Johannesburg - Former British diplomat Lord Robin Renwick, in South Africa for the launch of his latest book, How To Steal A Country, chuckles when asked about the characterisation that often precedes his name.
Far from the image cultivated by supporters of former president Jacob Zuma, and Black First, Land First (BLF), the former British ambassador to South Africa between 1987 and 1991 says he is not some bogeyman pulling the strings, behind the scenes for “white monopoly capital”.
“The latest one is that I had asked Julius Malema to go back to the ANC, which is far from the truth,” says Renwick.
He says the BLF and “similar propaganda organisations live in a world of fantasy”.
Renwick is no stranger to the region, having been ambassador to Rhodesia in 1977, later becoming an advisor to Lord Christopher Soams, the last governor of that country, and then Lord Peter Carrington during the Lancaster House talks, which ended white rule. “I have met Julius Malema just once, I had a long meeting with him with a lot of people in London, at his request, and we had a discussion about all kinds of things.
“For instance, we advised him very strongly to stop talking in terms of violence and race-based policies. I said the policy of nationalisation, which he was advocating, did not work anywhere else in the world, we actually had a positive discussion about that with him saying that there were other solutions possible,” says Renwick.
“I have a completely different point of view from him but I would like to pay tribute to the role he has played against state capture,” says Renwick.
Over rooibos tea, underneath the plush veranda at the Mount Nelson Hotel, the 80-year-old, who arrived in Cape Town earlier this week, answers questions about his book and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s narrow defeat of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the party’s 54th national congress at Nasrec in December 2017.
Renwick says he has known Ramaphosa for 30 years and describes him as perfectly honourable.
“We all hope that he will truly give what is a wonderful country the prospect of a brighter future. Personally, I think he will,” he says.
His book details the way in which an estimated R200 billion was stolen from the South African state, in the words of former finance minister and current Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who assisted verifying some of the facts.
“All the passages about state capture were reviewed by Pravin Gordhan, so I’m very confident that they’re really accurate,” says Renwick.
His jokes that his friend, Wilbur Smith, told him that the book reads like a crime novel which in the end turns into a good story.
Renwick says going into the ANC’s December elective conference, he had no idea who would win the party’s leadership contest. In the end, Ramaphosa won by a slim margin of 149 votes out of about 5200 votes which had been cast by delegates.
“Clearly Zuma did not want to resign, he put up a huge fight not to resign, but quite a lot of people who had supported him up to that point swung over to Cyril... thank goodness.
“In my opinion, the last nine years have been a wasted decade. There’s been no increase in employment. There’s been hardly any economic growth, and everybody on average has gotten poorer, rather than better off.
“You now have a much more hopeful prospect for the future because the constitution was already being undermined in every way I don’t think that the Zupta regime could have continued without a head-on attack on the constitution...they would certainly have wanted to curb the press,” he says.
He says his book is dedicated to former public protector Thuli Madonsela, Gordhan, the South African press, the judiciary and civil society.