Angry Lekota speaks his mind


The pleasure of Barack Obama's election to the White House the night before our interview in Midrand has not eased the obvious stress displayed by Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota.

He has come to meet me despite the pressures of forming a new party "without an office, staff or salary".

Yet he settles down to enjoy a chicken breast salad, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a cautionary measure after a heart attack suffered four years ago.

Before our session ends, the former defence minister tells a caller on his cellphone: "I am in an interview that is taking forever."

I point out a pretty, delicately coloured bird. It is a male, he says, "males are always prettier".

A rare smile brings a flash of the old Terror Lekota, revolutionary hero, nicknamed for his fearlessness on the soccer field, a less careworn version of the man whose cellphone rings throughout our discussion.

It is four days after the national convention in Sandton, held by Lekota and former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, who announced the new party was to be launched next month, and I am wondering what it is the party stands for.

"Well look, my dear, the party does not exist yet. The one thing you can say without hesitation is that we are united on the basis that the national Constitution as it stands today must be defended and democracy must be deepened."

He said although Zuma had gone to Soweto the next day to denounce the party as "a Black DA", reserved for rich whites in Sandton, Zuma himself lives in Forest Town, once an exclusively white suburb.

Zuma, by singling out Helen Zille, the leader of the DA, for her whiteness, ignoring the fact that the majority of delegates were black, is making strange judgments for this time in our country, he says.

He snaps an answer when I ask why he appears so angry when in front of a crowd.

"I am a passionate person, suddenly now that they (the ANC) want to discredit me, they are saying I am angry. Why did they not think I was angry when I was struggling against apartheid?"

This is not the only characterisation he has endured: "I was (told I was) a dog, a spoiled child, a bad loser, I was crying for leadership positions. But they did not answer the questions I asked.

"I asked whether the ANC is still committed to equality before the law, why it is calling for a political solution to the criminal charges against ANC president Jacob Zuma, why it is not repudiating Malema, who said he would kill for Zuma."

Lekota is himself no stranger to death threats, which he says he has experienced "for the greater part of my life. My bodyguard was told that this party we were trying to form would be formed in heaven.

"I did not think that something like this would happen to a government led by the ANC.

"We have a meeting coming up on December 16 (to launch the new party) and we hear they have also organised to have a meeting there on December 16. Can you believe it? Tchaaaaa."

Lekota insists that the parties that came to the convention have committed themselves to tolerance, to non-violence.

"The only party that might want to cause violence is the ANC."

Lekota warns of "the weakening of the foundations of government and democracy", an example of which was Mbeki's removal from office "without regard for the provisions of the Constitution".

But he says he did not resign from the ANC because of Mbeki's ill-treatment "and I did not join because of him".

Conversion to the ANC came via the late Steve Tshwete, via Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu on Robben Island. Lekota was charged with treason in 1974 after organising victory rallies to celebrate the independence of Mozambique. He was sent to Robben Island and was released in 1982.

He was detained and sentenced in the Delmas trial in 1985 and released in 1989, after his sentence was reviewed by the Appeal Court.

When he joined the ANC, he had never met Mbeki, whom he says he does "not consider a personal friend but a comrade".

"I have always regarded myself as just a member of the ANC, really."

But Lekota says the hand of Mbeki cannot be felt in the steering of the breakaway movement.

"Why did no one ask if the hand of Mandela was felt, or that of De Klerk in previous formations?"

Lekota is "loyal" but is no sycophant. He made his differences with Mbeki's approach of quiet diplomacy known in public statements. But: "I always felt duty-bound by the decisions of Cabinet." Yet he is no Mbeki detractor.

"Whatever his mistakes, I don't agree with this assessment that Thabo was 'the worst thing that happened to South Africa'."

Did you have problems with the management of Aids under Mbeki's regime?

People never made a distinction between Thabo's view and the government's position.

Look at the amount of money we budgeted for Aids programmes, even when the president was engaging in polemical debate.

Forget about that. Many of us were not involved in that, we were concerned about what the government was doing.

But confusing messages about Aids were sent out continually for many years.

My dear lady, we must be realistic. Ours was a multipronged attack. We failed to communicate what a balanced view we had.

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's views became a bitter joke among Africa's health ministers.

Look, Manto is not all of us. And look at Home Affairs. Do you think there is a law we have passed on home affairs matters?

Do you know of a law that is wrong?

But home affairs was apparently unable to cope with the crisis with illegal immigrants and there appears to be no plan.

My dear madam, I would ask this question myself of you: which country has houses built and waits for the day there is a disaster to put people in this house?

Once there is a disaster you will have some contingency plans.

Are you going to order an investigation into the arms deal?

We conducted an investigation through the Chapter Nine investigations, when I served in Mbeki's government. The report is in the office of the speaker Baleka Mbete. The result has been made public.

I have been among those who said there is nothing else to investigate. I am not going to pretend today that there is not something else that can be done. People are saying we (the government under Mbeki) were hiding evidence of corruption.

Why are these angels (who are in power) not taking us to court?

Will you be prepared to talk to the ANC again?

The ANC has called us dogs, the president has called us snakes, so if a president calls you that, I doubt whether they would want to have anything to do with us. But if they would stop that name calling.

What, in your opinion, is so special about Jacob Zuma?

He said there was a conspiracy against him to become president of the ANC. As if he was born to be president of the ANC. Why does he regard it his right?

You know you are born for chieftainship, that is a hereditary right. There is nothing special about him at all. He is just a member of the ANC like everybody else.

Are you talking to the DA about forming a coalition?

No. We don't have any talks like that going on. I have said before that unless any party formally approaches us to say we want to be part of what you are doing.

The reason we invited them to the convention is that we felt it was important for the like-minded members of society to rally themselves together and try and defend the Constitution.

Is there a possibility of a hung Parliament?

If you get more than a 50 percent majority you force the ANC's hand. How does that work?

We deal with it as we get there. Some opposition parties say we must co-operate among ourselves. We would obviously consider that. Look, in a few months' time South Africans go to the polls. It is in their hands to decide who carries their hopes.

I told you how we feel the electoral system must change, starting with the president, provincial premiers, provincial governments. Let the people choose and nobody should do this on their behalf.

Will you carp in the wings and behave like a proper opposition if you lose?

Of course, yes, that is what democracy is about.




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