Derek Hanekom and Carl Niehaus: From defying apartheid norms to sworn enemies
Durban - When former tourism minister and ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Derek Hanekom takes on his former political boss Jacob Zuma in the Durban High Court next week, there will be a factional picture that has become too familiar in local politics.
On the other side of the gulf with Zuma will be Carl Niehaus, the NEC member of the uMkhonto Wesizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), a former freedom fighter who, like Hanekom, was once viewed with disdain by some members of the white Afrikaner community and treated as a societal outcast.
Both men broke ranks with the community, which was enjoying massive social and financial benefits that were only reserved for whites, when they called for the end of apartheid - a "sin" that landed them in jail in the 80s.
History records show that they both joined the then banned ANC in 1980 and contributed in various roles inside and outside apartheid South Africa.
Hanekom’s history shows that in 1983 he was arrested and later pleaded guilty to possessing banned literature after the government dropped charges of treason against him.
He would later serve a two-year sentence, then moved to Zimbabwe after his wife's release in 1978. In 1990 Hanekom returned to South Africa and worked on land policy issues at the ANC's Johannesburg headquarters. In 1994 he became a surprise choice for minister of land affairs.
On the other side, Niehaus’ political background also shows that he worked for the ANC's underground structure in South Africa until he and his fiancé (and later wife) Johanna (Jansie) Lourens were arrested in August 1983.
Niehaus and Jansie were found guilty of high treason and he received a 15-year sentence while Jansie was sentenced to four years in prison.
When political prisoners were being released and those in exile were returning home, both politicians assumed senior roles in the party and never crossed swords; at least until the political troubles of Zuma started around 2015.
Niehaus was in Zuma’s corner when he was attacked and in 2017 after Hanekom called for Zuma to resign during an ANC NEC meeting.
That was the beginning of a fight that would place Niehaus and Hanekom on different sides of ANC’s factions.
Ahead of the now infamous 2017 Nasrec conference of the ANC, Hanekom supported Cyril Ramaphosa, the eventual victor, while Niehaus supported Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
While the verbal assaults during that period was not directed at one another but rather directed at the factions they supported, that changed late in July this year when Hanekom confirmed that he met with leaders of the EFF to discuss a plan to kick Zuma out of office through a vote of no confidence in parliament.
Niehaus launched an assault and called for the ANC to expel him, saying he worked with the enemy, a cardinal sin for ANC members.
“We are still angry that a member of the ANC colluded with the opposition against a sitting president. We take a dim view of that,” Niehaus said this week.
In response, Hanekom said he had nothing to apologise for as members of political parties meet now and again to discuss issues.