Cape Town - The ANC in the Western Cape may have suffered due to internal divisions that tore the party apart a decade ago, but is now showing signs of stability, says Ebrahim Rasool.
The former Western Cape premier and current South African ambassador to the US has been on a whistle-stop tour of Cape Town in a bid to convince the middle-class electorate, especially Muslims, to vote for the ANC.
Rasool spoke to the Cape Argus in an exclusive interview a few days before he addressed 20 000 Muslims who have traditionally converged at the kramats (shrines) in Macassar over Easter to camp.
“In 2004, it was these 20 000 that got the ANC over the line. I spoke to them over the same period then and they gave us the surge which put the ANC into the government. But the same enthusiasm and the same hope is not necessarily there this time around.”
Rasool was premier between 2004 and 2008.
The ANC victory in the province in 2004 soon turned hollow as it was clear that factions within the party were not going to make governing easy, as they appeared intent on destroying one another.
And so it proved and the party was sunk at the following elections. The DA has been in power since.
Rasool said that after having won the province and having “an instrument for good”, at that moment, “the ANC implodes”.
“It was my most painful memory of that period – we imploded just as we succeeded.”
The infighting still haunts Rasool and his three years in Washington DC have given him time for reflection.
“We had an unfortunate situation where there were several personal interests that divided us to the extent that we could no longer see what was in the best interests of the ANC.
“That residue is still largely with us and the impact of it has weakened our structures. We don’t have a depth of structure so you have no one explaining the movement to people. But the ANC is stabilising. The cause is bigger than the fights.”
“I’m not coming here as a Messiah nor as a successful chairman of the past – my job is to help lay a foundation. But I’m here to see how, in a modest way, I can make a contribution to the ANC’s election campaign provincially. I’m focused on ensuring that, particularly, the broad middle-class vote in the coloured community and, more specifically, the Muslim vote doesn’t get lost and to ask them to keep the faith despite some of the doubts they may have.”
He insists that the bigger picture for him has always been about what’s best for the ANC.
“I’d rather have one of my opponents in the ANC lead the provincial government, than someone from the DA leading. That’s what it’s about for me.”
He is also hosting a delegation of African-Americans, mostly Muslims “who have roots in the Nation of Islam” in Cape Town and Joburg for them to see first-hand how “Muslims have flourished in South Africa under democracy and freedom”.
Among them is a journalist from the Muslim Journal whose first editor was Malcolm X.
“In a world of Islamophobia, they can see how Muslims have thrived in South Africa. Some among the delegation, business people, have transformed ghettoes into mixed-used areas in Washington and will be looking at poorer areas in South Africa.”
They joined Rasool on Friday when he delivered the jumu’ah sermon at the Islamia mosque in Belgravia.
And on Friday night, he hosted 100 Muslim “sectoral leaders” in business, education, religion and sport in the city in an attempt to understand why “they seem to have drifted from the ANC”.
“They used to be the core support base when I was actively involved in politics in the Western Cape. One of the reasons why I’m doing this is that people have been writing me saying they are concerned and confused about the ANC. I’m not a candidate for office, but I’d like to think people trust my opinion.
“We should have the patience to engage communities and their leadership and through that you acknowledge people. We need to give people arguments with which to defend the ANC. We cannot have the DA be the default choice. Part of the problem is that no one is explaining to people as to what is happening in the ANC. I have what the Americans call, no skin in the game – which means I have nothing to gain from it personally.”
“People can wonder how I can come persuade people to vote ANC when they removed me back then when I was premier. The cause is bigger than the history of the fights.
“It’s a principled stance, not personal. It is not about Ebrahim Rasool, it is about what is good for communities.”
When asked if the Nkandla saga would make his task more difficult, Rasool declined to comment.
In the run-up to the ANC national conference in Polokwane in 2007, Rasool made it public that he would vote for Thabo Mbeki and listed several reasons behind his decision.
His ambassadorship has meant that he has, in a sense, been insulated from party politics and has put him on a global stage – rubbing shoulders with the likes of US President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and consulting with representatives from Arab Spring countries who hold Nelson Mandela and the South African constitution in high regard.
Rasool, who has been ambassador to the US since 2010, was to have finished his tenure in July, but Obama is hosting 48 African presidents for a historic two-day summit in August in the US capital. After that, he will effectively be without a job.
But the 52-year-old insists he is not angling for a post in local politics: “I’ve learnt from Lot’s wife not to look back.”
Rasool ON SA-US RELATIONS:
Rasool said the US often doesn’t know how to deal with South Africa as we are neither a “client nor an enemy”.
“Our relationship is good, but not smooth. We often don’t vote the same way in the UN and we hold our line with regard to the US.”
But the response to Nelson Mandela’s death was overwhelming.
“The last two years have been extraordinary in the US – I have reconnected with the anti-apartheid movement, erected a statue of Nelson Mandela on Massachusetts Avenue and it has become a popular tourist site. In July, 22 states held Mandela birthday celebrations and after his death, 30 states held memorial services. So one could say that South Africa has a US constituency.”
on brown envelopes
(There were allegations that Rasool paid political reporters at the Cape Argus to write favourable articles about him)
“After 2008, I imposed on myself a vow of silence. I needed to allow the allegation against me of buying journalists to be fully investigated.
“I bit my tongue then because I knew that I’d be contributing to the drama and that it would obscure the facts.
“The Hawks had to acknowledge there was no case and (the) premier’s office had to admit there was no money trail to journalists.
“The vow of silence may not have given me the satisfaction of screaming from the rafters protesting my innocence, but the vindication has been much more complete.”
On the DA
“The party of default should not be the DA, because no one is explaining to people what is happening within the ANC.
“Since 2004 I’ve had to watch Helen Zille dismantle the Bambanani campaign – that system of community policing – which used to keep our people safe.
“I have seen service delivery protests of an obscene nature.
“Our plan for the 27 poorest areas, she failed to continue with because of her ego.
“If she had, these protests would not have happened. She can’t be morally outraged when people throw poo.
“She has taken credit for things she opposed when the ANC was in power – N2 Gateway project, Koeberg Interchange, Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha Hospitals – not a single fingerprint of hers on the planning of these projects.
“But because of our internal weaknesses, we let the DA take credit for what we had started.
“I’m here to shore up a constituency that does not belong with the DA.”
“Some people say: ‘Let’s not vote… but people in Syria and Egypt are dying to get the vote so you are obliged to vote. It is your obligation. You’ve got to vote.”
“It is everyone’s choice who they vote for, obviously, but coming from the ranks of the ANC, I will ask people to vote ANC. But the ANC should use the remaining weeks (ahead of the May 7 polls) to rebuild a basis of trust.”