the voting period and in 40-50% of rural constituencies, opposition officials were unable to oversee polling. Later that year ZANU-PF official Emerson Mnangagwa, referred to in some quarters as ‘The Butcher of Matebeleland’, was given a standing ovation at the ANC’s 2002 national congress in Stellenbosch.
7. “I think it’s very important for coloured people in this country to understand that South Africa belongs to them in totality, not just the Western Cape. So this over-concentration of coloureds in the Western Cape is not working for them. They should spread in the rest of the country … so they must stop this over-concentration situation because they are in over-supply where they are so you must look into the country and see where you can meet the supply.”
Said by then director-general of labour Jimmy Manyi, in March 2010. A quote that goes to the heart of the ANC racial attitude, to coloured South Africans in particular and race relations in general – the very idea that people of any race should be stereotyped in this way or that they have a duty to equally distribute themselves being anathema to diversity and freedom. This kind of thinking not only informs hard ANC policy (the employment equity plan for correctional services, for example) but the ANC’s general attitude to the Western Cape and coloured South Africans, which it paints as illegitmate and whom it disregards as second-class citizens respectively.
8. “I, for my part, will not keep quiet while others whose minds have been corrupted by the disease of racism, accuse us, the black people of South Africa, Africa and the world, as being, by virtue of our Africanness and skin colour – lazy, liars, foul-smelling, diseased, corrupt, violent, amoral, sexually depraved, animalistic, savage – and rapists.”
Remarkably, this statement was made by then-president Thabo Mbeki, as part of along diatribe along similar lines, in response to a simple parliamentary question, asking whether or not he stood by his claim that HIV did not cause Aids. The next day, on 22 October 2004, Mbeki would publish the full response as an edition of ANC Today, the natural home for so much of his racial vitroil over the years. It was typical of the way Mbeki and the ANC would play the race card, not just on Aids, but with regards to almost any public position critical of the ANC. And how, through this kind of racial rhetoric, he would re-radicalise public discourse in the South Africa. Aids and Zimbabwe might well have been Mbeki’s defining policy mistakes but it was this kind of deep-seated racial prejudice that remains his quintessential influence and, in fact, underpinned those policy positions in the first place.
9. “Same sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God. When I was growing up, ‘ungqingili’ [homosexuals in isiZulu] could not stand in front of me, I would knock him out.”
Said by Jacob Zuma to thousands of supporters at Heritage Day celebrations in KwaZulu-Natal, on 26 September 2006. Zuma offered an apology, after the comment caused a national outcry, arguing that he “did not intend to have this interpreted as a condemnation of gays and lesbians”. The quote is not only remarkable for its bigotry but for the particular brand of social conservatism it represents, one that defines much of the thinking behind and many of the positions adopted by the ANC.
10. “This rot is across the board. It’s not confined to any level or any area of the country. Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money. A great deal of the ANC’s problems are occasioned by this. There are people who want to take it over so they can arrange for the appointment of those who will allow them possibilities for future accumulation.”
No such collection would be complete without a quote about corruption. And no quote on corruption is more forthright or disturbing as this one. Said by then-ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe in an interview about corruption in the ANC with the Financial Mail, on 19 January 2007. It clearly and in no uncertain terms defines the fundamental problem: that the ANC’s general attitude to the state is one of self-enrichment and patronage – nothing more, nothing less, than the means to that end.
Where does one start, when faced with so many difficult choices?
First, there were some quotes I did not include because they were more personal than reflective of the ANC’s general attitude. Zuma’s infamous April 2006 shower quote, for example – “It… would minimise the risk of contracting the disease [HIV/Aids].” I felt such utterances said more about the individual than the organisation, however problematic.
A harder decision was to exclude the June 1999 comment by former Mpumalanga premier Ndaweni Mahlangu that “[Lying] is nothing new. Many politicians publicly deny they did certain things but then later admit to them. It is accepted and is not unusual anywhere in the world.” One could make a case that dishonesty in the ANC was commonplace but then, compared to the problems that flowed from its open positions on issues like Aids and Zimbabwe, I felt it just missed out.
On Aids and Zimbabwe the list of choices was extensive. There was, for example, the infamous quote from former ANCYL leader Peter Mokaba, made in an interview with the New York Times on 31 March 2002, where he said:
“HIV? It doesn’t exist. The kind of stories that they tell that people are dying in droves… It’s not true. It’s not borne out by any facts. Where the science has not proved anything, we cannot allow our people to be Guinea pigs. Anti-retrovirals, they’re quite dangerous. They’re poison actually. We cannot allow our people to take something so dangerous that it will exterminate them. However well-meaning, the hazards of misplaced compassion could lead to genocide.”
In the end, though, I felt Mbeki’s quote more important because, if anything, Mokaba – an out-and-out Mbeki acolyte – was just parroting Mbeki’s line anyway.
Leaving out the former minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, was difficult too. Her suggestion in June 2005, that “beetroot, garlic, [and] lemon” were a suitable substitute for ARVs, came to define her as ‘Dr Beetroot’. And her stubborn refusal to implement an ARV programme (perhaps best captured by her November 2000 quote – “Today I want to dispel this myth, because it is absolutely not true [that ARV’s work]. The pharmaceutical industry and those who have a vested interest in the drug industry fuels this propaganda”) was indicative of the ANC’s broader attitude. But again, Mbeki was the root cause, and so his quote won out.
Likewise on Zimbabwe – so many options. I went with the election quote because that moment was defining, not only for Zimbabwe but for the ANC which, having then endorsed the inexcusable every day for the months and years that followed dug itself deeper and deeper into the anti-democratic trench it had built. Zuma’s 15 March 2002 quote from inside Zimbabwe, that “…the elections were legitimate, are valid. They were free and fair and we have got to respect that”, was a close second, but the ANC’s national release was more representative.
In other cases it was a close call between two quotes that illustrated the same problem. Take the 26 seconds rape quote – a horrific sentiment. So bad you might be forgiven for thinking it was isolated. Not so. In May 2002 then-safety and security minister Charles Nqakula would ask, “Is that realistic? I have more than three children at home, and yesterday not one was abused.” A reference to the figure that one in three South African children are abused daily. That two police ministers could advocate the same attitude about crime statistics and the victims of crime tells you everything.
Then there was a random collection of quotes, each one of which was disturbing and powerful and, indeed, represented something important but which lost out on nothing more than their overall significance.
Here, for example, I am referring to quotes like president Mbeki’s March 2002 statement about our national sporting teams, that “for two to three years let’s not mind losing international competitions because we are bringing our people into these teams” (to this day I wonder who exactly “our people” are). And the December 2000 quote (just before the local government elections) by ANC leader in KwaZulu-Natal, Sbu Ndebele:
“To all Africans, Coloureds and Indians who voted for the DA, be warned that there’s going to be consequences for not voting for the ANC. When it comes to service delivery, we will start with the people who voted for us and you (DA supporters) will be last.”
A quote which tells you much about the ANC’s attitude to the opposition.
Racism was another issue about which it was difficult to choose the defining ANC quote. No doubt everyone remembers the late Blackman Ngoro, media advisor to Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo, whom in July 2005 described coloured as “…beggars, homeless and drunk on cheap wine”, and wrote how “vastly superior Africans are” before concluding that “coloureds must undergo ideological transformation if their race is to prosper and not die a drunken death”. In the final analysis, I felt Manyi’s reference to national demographics spoke more to the nature of the ANC’s general prejudice.
Finally, there were many quotes that might have been used to demonstrate the ANC’s attitude to service delivery and accountability. Alec Erwin’s Eskom bolt quote, said on 28 February 2006, that “this is not, in fact, an accident. Any interference with any electricity installation is an exceptionally serious crime. It is sabotage”, was not only a good way for the ANC to excuse its failings on the eve of an election but a perfect illustration of how it was willing to say anything, including flatly contradicting itself, rather than hold someone to account for a problem. A few months later, in August 2006, he would appear before parliament to say: “The cause of the damage to the generators is the question that has caused massive public interest. Of as much interest has been whether I said that this was an act of sabotage. I did not say this.” To date no one has been fired, rebuked or sanctioned in anyway for the fact that the country ran out of electricity.
Alas, any top ten list requires some brutal decisions.
There were many, many more. However, the list above I feel best captures the ten most significant and disturbing.
That said, I stand to be corrected. So give me your thoughts. (Twitter: #ANCQuotes)
And before anyone asks, no, Julius Malema did not make even the near miss section – to temporary an influence I fear.
Perhaps I am wrong, and history will prove otherwise. After all, former sports minister Ncgonde Balfour must be kicking himself after he made such a mistake in July 2002, pontificating, “Who is Jacques Kallis? Jacques Kallis means nothing to me”.
I am sure the name means something now.
*This article first appeared on the Inside Politics website.