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‘The People Want Action’

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A plethora of people are gathered inside the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, all draped in regalia of the 106-year-old African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s ruling party.

The crowd of more than 5,000 moves like a multi-headed beast, chanting South Africa’s struggle songs. The head of this beast can be found in a song that keeps creeping up in many parts of this crowd.

Unity maqabane, ixesha lisondele,” goes the song, which loosely translates to “unity comrades, the time has come.”

This is moments before the African National Congress, the oldest liberation movement on the continent, makes one of the biggest decisions in more than a century of struggle and campaigning in Africa. It is about to elect who is going to lead it out of its most difficult time in democratic South Africa.

In a few moments, the ANC will choose who will replace President Jacob Zuma, a man who has ruffled feathers from the boardrooms to the streets.

Even before he took office, Zuma faced 783 counts of corruption. Around $20 million of taxpayers’ money was used to upgrade his private home in Nkandla, even though he is paying back some of it. His relationship with the Gupta family has cast a shadow over his presidency. The economy has undoubtedly taken a huge dip under his leadership, with unemployment rising and investments falling.

READ MORE: Lessons for South Africa’s Jacob Zuma in Robert Mugabe’s misfortunes

At Nasrec, as the mood of the people swirls in different currents, dark uncertainty is visible on their faces. Factionalism is at its worse within the ANC, with the party split between two candidates.

The first is business-minded ANC Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who many believe should be next in line, claiming it is party tradition. The unions, however, say he is too capitalist.

The other is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a veteran parliamentarian and former chairperson of the African Union Commission. She is the first female ANC member gunning for the party’s top position. Many however say she is too close to President Zuma, her former husband.

Months of campaigning, factionalism, infighting and party slates have all boiled down to this moment. After a period of uncertainty and songs blaring from every corner, EleXions Agency, the facilitators of the voting process, take to the stage to put the masses here out of their misery.

Ramaphosa emerges as the new ANC president by a whisker. A mere 179 votes separates him from Dlamini-Zuma, after almost 5,000 delegates cast their votes.

READ MORE: ‘Zuma The Thief Must Voetsek’

The top six positions of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) are also closely contested, with the outcome split between supporters of Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma. Is this the unity outcome that’s often crept up in songs here, or will this cause further division within the self-confessed corruption-riddled party?

“It’s an interesting outcome but it’s an outcome that’s organizational. I think that’s what the ANC needs, where we pull everyone together under one roof and make it a point that people work together as a collective, cohere and move forward,” says recently elected ANC Eastern Cape Chairman, Oscar Mabuyane.

Fikile Mbalula, the newly-elected NEC member, and staunch supporter of Dlamini-Zuma, preaches unity after the battle.

“The conference is over, we have one president and not two. Cyril Ramaphosa is my president and we are going to work nicely together,” says Mbalula, who is also South Africa’s Minister of Police.

Some, however, aren’t taking kindly to the outcome. Bathabile Dlamini, the President of the ANC Women’s League, lambastes the new leadership. The Women’s League had thrown its weight behind Dlamini-Zuma in the hope that she’d become the first woman to lead the ANC in its history.

“This is an attack on women’s struggles. We have been dealt a blow and want to call on all women to stand together,” says Dlamini.

READ MORE: The ANC has a new leader but South Africa remains on a political precipice

Jesse Duarte is the only woman in the top six – coincidentally contesting for her position against another woman.

Business tycoon and former Gauteng Premier, Tokyo Sexwale, who is also concerned by the lack of women in the top six, gave words of warning on tackling corruption within the ANC.

“When you become president of the country [one day], make sure you have the long arm of the law reach out to criminals. Start with criminals who are trying to hide under Cyril’s umbrella, because that’s how they corrupt the situation. Before you steal from Eskom, SAA and so on, you’ve got to corrupt the ANC. So deal with them decisively first,” says Sexwale, who was once named alongside Ramaphosa and Mathews Phosa in a plot aimed at toppling then president, Thabo Mbeki, in 2001.

A thorny issue for the new ANC leadership, which includes the 80 NEC members, are the growing calls to recall outgoing ANC president, Zuma, from the presidency of South Africa.

In his closing speech at the conference, Ramaphosa, emphasizes the need for a public office that wouldn’t serve vested interests, but build a truly developmental state.

“Our people will judge this conference not only by what we have done here over these past five days, but perhaps more importantly, they will judge it by what we do next. The people of South Africa want action.”

Will Ramaphosa be able to deliver this action? Time will tell.

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Politics

May Will Be Gone In June Ending Months Of Political Battering And Speculation

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British Prime Minister Teresa May – just under three years into the job – says she will step down on June 7.

This follows a hammering, from both sides of the house, over her clumsy handling of the Brexit process. She has lost countless votes in Parliament over a Brexit deal and was seen by many in politics as weak and dithering. It is ironic that May herself voted to keep Britain in Europe, only to see her career expire as she struggled to make the opposite happen.

READ MORE | Chilling Words From The Man Who Broke The Bank Of England

Her heartfelt farewell speech on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street concluded that she had done her best to make Britain a better place not merely for the privileged few, but also for the whole population.

The supreme irony is that her shuffling off of the Prime Minister’s job will see the shuffling in one of Britain’s best known members of the privileged few. Eton and Oxford educated Boris Johnson is likely to step in as leader of May’s Conservative party ahead of what surely is going to be a snap election.   

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Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections

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May 8, a landmark day for Africa’s second biggest economy. South Africans will cast their votes for the country’s sixth general elections since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

In the run-up to the polls, the country saw flagrant protests in some parts, as disgruntled citizens expressed disapproval of their stifling living conditions. 

In this image, a resident of Alexandra, a township in the north of Johannesburg, squats in the middle of a busy road leading to the opulent precincts of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile.  

The dichotomy of socio-economic circumstances is an accelerant in one of the country’s poorest communities filled to the brim with squatter camps and the restlessness of unemployment.

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Current Affairs

A Tale Of Two Presidents And One Phone Call To Freedom

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A month before South Africa’s elections, one of the country’s leading political figures exposed a number of his former comrades for corruption with evidence to the Zondo Commission on State Capture. It was box office material, yet just another eventful period in the turbulent life of Robert McBride – guerrilla fighter, policeman and death row prisoner.


Robert McBride has one of those faces full of character that looks like it has endured life as much as lived it. A glance through his tough years of struggle yields a list of reasons why: five years on death row to screams and tears of the condemned; scores of beatings over decades; shooting his way out of hospital; years of the shadowy and violent life of an underground guerrilla fighter.

McBride was born in Wentworth, just outside Durban, in 1963, and grew up amid racist insults and violence. It swiftly politicised him and he was taken into the military wing of the African National Congress where he carried out sabotage with explosives.

Even by the standards of the desperate days of the gun in South Africa, McBride’s political activity is remarkable. In 1986, McBride fought his way out of an intensive care ward in a bizarre rescue of his childhood friend and fellow fighter Gordon Webster. It happened at Edendale Hospital in Durban where Webster lay, with tubes in his body, under police guard.

McBride posed as a doctor, with an AK47 hidden in his white coat; his father, Derrick, was dressed as a priest with a Makarov pistol under his cassock. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard, in 1999, that hospital staff cheered them on and held back an armed policeman as the McBrides shot their way out, pushing the wounded Webster to freedom on a trolley.        

Thirty-three-years on, McBride went into battle again for his beliefs, this time with words and documents, against a more insidious and formidable foe than armed police – corruption. He gave evidence before the Zondo Commission, in Johannesburg, springing from his days as head of IPID, the independent police investigators.

He spent more than four days on the stand – longer than most cricket matches last these days. He told of missing police evidence, claims of sinister moves to remove corruption busters and the misappropriation of money, under a cloak of secrecy, by the crime intelligence agencies.    

“People don’t like me because of my anti-corruption stance, their dislike of me I wear as a badge of honour. Those who dislike me for other reasons, it is a free country and you are entitled to your likes and dislikes. I have no problem with you. But wherever I am, I will do my work and will always be against corruption. I understand how corruption affects the ordinary man and means there is so much less to go around,” he says.   

To give a little more context, McBride’s erstwhile job went with unpopularity. The head of IPID is a post that politicians, plus probably more than a few disgruntled policemen, wanted him out of. They ended his contract and he assures me he is going to court to get his job back. His stance may give clues as to why some wanted to see the back of him.

“I have spoken loudly every time I have seen something wrong and raised unpopular issues. Some of the issues we picked up early on was police involvement in cash-in-transit robberies… The looting of police funds, the corruption, the wastage and the leverage, we then began to understand it; the leverage that some policeman have over politicians… Any criminal syndicate that is operating requires police to help them otherwise they will be found out in the normal course of events,” says McBride, the month before the hearing.

“Rogue activity by certain elements in the prosecuting authority, the willingness to prosecute people for non-criminal acts and unwillingness to prosecute when there is a pile of evidence…We will also speak about the abuse of state funds, the abuse of power by the police by negating investigations. Most of our evidence is backed up by court papers, evidence and affidavits,” he says.

Many activists who saw the nasty, ugly, side of the struggle often are the first to come down, hard, when they feel freedoms they fought for are being abused. You could argue McBride, an intelligent thinker, is very much one of them.

You could also argue that McBride has been cut adrift by many former comrades and demonized as the Magoo’s Bar bomber – the 1986 car bomb on the Durban beachfront that killed three and wounded scores. Others, on both sides of the South African struggle, who issued orders, or did worse, are undisturbed and anonymous by their swimming pools. Any regrets? I ask.

“It’s like asking me ‘do I regret living in a free and democratic country’, the answer can’t be yes… We would have preferred that things went differently. If you are in an armed struggle, you are the cause of hurt to other people and as a political activist, as a revolutionary you can defend that and justify it.

“But as a human being, you know that when it concerns other people, it is not the right thing to do to cause the hurt of other people. I have expressed myself as a human being on this, not because I was trying to elicit any sympathy or anything; I have never asked for redemption, I have never asked for forgiveness. Those who know me know what I am about and those who understand the circumstances in the early 1980s when we became active; those who are old enough to remember that was what the circumstances were.”

Those circumstances recede further into the darkness of memory of democratic South Africa every year, yet, in the minds of those who suffered, it stays pin sharp. McBride spent five years on death row, in Pretoria, after being sentenced to the gallows for the Durban bombings.

He reckons the prison hanged more than 300 prisoners in this time. Through the cell door, he heard the condemned screaming and crying as warders dragged the condemned along the passages to their fate. The hanging warders used to bring back the bloody hoods from the gallows and force the next batch of condemned men to wash them.

In May 1990, the sun shone as hope visited death row in Pretoria. The prison management summoned McBride and a group of fellow condemned activists, to the main office at the maximum security prison. Each were given green prison jackets – the garb of special occasions. Warders drove them, in a van, to a distant part of the prison and all feared they were either going to be executed or allowed to escape and shot in the back.

“We were told not to talk and then we were put in this big room with a steel of security around the room and after about 45 minutes the former president (Mandela) walked in and it was the most beautiful sight on earth; the greatest feeling ever and when he walks in, he says: ‘Ah, Robert! How are you!’ As if he knew me forever. It was the most important meeting I had in my life. It was like a God-like environment. He gave us a rundown of negotiations and what can be expected and that we must not worry, we must be patient and sit tight, he knows all of our backgrounds and will do his utmost to get us released and we will never be forgotten.”

It took more than two more years, in the shadow of the noose… until a fateful Friday. September 25, 1992. McBride will never forget the date.

“Round about half past four in the afternoon, I got a call to come to the office, I didn’t know what it was about, and when I came there, the head of the prison said: ‘You have a phone call’. It was my first phone call in prison. On the other end of the line was comrade Cyril Ramaphosa and he says: ‘Hi chief’. I keep quiet and then he says: ‘Monday’. I say: ‘What’s happening Monday chief?’ He keeps quiet, then he says: ‘You are going home!’ There was a bit of a smile you could feel in his voice,” says McBride with a huge smile on his face.

Long after Mandela had completed his long walk to freedom for his country, McBride was to yet again hear the click of a prison key and feel the pain from a warder’s boot.

It was the summer of 1998 and in Maputo, the sea was warm and the prawns were hot. The police in Mozambique picked up McBride, then a high-ranking official in foreign affairs, on alleged gun running charges that appeared to be trumped up to us journalists. We scoured the streets of the capital, for weeks, in search of witnesses.

McBride argued that he was on an undercover operation for the National Intelligence Agency trying to uncover gun runners who were flooding neighbouring South Africa with illegal weapons and fuelling crime; a counter that eventually set him free.

Despite this, McBride spent six months in the capital’s notorious, grim, Machava maximum security prison, where he told me violence was meted out.

I covered that story for many months and came within a split ace of interviewing McBride in his cell. We spent hours plying the Portuguese-speaking warders with beer and the story, through an interpreter, that we were friends visiting from South Africa and we just wanted to say hello. We told them our friend was a big man in South Africa.

“He is a small man now,” smiled back one of the warders icily.

We convinced the guards and as they moved towards the prison doors, keys in hand, our cover was blown. One of the not too bright colleagues from our TV station strolled into the prison waving his press card.

“Hello Chris!” says he. The none-too-pleased prison guards threw us out.

I had to wait more than 20 years for my interview with McBride.

A phrase I always remembered from those many hot, crazy, days in Maputo was a quote we got from the late presidential spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa when McBride went behind bars yet again.

“He is a tough guy who can look after himself,” said Mamoepa.

The Zondo Commission and scores of corrupt policemen last month found out how tough.  

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