A Freedom Day reflection from a member of the Ex-Robben Islander Empowerment Forum (ERIEF)
As many South Africans celebrate the 27 April Freedom Day or 27 years of Freedom during this most trying period, which for many has been considerably worsened by the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, many liberation struggle veterans and ex-political prisoners are forced to mull over how their lives have turned out since April 27, 1994. Their daily lived experience of hardship compels them to reflect on what happened to the promised freedom and justice for which they sacrificed their youth in order for the majority to declare and celebrate this day, 27 April Freedom Day.
But, many South Africans celebrating this day are young people and adults who may not be so well versed in the praxis of struggle politics required to fight the entrenched multi-layered strategies of continued long-term aspirations of white economic domination and its associated racist oppression. These young South Africans, popularly referred to as ‘Born Frees’, are often saturated in the neoliberal ideologies so ardently pushed at universities, notwithstanding that those who push this ideology are strategically placed white academics and foreign nationals (who are employed before South African Black academics and who are not that invested in South African Black emancipatory thinking) carefully picked from the moderate liberal echelon. As such, they tend to be dismissive of the true sacrifice of the youth of the 1976 student uprising and the liberation struggle that preceded that uprising. Indeed they often frame their disparagement of this contribution by all freedom fighters on the premise of the misdeeds and corruption perpetrated by those liberation veterans who joined the anti-black ranks of the white echelon at the expense of the majority. But let us be clear. I speak for those 1976 veterans who did not jump on the gravy train and have stayed true to the struggle for the complete emancipation of the Black indigenous majority in South Africa.
It would thus be unjust to place the blame entirely on the shoulders of the millennials for their lack of a critical in-depth analysis on the struggle against the impact of the long-term aftermath of white oppression on its targeted victims and those who directly opposed it. One could rightly say that this political blankness is engineered, beginning at schools where the South African liberation struggle history has been deliberately overlooked, other than a Mandelaesque watered down Rainbow version, which hardly inspires authentic Black Consciousness or radical critical thinking. Not only that, but liberal embedded academics have smuggled in individualistic cross purpose ideological neo-theories that rule out all 20th century struggles as patriarchal and worthless.
Nowadays struggles are fractured into multiple individual problematics that vie for attention and funding from the corporatised NGO sector, at the expense of the collective struggle for the economic and cultural emancipation of our majority. This is the weaponisation of real struggles into deformed liberal frameworks that set pertinent struggles against each other. Issues that ought to be addressed in tandem with the emancipation of all oppressed peoples from the clutches of a white patriarchal stranglehold, are herded into individualistic compartments. This strategy has been carefully engineered to obfuscate the overall struggle for Black freedom by distorting radical thought into new frameworks that fracture and confuse revolutionary ideals and decimate the collectivism required as the fuel for radical emancipatory ideology on all fronts for all Black people. Ironically this shattering of collectivism ultimately protects white economic domination, ensuring the perpetuity of white hegemony. In addition there is an alarming proliferation of conspiracy theory that is eagerly taken up by a youth searching for meaning in this age of fragmentation and a vampire economy.
Surely, the ruling party has to accept full responsibility for failing to care for, preserve and protect the history and culture of the indigenous African people and their liberation struggle. What they have done instead is to ensure that the youth are spoon fed a distorted history that overlooks the dire impact of colonial brutality on our people and calls for reformation that only feeds their avaricious desire to enrich themselves at all costs. In this way instead of preserving and learning from our experiences they have disingenuously pushed the ANC as the only liberation entity that ever existed in South Africa and enforced liberal capitalist strictures onto what was once a radical objective for liberation.
Despite this our African children are clear about the injustices they are trapped in and are thus caught up in the national struggle for free education precisely because our leadership is locked into the race for self-serving enrichment and the looting of the state coffers and natural resources. It is hard not to conclude that the ruling party betrayed the indigenous African child and the nation when it reneged on, inter alia, its ANC liberation struggle promise to provide equal access to quality education as one of its fundamental objectives to reverse the racially-based socioeconomic imbalances associated to the history of colonial and apartheid era. In the haze of this engineered political blankness, the millennial struggle has glaring similarities to the 1976 uprising, a connection many are coerced into not recognising.
This distancing from our liberation ethos has been further confused by the likes of Tokyo Sexwale, as seen clearly in the social media bunfight fuelled by public allegations made by Sexwale about the existence of a Heritage Fund to help the poor. Sexwale is well known as one of the liberation struggle veterans and former Robben Island political prisoners who was quickly head-hunted to join the elite after his release. Sexwale is, inter alia, also a former Chairperson of the ANC Gauteng Province and provincial Premier of the same province. This significantly sets him apart from many of his ex Robben Island former comrades in that Sexwale now lives and enjoys a lifestyle of an international oligarch while they wallow in desperate poverty and depression.
What started off as an investigation into his allegations became a social media spectacle of speculation that seemingly divided people into two obvious camps. Those who believed his story hook line and sinker and who called out any critique of his allegations as mere anti-black conjecture, and those who laughed outright at his allegations as well as his three hour egoistic press conference. Neither of these two camps delivered on any satisfactory critical analysis of the matter. Firstly the anti-black narrative did indeed jump on the band wagon – as it always does. However those who believed his story and elevated him to the status of ‘the hero of black struggle’, also fed into a narrative that uncritically refused to analyse his intent and timing and rubbished the opinion of those who have been involved in a struggle against his own self-serving conduct – namely a collective of ex-Robben islanders who have been usurped through his accruement of obscene wealth built upon a welfare fund raised in their name that was meant to look after the needs of ex political prisoners and their dependents.
One example is an ill-informed Facebook comment questioning the timing of the statement issued by Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners Empowerment Forum (ERIEF) following Sexwale’s allegations of the existence of the Heritage Fund.. This comment suggested that any critique of Sexwale’s utterance were somehow pushing an anti-black agenda and pushing the #ThumaMina agenda.
ERIEF thus felt it necessary to set the record straight.
The deliberate attempt at creating a public impression that the timing of ERIEF’s statement following Sexwale’s allegations may be linked to the Cyril Ramaphosa political faction/CR17 or Cyril Ramaphosa’s #ThumaMina election campaign, is ludicrous to say the least. Not only that, but to wilfully reduce the key focus of the statement to a single event and timing is both politically naive and ignorant. It is ideologically confused and a disingenuous attempt to smokescreen the real concerns raised by the statement.
ERIEF will thus not expend any energy on such attempts to associate its statement or its formation to the Ramaphosa election campaigns, except to say – we will not be distracted from our non-partisan mandate and key objective which is, to seek justice for, and to address the dire plight of the marginalised Robben Island ex-political prisoners and all forgotten liberation struggle veterans equally.
It is not ERIEF that planned and prompted the timing of the statement, but Sexwale’s public allegations that are peppered with half-truths and lies, in order to portray a false public image of his character while continuously invoking, in vain, the name of both Nelson Mandela and the Robben Island former political prisoners he has defrauded.
Furthermore, the focus of ERIEF’s statement has nothing to do with whether the Heritage Fund exists or not, or that Tokyo Sexwale’s allegations are true or not. Before Sexwale made his allegations public, ERIEF and the general collective community of ex-political prisoners and liberation struggle veterans had absolutely no prior knowledge of the existence of the Heritage Fund. Consequently, ERIEF will not comment on the existence of such a Heritage Fund or its authenticity.
However, against the backdrop of his allegations about the existence of the Fund and his key role in it, our statement has more to do with his utter hypocrisy and to highlight how over the years, Sexwale has shoddily used and treated his fellow former Robben Island political prisoners and grossly mismanaged their funds to finance his inflated personal lifestyle, while bankrolling both his political and presidential campaigns that have thus far failed to get him the presidency. This also applies to another failed Tokyo scheme, that being the very ambitious and expensive international campaign for the position of the FIFA secretary-general during which time the name of Nelson Mandela and the Robben Island ex-political prisoners became synonymous with his self-serving campaign to capture FIFA.
For more than twenty four (24) years Robben Island ex-political prisoners have sought legal recourse to force Sexwale and his cronies to account for the welfare funds (that eventually surpassed the Billion Rand mark in accumulated dividends) a matter that was officially raised specifically to address the dreadful welfare of poverty-stricken Robben Island ex-political prisoners and their dependants. This legal battle between Sexwale and the aggrieved former Robben Island political prisoners is well documented and was even covered by some of the local media houses and journalists over a period of time.
To reiterate, our original statement, the legal battle started soon after the establishment of a welfare organisation, namely the Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners Committee (EPPC) at their 12 February 1995 reunion on Robben Island with then State President and fellow Robben Island ex-political prisoner, Cde Nelson Mandela. It was at this reunion that the EPPA was tasked the responsibility to address the plight of former Robben Island political prisoners, the liberation struggle veterans and their dependants. The name was later changed to Ex-Political Prisoners Association (EPPA) due to anticipation of potential legal technicalities).
But the EPPA could not rely on donations alone to address the plight of the destitute ex-political prisoners. It was resolved that the organisation needs to identify commercial investment opportunities that would also assist with their housing, medical aid and education bursaries, as well as to create both long-term and sustainable employment opportunities for the ex-political prisoners and their dependants.
To achieve this the ex-political prisoners resolved to set up a trust, namely MAKANA TRUST and its frontline commercial vehicle, namely MAKANA INVESTMENT CORPORATION (MIC). This was the key objective of the EPPA which is contrary to using and exploiting the organisation as a platform of selfish enrichment. It was clearly understood that the Robben Island ex-political prisoners are the Founding members of these three (3) entities, the EPPA, MAKANA TRUST and MIC. It was further clearly understood that the said entities will act in full consultation with and must always act in the best interest of the collective welfare and empowerment of Robben Island ex-political prisoners and their dependants at all times.
Not only did President Mandela officially endorse the organisation, he also actively lobbied international figures; celebrities and the corporate world to support the EPPA and its initiatives. A number of international figures and famous celebrities responded very positive to Mandela’s appeal. The international financial support was later bolstered by BEE business related partnerships with traditionally local white corporate companies who were keen to grow their BEE status by grooming their own political connectivity to ANC officials, thus government business deals and the mushrooming of ANC Alliance linked tenderpreneurs.
Soon after, ANC leadership structures were fast turned into breeding ground for aspirant tenderpreneurs to access government business contracts. They transformed and duplicated themselves into repeat business deals approved by political cronies and overseen by family foundations.
The EPPA, MAKANA TRUST and MIC were not spared. In fact the poverty-stricken Robben Island ex-political prisoners became the first victims of the corruption linked to senior ANC leaders, many named in the Zondo Commission and ERIEF’s submission.
Contrary to his claim of being a crusader of the poor, Sexwale has since 1995 enjoyed a high life of an oligarch after raising millions of funds using the name of both Nelson Mandela and the Ex-Political Prisoners, as well as their trust, MAKANA TRUST and MIC.
When the millions (which later turned into billions worth of investments and in accrued dividends) started rolling in, Sexwale and his political cronies then became greedy and corrupt and hastily put into action a plan to swindle their way out of their obligation to the welfare and empowerments objectives of the of the EPPA. The plan included fraudulently amending, in the 90’s, both the EPPA Constitution and MAKANA Trust Deed governing the organisation and its decision-making processes without any consultation with the Founding members as mandated by the original EPPA Constitution.
Once the amendments were made, Sexwale and his cronies proceeded to hijack EPPA, MAKANA Trust and MIC. After advice from some of the well-established law firms representing white business, they then exploited legal loopholes to give themselves unfettered discretional powers to do as they pleased with the funds. There became no consultation, no transparency or accountability to the destitute ex-political prisoners. Funds were then diverted into secret or person accounts and soon family foundations became very fashionable to a number of politically connected individuals.
The fact that rampant corruption paralleled to the growing number of politically connected BEE tenderpreneurs had become a standard norm in the senior ranks of the ANC was by no accident, but due to the shocking lack of diligent oversight by the entire collective ANC leadership structure, religious leaders and chapter 9 institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission.
Among a long list of those who were approached and requested to intervene on behalf of the poverty-stricken former Robben Island political prisoners are (to name just a few):-
Jody Kollapen – South African Human Rights Commission
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Desmond Tutu Foundation
Navanethem Pillay – United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner
Kgalema Motlanthe – former Deputy State President
Norman Arendse – Advocate and CSA former president
Christine Qunta – law firm Qunta Incorporated
Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota – Former ANC National Chairperson and South African National Defence Minister
Barbara Hogan – former Chair of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Finance and Minister of Health and Public Enterprises
Jeff Radebe – Minister in the Presidency
Ahmed Kathrada – Former Chairperson of MAKANA TRUST
Dikgang Moseneke – former Deputy Chief Justice
Vusi Tshabalala – Former Natal Judge President
Thandi Modise – Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa and former Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces.
All the named people were warned of the long-term implication of the corruption that was increasingly becoming very rampant in the leadership structures of the ANC and its impact on South Africa’s socioeconomic transformation; distribution of service delivery and social cohesion.
However, and due to both political and selfish financial considerations, connectivity and complicity nothing was done. Instead they turned a blind eye and/or acted in ways that ultimately protected and financially benefited Tokyo Sexwale and his corrupt cronies. It later became clear why no action was taken. Some of the people approached for intervention had become obsessed with growing their political and business careers. Some ANC leaders had become preoccupied with the scramble to exploit their struggle credentials and political connectivity to become overnight wealthy BEE barons/tenderpreneurs who soon established Family Foundations that were hastily propped up with Sexwale’s financial assistance.
It is then not that difficult to understand why some of the aggrieved Robben Island ex-political prisoners suspect that the circumstances surrounding the establishment of certain BEE business companies and family foundations that are beneficiaries of Sexwale point to one conclusion, that these were entities set up to serve as secret financial depositories that were also being used as bribes in return for favours and to pay policy makers, including members of the judiciary, to turn a blind eye to a select set of corruption activities and abuses committed by certain comrades.
As recent as early last year (February 2020) and after a number of tele-communications to the Zondo Commission, ERIEF made a submission, including supportive documents, highlighting a long list of wrong doing to the Commission. Copies of the submission were also distributed to individual members of the Commission’s legal team such as the following:-
Advocate Paul Joseph Pretorius
Head of Investigation Terence Nombembe
Advocate Leah Gcabashe
Advocate Thandi Norman
Advocate Kate Hofmeyr
Advocate Isaac Isaac Vincent Maleka
Unfortunately, except for one acknowledgement from the Zondo Commission, and advocates Thandi Norman and Kate Hofmeyr, there has been no further action from the Zondo Commission. The last submission to the Zondo Commission was on 5 April 2021. ERIEF is still waiting acknowledgement thereof
This lack of response from the Commission is, unfortunately, reinforcing the narrative that the Commission is caught up in the ANC’s slate politics and factionalism, thus bias. This bias may also explain why the ANC has basically outsourced its Disciplinary Code of Conduct and Integrity Committee work to the Zondo Commission in order to protect a select mafia-type group of ANC leaders and Cabinet ministers, while pre-empting certain legal outcomes. (Proof of the submissions and supportive documents will be made available on request based on its validity or authenticity).
Added to this tragic saga that prompted ERIEF’s statement, Sexwale now seeks to exploit the current explosive political scenario and former mentioned political confusion of the youth, by exploiting the on-going national student protest for equal access to quality education for his own personal and political gain. This includes, among others, an embellishing of the truth, which many respond to, with half-truths and lies while simultaneously marketing himself as a crusader of the poor.
Surely the exploitation of the plight of ex-political prisoners for his own enrichment sounds the alarm on his own very real anti-black intentions.
Against this bleak backdrop and cesspool of corruption, nepotism and quagmire of poverty, many destitute liberation struggle veterans and their dependants are apathetic to the Freedom Day celebrations. To them, the celebrations are a constant reminder of an elusive freedom and justice that they, for now, can only fantasise about. IT IS NOTHING MORE THAN A FARCE that insults their sacrifice in the struggle for equality and freedom.
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