He is the son of Struggle icons Yusuf and Amina Cachalia, but Ghaleb has jumped ship because he believes the liberation movement, whose beliefs and morals he grew up with, has abandoned him. Announced this week as the DA’s mayoral candidate for Ekurhuleni in the municipal elections this year, the party is confident Ghaleb can “run a tight ship”. Kashiefa Ajam talks to him
Ghaleb Cachalia modestly describes the life he has lived as “interesting, varied and enriching”.
But the truth is that he has had a history much grittier than this. He grew up in the ghettos of Vrededorp, Fordsburg, and Nugget Street in Joburg.
His parents were ANC royalty and full-time political activists. They endured spells in jail and served scores of years under banning and house arrest orders.
These are biographical lines that don’t quite spell out the emotional torment and hard times of their son’s history.
Ghaleb’s father, Yusuf, died in 1995, shortly after seeing his life’s endeavours being fulfilled by the advent of democracy. His mother, Amina, died two years ago, after a lifetime of championing the cause of the Struggle of women under apartheid and thereafter.
His grandfathers were close associates of Mahatma Gandhi and were joint initiators of the passive resistance campaign. Both were incarcerated and had lamentably early deaths.
“I was born in Fietas (Vrededorp) in 1956 - the year of the Treason Trial. We were a normal household in an abnormal society. We were proud that our parents were immersed in the struggle for freedom. We wore the privations visited upon us like a badge of honour.
“My parents struggled to educate their children and sent my sister and me toWaterford School in Swaziland to escape the indignity and shoddy education that was offered under the apartheid system of Indian Affairs.
“No sooner had I settled in and was embarking on the final year of my O Level examinations, than the sins of my parents were visited on me and my passport was under threat.
“My parents took the painful decision to send me abroad (they had no access to travel or passports) to stay with my uncle and aunt, who had left for Britain on an exit permit to a life of exile. They died (there) relatively recently.”
Cachalia completed his O Levels and won a scholarship to the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales where he encountered young people from all over the world.
“(They) were committed to working, studying and service towards the ideals of international understanding, the driving motive behind the United World College movement.
“I then went on to University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, where I read history. Those were the days of universal free education and I received a grant from the Inner London Education Authority, which paid for my studies.
“When I completed my degree I was granted a passport of six months’ validity by the South African authorities and returned home. Six months later my passport was refused again.
“I immersed myself in the politics of the Struggle and took a job with Capital Radio as a newsreader and writer and then went on to the University of the Witwatersrand to read law. I joined the Black Students Society and served as vice-president of the organisation.
“Those were heady years and more time was spent in student and national politics than study. I did not complete my law degree.”
Cachalia chose to join his father in a business he had started many years before and which was successful. It supplied school uniforms for the black community and was the first business to provide six months’ interest-free credit for customers.
“My father schooled me in business. I began at the bottom, served behind the counter, wrote the books, ran retail outlets, was apprenticed to a manufacturing facility in Joburg and opened up such facilities in Malawi and Mozambique.
“When my father died in 1995 I ran the business for a few years, but saw the challenge from mainly Asian countries in terms of price and supply, alongside a period of intensely turbulent labour relations.
“I sold the businesses, retaining one retail outlet, whose shareholding I transferred to the employees of the company. The company is still running in the Joburg central business district.”
Cachalia then partnered an American businessman in forming a management consultancy in Zurich, Switzerland, and in Joburg, and later began to consult in the area of private equity. He successfully raised a fund for woman entrepreneurs.
After a fruitful stint in the business world, Cachalia says he is at a stage in his life where he feels he can use his varied experience and skills to contribute to businesses, individuals and organisations in the broad area of sustainable impact, such as in politics, public service, finance, industry, education, organisation, policy, and civic rights.
“These areas are clearly pivotal to the future of this country, continent and beyond and I am keen to contribute my skills and experience gained over many years. My track record in strategy, activism, industry, commerce, brand, communications and finance, underscored by a sound global geopolitical understanding, would, I believe, stand me in good stead.”
Cachalia says his parents would have been “horrified” by the state of their beloved ANC.
“I know my mother was disillusioned by the descent into a kleptocracy of sorts. My father died in 1995, so he was unable to form a view, but I do think both of them - knowing their values and what defined them - would have been horrified at the current state of affairs.
“I think my parents would have understood where I was coming from and their loyalties would have been seriously tested too,” Cachalia says of his decision to join the DA.
“For historical reasons they might have sought to reform (the ANC) from within, but their age would have precluded this course of action and they might well have realised the malaise was too pervasive.”
Cachalia says that over the past year or so, he began considering the best option to challenge the ANC and resolved on the DA because of its numerical weight and values that resonated with him.
“I always valued their role as a loyal opposition in our democracy. There were always points of confluence. I am a liberal, with a small L. I formally joined some months ago as an ordinary member and was received with respect, warmth and understanding.”
For Cachalia, the time is now. He is ready to take on his once-treasured ANC.
“As we are poised now, in the trajectory of our nation, I am ready to help salvage the future of the country I love and am committed to.
“The time has come to assist in building a strong opposition that will act as a bulwark to the disastrous policies and practices of a party that has lost its way.”