tribute bantu holomisa


I could write a book about the personal relationship I've had with you, starting on the day I met you in your 4-roomed house in Soweto in 1990 when I advised you not to forget your grassroots and your family in Transkei.

Accordingly you agreed to build your house in Qunu. You placed me in charge of building your house in the Transkei as a replica of the Victor Verster facility you stayed in during the latter part of your imprisonment in Cape Town. I was highly privileged that you would give that task to me and to have been close to you and assisted your organisation, the African National Congress, when I was still in charge of Transkei, to ensure that you achieve your objective of freeing all South Africans. I can still remember as if it was only yesterday when the then National Party government-sponsored violence in 1990 started in Johannesburg and as you know the apartheid apologists were quick to portray it as black-on-black violence. I remember your call on this topic when you invited me to come tour some Soweto hostels with you, and we witnessed people who were hurt and killed in the violence.

Whilst we were walking from your house we met Jomo Cosmos Football owner Jomo Sono, who was very concerned that it was just the two of us walking without security or bodyguards, and he advised us to go back because we would get killed. You acknowledged his advice but insisted that we go see this carnage on our own.

Talking of the 1990s violence reminds me of the time when one of the senior military officers from the then SADF offered to prove to you the NP government's involvement in "third force" activities, and he offered to provide files documenting this. You accordingly instructed me to keep those files securely in Transkei - an instruction that left me deeply humbled that you would entrust such sensitive material to me. One of those files corroborated that the violence was approved at the highest levels. Indeed one of the files, which we analysed together, gave a coded reference signalling the instruction for the death of Goniwe and others with the term "permanent removal from society". We can openly declare now that those files were strategically used, sometimes leaked on your instruction, in order to strengthen your hand during negotiations with the apartheid government of De Klerk.

When I look back, thinking about the freedom we gained, I recall the meeting between yourself, myself, and Zwelakhe Sisulu - the editor of the then New Nation newspaper, whom you tasked to liaise with me to leak those files periodically and strategically. It is these same files that helped the TRC commissioners in getting to understand the cruelty and unconventional methods used by the apartheid government against the liberation movements. It was indeed the biggest task I was ever given in my life to keep such sensitive documentation.

I also still remember your instructions to the late Chris Hani and I during the Codesa negotiations: you would call us and instruct us to be very hard on De Klerk's government and question the integrity of that government on the issues related above. In the same vein I also remember your style of leadership: when you felt that we were too hard or harsh, you would not call us, but you would send the late Walter Sisulu - who would call and say "Bantu, please, there are some concerns about you and comrade Chris's statements, you need to tone down". Indeed we would go to the Codesa meetings with moderate speeches in line with the "tone down" instruction.

But whilst we were at Codesa with those toned-down speeches, you would come to me at the lunch table, and go to Chris's table and say "You fellows, you must be hard on De Klerk this afternoon, he is not honest" and accordingly we would go and change our speeches.

Like a military commander, you had your finger on the pulse of everybody and everything, keeping an eye on people as diverse as De Klerk on the one hand and the military dictator Holomisa, Chris Hani, and the ANC negotiating team on the other.

Speaking of Chris Hani, I remember that fateful evening during Easter 1992 when my flight arrived from Swaziland at Umtata Airport and protocol officers immediately escorted me to the VIP lounge where you awaited me. You broke the news of the assassination to me and we took a moment of silence in remembrance of Chris Hani. Then you told me that we would be leaving directly for Johannesburg. I did not even have toiletries packed since I had only been away on a day trip, but I agreed without hesitation. I will never forget how sad you looked when I entered the VIP lounge or how much strength you displayed in the hours and days to come.

You were a real father and mentor to us during those difficult years. You invited me in 1992 to join you in addressing the UN Security Council in New York. Whilst preparing to depart for New York at Shell House, I will never forget how you called Barbara Masekela, who was your assistant, the day before our departure. You said to her around 8h30 in the morning: "Barbara, can you please put me through to President Bush, and after that I would like to speak to Prime Minister John Major of Britain, Prime Minister Ghandhi of India and French President Mitterand, whose countries are members of the Security Council." And then Barbara came and shouted in her usual style: "Comrade President, don't you know that President Bush is asleep now?" and you responded: "Okay, darling, when he is up, I want to speak to him." You really showed that you had power because I never thought that anybody - even State Presidents - could simply pick up the phone and call those world leaders, but you weren't hampered by such considerations. And indeed around 16h00 of that day Barbara came in to say that President Bush was on the line and ready to speak to you. I was awestruck on that day that you politely instructed world leaders that they should instruct their UN representatives to support the OAU resolution that international peace monitors should be sent to South Africa to monitor the violence. The effect of those calls to those leaders I witnessed in the UN Security Council after you and I had addressed them. While Pik Botha and his battalion of homeland leaders that accompanied him opposed the OAU resolution, the Security Council unanimously endorsed that resolution.

Again, you also requested me to accompany you to go and address the UN General Assembly in 1993 on the need to lift sanctions against South Africa.

During that trip you introduced me to a number of world leaders and you would quip: "Accompanying me here is Bantu Holomisa, a dictator from the Transkei government. I have decided to take him along, because I don't trust him, so he cannot coup me as an ANC leader." Little did I know that even today, whenever I meet you in different functions, you would always warn people that "Holomisa is a coup-specialist".

As you know, you extended our trip from New York to Europe, where you requested me to accompany you to fundraise for the ANC in preparation for the first democratic election in 1994. Our first stop was the UK, where we met John Major and his cabinet. I felt like going under the table to hide myself when you asked John Major for 10 million, presumably in pound sterling. We went to different countries; it was the same amount that was requested/demanded. In fact, you will recall, President Thabo Mbeki joined us in France and he asked you: "Comrade Madiba, why do you always ask for 10 million, what if a country can afford to give us 20 million or more?" You replied: "Well you fellows, if you think you can raise 20 million, go ahead and try, but I know if I ask for 10 million I'll get it."

We continued to work together on a number of projects. The initial project you asked me to assist you with was the building of schools, clinics and hospitals and I made arrangements with a number of SA businesses. Today when I look at some of the clinics, hospitals and schools I recognise the power that you had and how you used it to benefit the people of South Africa. I know that your power was never concerned with self-aggrandisement.

Coming closer to home, I am always humbled and honoured when you instruct me to be in charge of functions at your house in Qunu - whether a children's Christmas party, funerals, weddings, or the installation of your grandson as a chief.

Your teachings - that of respecting people and helping them - have had an immense influence on many of us. Your style of doing things and your sometimes difficult directives and instructions, I have always taken as if my father is instructing me. However, I will never forget the day you called me to your house in Houghton and I had just landed at the airport from Washington to attend the Mbeki-Al Gore Bi-national Commission. As usual you called Xoliswa to bring black coffee with two sugars for me. After exchanging pleasantries you suddenly said: "Bantu, I have decided to reshuffle my cabinet and in reshuffling it, I have decided to drop you." As you will recall, I never asked you for a reason, I simply accepted your decision and thanked you for the honour of serving in the first democratic cabinet. But what struck me was that we continued to discuss with each other a number of issues and projects and you didn't say: "Now you must leave my house because you are no longer part of my cabinet."

Our relationship remained strong even after I left the ANC. I recall that you once asked me: "How is the United Party?" I said: "Daddy, it is the United Democratic Movement." And you retorted: "Whatever, Bantu."

South Africa is privileged that you are still with us to share your experience and wisdom and whenever you invite me to your house to eat umngqusho - Xhosa staple food - and lamb, you still accord me that privilege of sharing with me your views on our families and the state of the nation in general, without treating me like an outcast because I am no longer part of the government or ruling party. Your continuing consultation with people across the board is a lesson that many of us of the younger generations need to take to heart and promote, because the success of democracy can never depend upon one leader or party. The nature of the freedom we negotiated at Codesa necessitates that all the people of this country should contribute to its future.

Thank you Daddy for the continued confidence you show in me. There are so many in this world who would like to assist you and work closely with you. I feel highly privileged to assist you and your family whenever I'm called upon to do so.

Whilst you have always been a father figure to me, I do not mean that you were without humour. To the contrary. There are many stories that I can relate of how mischievous you could be when the mood struck you. I recall the time when you asked me to accompany you on a visit to the late Paramount Chief KD Matanzima's palace. We were 10 kilometres from our destination when you told me that the late Paramount Chief was very excited about your visit but had specifically pleaded: "Don't bring that boy Holomisa with you, he had me arrested even though I am Paramount Chief!" I immediately offered to take one of the vehicles and turn back on my own, but you insisted that I accompany you nevertheless, to the great discomfort of both myself and the late Paramount Chief! However, you were vindicated when - as a sign of welcome at the palace - you were given a sheep ... and so was I!