Mehdi Hasan: It’s been 25 years since the end of apartheid. There’s no doubt your country has come a long way in that time, but at the same time the sad reality many would say is that the past decade of ANC rule has been a lost and wasted decade, hasn’t it?
Mbete: No, because for me even every difficulty, every mistake, every failure is a lesson, and therefore it’s an opportunity to do better.
Hasan: So it hasn’t been a lost decade in your view?
Hasan: Because that’s the view of Cyril Ramaphosa, the current ANC president of South Africa…
Mbete: I don’t agree.
Hasan: He called it a lost and wasted decade.
Mbete: I don’t agree.
Hasan: But it isn’t just the president who said that, others have gone much further than him. The Nelson Mandela Foundation has talked about ‘the systematic looting’ that has taken place in South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said as far back as 2011 that the ANC was, quote, “Worse than the apartheid government, because,” he said, “at least you were expecting it with the apartheid government.” It’s pretty damning.
Mbete: It is, and I remember that moment when the bishop said that, and when we meet him he doesn’t really sound like that. I’m saying, Mehdi, wrong things have happened…
Mbete: People have done wrong things, but that doesn’t mean it’s all lost, it’s all gloom.
Hasan: The ANC will be remembered for fighting for racial equality…
Hasan: But in economic terms when we talk about inequality the World Bank says that South Africa today is the most unequal nation on earth. That’s a pretty embarrassing title for your country to hold, is it not?
Mbete: I must say it is very harsh, but I wonder whether it’s not an exaggeration. I really think that we must see both good and bad. It can be said by the World Bank, the World Bank is not God, and therefore just because they’ve said it doesn’t…
Hasan: I mean to be fair it’s not between God and the World Bank, it’s like…
Mbete: No, sure.
Hasan: I mean those are extremes. They are an institution that studies this stuff.
Mbete: Yes, sure.
Hasan: I’m not sure they have some anti-South Africa agenda, they draw up the numbers…
Mbete: But they are human beings.
Hasan: And your country came bottom. Do you not accept that?
Mbete: They are human beings, I don’t believe…
Hasan: So you don’t accept their verdict is what you’re saying?
Mbete: I don’t believe so. And we must keep improving on what we discover is a weakness that we have. And we…
Hasan: And is corruption one of those big weaknesses you have?
Mbete: Corruption is one of the reasons why we have the commission that is going on, where we are saying let it all come out. Because we need to know what is wrong, how wrong it is, who did what.
Hasan: You’re acting like you were a passer-by or an observer. You were in the thick of all of this.
Hasan: In the ANC you were the chair, you were the speaker in parliament, you were the deputy president. This happened on your watch, hence these questions. So, for example, back in 2017 your ANC colleague Pravin Gordhan was sacked as finance minister by then-President Jacob Zuma, he said at the time 150 to 250 bn rand, or $11bn to $15bn, had been looted from the state. Why didn’t you speak out at the time and join with him to call out that looting?
Mbete: I was right there, Mehdi, and we were discussing these issues every day at that time, we were seized with them. That is why we decided we need for these things to be investigated, and we need for it to happen publicly in the open so that we get to know what exactly is the problem, who…
Hasan: But you’re implying that no one knew anything, that we’re just discovering this now. The state capture, what’s called state capture in South Africa, this idea that associates of the president and other powerful people took over utility companies, energy companies, state institutions, that happened in full view of everyone’s eyes.
Mbete: Actually not. Things were not happening in full view of everybody.
Hasan: The finance minister disagrees with you.
Mbete: There are many issues I’m learning for the first time…
Mbete: In the past few months.
Hasan: In terms of corruption?
Mbete: In terms of how bad things were.
Hasan: OK. Something that happened that we don’t need an investigation because there have been lots of investigations was the scandal involving then-President Zuma’s own estate, the Nkandla homestead, where nearly $23m or 246 million rand of taxpayers’ money was spent on what President Zuma described as security upgrades, which included a swimming pool and an amphitheatre. I’m curious, what kind of security was the swimming pool providing the then president of South Africa?
Mbete: Well a minister was in charge of that investigation and in his view that was not a swimming pool.
Hasan: This is the police minister, the president’s hand-picked police minister…
Mbete: Yes, the then…
Hasan: He put out a video to classical music in which he described the swimming pool as a fire prevention measure.
Mbete: Yes. He did. That’s the report we got.
Hasan: And you accepted that? Seriously?
Mbete: It’s not up to me, Mehdi. It’s not up to me to…
Hasan: I didn’t say it was up to you, I said did you agree with that assessment of – I mean this is serious stuff, we can laugh but $23m on pools and amphitheatres in a country where half the population lives on less than $5 a day, you accept that for an excuse?
Mbete: No, it’s not a question of accepting or not accepting. Part of the challenge that we have is that part of that is actually government property which was actually for purposes of ensuring that there are health facilities nearby for the president to be able to be looked after, or any of the staff.
Hasan: In 2016 there was a landmark Constitutional Court ruling that said Jacob Zuma should pay some money back. It also ruled against the National Assembly that you were speaker of…
Mbete: Yes, yes.
Hasan: Saying you had, quote, “Failed to fulfil its constitutional obligations to hold the president accountable”. That’s an indictment of you.
Hasan: You were the speaker of parliament.
Mbete: It’s not an indictment of an individual because the individual actually does not determine the position that parliament or the National Assembly does actually end up taking. So finally…
Hasan: The court case was called Democratic Alliance vs Speaker of the National Assembly. That’s you.
Mbete: Sure, because I am the leader…
Mbete: And therefore on behalf of the institution I become the person who is quoted.
Hasan: Do you believe you were a neutral, impartial speaker?
Mbete: I was.
Hasan: Then why is it that you, as a neutral, impartial speaker, you had to apologise for calling an opposition leader, Julius Malema, a ‘cockroach’ at an ANC rally?
Mbete: I used…
Hasan: Is that a neutral, impartial term in referencing…
Mbete: I used that term, not in parliament, so let’s not…
Hasan: Oh so you were only neutral in parliament?
Hasan: Once you stepped outside of parliament you were…
Mbete: I said that in a political context. I was in the northwest at, listen…
Hasan: So why did you apologise? You don’t sound very apologetic today.
Mbete: Because it was not correct for me to call another person a cockroach, whether they were ANC…
Hasan: I’m glad we can agree on that. Just looking forward, South Africa has a new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who claims to be determined to stamp out corruption, even though he himself has been accused of misleading parliament over a campaign donation, and even though out of 21 corruption scandals during the ANC’s 25 years in office, just one senior party figure has been brought to account in terms of going to jail. How can anyone have confidence in the current ANC government to clean things up when only one person went to prison?
Mbete: I think you have seen the actions of the president, how he has dealt with the issues of strengthening the institutions of governance, strengthening, in particular, the justice system, bringing in people who are going to act differently, people who are going to have the courage and to do things focused on correcting what has been wrong in the system.
Hasan: Just on that one person who was sent to prison, this was the ANC’s former chief whip Tony Yengeni who was sent to jail for fraud. I believe you accompanied him to the prison gates. How is that not putting your party and your alliances above the interests of parliament and the country?
Mbete: I accompanied comrade Tony because I did not believe in what he was being said to have done. And I accompanied him as a comrade.
Hasan: So you don’t accept the court’s verdict in a democratic South Africa?
Mbete: I’m not saying that, I’m just telling you that I accompanied my comrade, and I don’t feel guilty for that.
Hasan: You don’t? Can you tell our viewers what position Tony Yengeni, this ex-convict, was appointed to by the ANC last year?
Hasan: Yeah, he was appointed to chair of the working group on corruption. Does that make sense?
Mbete: One thing I know…
Hasan: To have a person who went to prison running your working group…
Mbete: He did something wrong…
Hasan: On corruption?
Mbete: But in the ANC political life…
Mbete: We look at things sometimes not exactly the way other people see them.
Hasan: Yeah, I can agree with that.
Hasan: Let’s go to our panel who are waiting to come in. I’m joined by Makhosi Khoza, a former ANC MP who resigned from the party in 2017 after calling for President Zuma to step down following corruption allegations. In your view, Makhosi, and you were there for a lot of this period, did the ANC fail to hold President Zuma to account? Did the speaker fail to hold the then president to account in your view?
Makhosi Khoza: Of course, yes. I think they did fail to hold him to account and, in fact, some of us that were speaking out against what we saw as an attack on the constitution and on the social contract, were persecuted. And especially ma’am Baleka is somebody that I held in high esteem, as somebody who moulded me as a young person, and as a feminist, I expected that I ought to have received some kind of support from her. So from that point of view I honestly do think that in terms of injudiciousness, leadership injudiciousness, I think they have to prove themselves if they are to be believed.
Hasan: Did you fail to give Makhosi Khoza the support she needed? Did you let her down?
Mbete: I didn’t let her down, she and I had a quick exchange outside just to agree that we have stuff to catch up on, and we will do that.
Hasan: OK. I mean, I’m all for you catching up, but just for the purposes of the people watching around the world and in this room do you want to deal with the point she made that you let her down, as a feminist, as an MP trying to hold the president to account, you weren’t there to back her up?
Mbete: I was there to back her up when she needed security. I made sure that we should look into the issues of what kind of support parliament had to ensure she had, and we dealt with that very fairly, very focusedly.
Hasan: OK. Xolani Xala is the executive chairman of South African Business Abroad, a member of the ANC. Do you think people have faith in the ANC to deal with this corruption issue that’s been festering on their watch, especially given the current president has his own campaign donation issues going on?
Xolani Xala: Well look, South Africans have huge faith in the African National Congress. You must remember that we inherited a situation where we have an infrastructure that was not capable to assist our people. Hospitals were only designed for the privileged. The majority of black people were unable to attend hospital. If you are going to universities they were not there catering for black people. So with all that the government of the ANC have done so much for the South African people. It is for that reason alone that they keep voting for them.
Xolani Xala: But I must add something else here. The fact that I’m having this privilege to have this dialogue discussion with you in United Kingdom, it is also that the government of the ANC, we were not allowed as black people to be able to sit here and talk freely.
Xolani Xala: It was a criminal offence for me to be here. The last thing I wanted to say, it comes to the corruption issue…
Hasan: Very briefly.
Xolani Xala: When it happens in Africa we label it as corruption, but it happens in the House of Commons. MPs are claiming two houses, and we call it a scandal…
Xolani Xala: But when it’s in Africa it’s corruption. So let’s label these things as it is.
Hasan: OK. That’s a fair point, a very fair point. Let me bring in Andrew Feinstein, who’s another former ANC MP who resigned back in 2001. He’s author of After the Party, A Personal Journey Inside the ANC, he’s now director of Corruption Watch UK. Andrew, you said you’ve left the ANC because the government at the time refused to investigate corruption properly. How bad has the corruption issue become for the South African government, not just under Thabo Mbeki, but Jacob Zuma, and now Cyril Ramaphosa?
Andrew Feinstein: First of all, Mehdi, I think that Xolani’s point is very well taken. I think that we mustn’t lose sight of what has been done in 25 years of democracy…
Andrew Feinstein: Nor lose sight of the fact that what we inherited was a systemically corrupt system.
Andrew Feinstein: The biggest problem has been however that our own leadership, including comrade Mbete who’s been a very important leader of our liberation struggle, and of our democratic era, have not been prepared to call out colleagues in leadership who have engaged in corruption. And that started all those years back with the arms deal that I tried to investigate, in which South Africa spent $10bn on weapons that we neither needed, nor barely used, and the primary reason that was done is because around $300m of bribes were paid. And unfortunately, then-President Thabo Mbeki was prepared to undermine our institutions of democracy, including parliament, that he and many others had sacrificed so much to bring about, in order to cover up corruption.
Andrew Feinstein: If that had been stopped then I don’t think we would’ve gone on to the state capture crisis, the Nkandla crisis.
Hasan: So let me put that point to you; did you never feel the need to call out Thabo Mbeki or Jacob Zuma, or did you just feel you couldn’t? You were in the big six in the leadership of the party.
Mbete: You know there is a tendency to be in a hurry for things to be done, positions to be taken, against people, before the actual investigation has been done.
Hasan: But you’re acting like this has just popped up now. As these things were happening you were being criticised.
Mbete: You don’t just get a report from someone and they declare whatever they say, whatever they believe you must do, and you just rush off and do it. You’ve got to apply your own mind into whatever people are saying.
Hasan: OK. Andrew is desperate to come back in. Very briefly Andrew.
Andrew Feinstein: These are constitutional bodies. There was a report from the auditor general about corruption in the arms deal in 2000. Parliament decided unanimously to conduct a multiagency investigation into it, it was the leadership of the ANC that stopped that investigation because leadership of the ANC were themselves complicit. And this has been the problem time after time. The information has been there, from constitutionally mandated bodies.
Hasan: OK. Another big topic that’s in the news especially right now in South Africa; in recent months your country has seen an increase in violent xenophobic attacks. Foreign-owned shops ransacked, protests and chants of ‘foreigners must go back to where they’ve come from’. How worried are you about this rise in violent racism?
Mbete: We are very worried, and there’ve been statements not only from the president himself both in South Africa and in neighbouring countries, for instance when he went to President Mugabe’s funeral he took the opportunity to apologise and put a perspective on what had happened. It was not only foreign nationals that were killed, many South Africans were also…
Mbete: Victimised in that public violence. Our minister of international relations has actually been having a meeting with all embassies or ambassadors…
Hasan: You say that you’re worried, you say the president’s worried, and yet ANC ministers have kind of helped escalate this crisis. You have the deputy minister of police a couple of years ago saying, “Foreigners have taken over the city centres in Johannesburg,” he said, “We fought for this land, we cannot surrender it to foreign nationals.” The then health minister blamed overcrowded hospitals and diseases on foreigners. This is the kind of far-right, xenophobic rhetoric that we see in other parts of the world leading to violence, this is not helpful.
Mbete: We know recently at a meeting we had as the National Executive Committee led by the president and the top six with all our branches in Johannesburg discussed this issue…
Mbete: And we took a leadership position that said we must correct whoever is involved in criminal activities.
Hasan: So, you say it went out to branch leaders, did the ANC premier of Gauteng, David Makhura, did he not get the memo? Because he said this year, “Some specific crimes are committed by specific nationalities. Drugs, there are specific nationalities. How do we have so many drug dens that are operated by Nigerians?” Is that helpful rhetoric when people are being attacked in the street?
Mbete: It’s not helpful but it’s also true.
Hasan: It’s true, what’s true?
Mbete: In certain cases, people have been found to be guilty of running drug businesses.
Hasan: Who are Nigerian?
Mbete: Some Nigerians, and many South Africans as well.
Hasan: And literally 10 seconds ago you said there are many South Africans as well so I’m confused…
Mbete: South Africans as well.
Hasan: I’m confused where you stand. On the one hand, you’re saying we shouldn’t single them out, on the other hand, you’re saying it’s true what he says when he singles them out.
Mbete: Yes, it is true. When it’s true, it’s true. But I do condemn a statement that makes it sound like all Nigerians are doing all the criminality there is in Johannesburg, when in fact we ourselves are also involved.
Hasan: Makhosi Khoza, how worried are you?
Makhosi Khoza: The truth about what is currently happening is that you have a chronically corrupt police service. If you know that there are people that are drug trafficking or they’re doing something, why are you not arresting them? Because that is a crime. But to attribute that to a specific nationality, it is xenophobic, because you are basically inciting the communities to rise against foreigners because they will start looking at foreigners as the people that are bringing in drugs, when the drug trafficking is happening in collusion with the police.
Hasan: Yes, and Xolani, do you agree with that, disagree with that?
Xolani Xala: Well Mehdi, I must take this opportunity once again, my president have done this in South Africa, and I think the guest here have done that today, to apologise even to any other ordinary African here, or relative with an African heritage, to apologise on behalf of the South Africans and the diaspora of what have happened. But when there’s a criminal elements…
Xolani Xala: Let’s be able to point them out.
Hasan: By race, nationality?
Xolani Xala: I didn’t say that. If somebody have done criminal activities let that individual be arrested.
Hasan: With respect, I need to – no, no, hold on, I need to jump in here. When former president Thabo Mbeki said in September…
Xolani Xala: Yes?
Hasan: “The truth of the matter is that there are Nigerian criminals who are involved in drug dealing, and that’s true. There is no South African that goes around chasing Nigerians because they are Nigerians,” is that not denialism of the problem by a former president?
Xolani Xala: No, let me give you more information.
Hasan: Hold on, do you agree with that statement?
Xolani Xala: No, no, no, I have to give you what I know.
Hasan: No, no, you need …
Xolani Xala: The president have said what he have said…
Xolani Xala: But statistics and the report says to us now 16 people have passed away on the recent incident in South Africa. Out of the 16, there’s no one from Nigeria.
Xolani Xala: 14 are South African, one is from Malawi, why are we not talking about that as facts?
Hasan: OK, well let’s put that…
Xolani Xala: Rather than to throw things that are not there?
Hasan: Let me bring in Andrew Feinstein. It’s not a problem, there’s no issue with the Nigerians being killed.
Andrew Feinstein: Two very quick points. The first is that a key root of this problem are the levels of economic inequality that you mentioned in South Africa. And these have to be addressed. These have to be addressed by our leadership. The second problem is a lack of accountability of leaders when they make statements like you mentioned from the premier of the Gauteng province. That is completely unacceptable. That is the language of Trump and Farage. That is not the language that should be coming from the leadership of a liberation movement with the proud tradition and history of the African National Congress.
Hasan: Do you agree with that? Do you think…
Mbete: I agree.
Hasan: Do you think the ANC leadership should stop using the language of Trump and Farage?
Mbete: Those are his words.
Hasan: And I’m asking you if you agree with them. Is it xenophobic? It is, isn’t it?
Mbete: It is. If it is focused…
Hasan: And people in your party are guilty of xenophobia.
Mbete: Some people, not all.
Hasan: Senior people.
Mbete: Some. Some.
Hasan: Senior. Some senior people.
Hasan: OK, I’m glad we can agree on that. On that note, it’s time for a break after a very lively first half. Join me after the break for part two of Head to Head where we’ll hear from our very patient audience here in the Oxford Union and continue our discussion on the ANC’s legacy. Tune in.
Hasan: Welcome back. You’re watching Head to Head on Al Jazeera English. My guest today is Miss Mbete, former speaker of the South African parliament, former deputy president of South Africa. We were talking in part one about the political-economic legacy of ANC rule. One of the low points many would argue of that period was during President Thabo Mbeki’s time in office between 1999 and 2008, and his denialist positions around AIDS and HIV, and his refusal to allow antiretrovirals which led – according to a Harvard University study – to more than 330,000 premature deaths. As someone who was an ally of President Mbeki at the time, as someone who was deputy speaker and then-speaker of parliament at that time. What do you say to your critics that say that he and you were affectively complicit in those unnecessary deaths, hundreds of thousands of people?
Mbete: The way you are putting it, Mehdi, is as if we set and actually plotted that thousands of people must die. No, it was not like that. It was a process of course, and our role as parliament, through the relevant portfolio committee of health, is to exercise oversight over what the executive is doing.
Hasan: Did you do it?
Mbete: And it’s not as though – there’s a health committee who sees to the issues. The whole world was trying to find out what’s the best thing to do. And I must say that it has been said internationally that South Africa was one of the countries where the best was being tried at all times. Yes, we …
Hasan: At all times?
Mbete: All times, we made mistakes, yes, we did make mistakes.
Hasan: Did you ever have a frank conversation with Thabo Mbeki about his weird views on this subject that lead to so many deaths? Did you ever talk to him about him claiming not to know anyone who died of AIDS, him saying there’s no link between HIV and AIDS? His health minister suggesting you eat beetroot and garlic to combat AIDS. Did you ever push back against any of that ridiculousness?
Mbete: Mehdi, it was not for me personally …
Hasan: Why? You were the speaker of parliament.
Mbete: To talk because …
Hasan: Member of the NEC …
Mbete: I was …
Hasan: Chair of the ANC.
Mbete: Busy with Parliament, I was busy with all the issues …
Hasan: Busy? People were dying.
Mbete: Yes, very busy.
Hasan: People were dying!
Mbete: And yes, people were dying including in my own family, but it does not mean we conspired and actually plotted that people should die. Mistakes were happening, people were making effort …
Hasan: Was it a mistake to say eat beetroot and garlic to combat…
Mbete: Yes, yes.
Hasan: That’s more than a mistake, that’s madness.
Mbete: That’s what led – well you call it madness …
Hasan: What do you call it?
Mbete: I can only call it an unfortunate moment in the history of South Africa.
Hasan: It seems like an understatement given how …
Mbete: Very, very …
Hasan: Many people died.
Mbete: Very, very unfortunate moment and …
Hasan: 330,000 deaths and you use the language unfortunate moment.
Mbete: We have since come out of that, and we’ve done actually much better than we ever thought we were going to do.
Hasan: That is true.
Hasan: You have improved. Things have changed.
Mbete: And I’m glad …
Hasan: I’m asking you about the period …
Mbete: You realised that.
Hasan: When people were dying, and you didn’t seem to be doing anything because you say you were too busy.
Mbete: Mehdi, I’m not a doctor. I couldn’t even if I wanted to …
Hasan: But you could have said ‘Mr President you’re wrong’ even in private if you didn’t wanna do it publicly. Why didn’t you do that?
Mbete: I never had a private moment with Thabo Mbeki.
Hasan: You weren’t on the national …
Mbete: I wasn’t…
Hasan: Committee of the ANC?
Mbete: I was, but that’s not a private …
Hasan: OK, in a room full of you and your fellow senior colleagues, couldn’t you have said, ‘I think this is wrong’?
Mbete: The Sub-Committee of Health in the ANC was the one that was focusing on this matter and therefore, that’s why as we speak today, who are totally out of those woods that we were in.
Hasan: Well, other people at the time were speaking up and one of them was former president Nelson Mandela. He made a passionate plea at the ANC National Executive meeting in 2002 to at least distribute anti-retroviral drugs to pregnant women with HIV, but he was heckled by party members at that meeting. Mandela was heckled. He later said it was one of the lowest moments of his career, but it was a low moment for the ANC too wasn’t it?
Hasan: You don’t think it was a low moment?
Mbete: You want me to say no? No, of course, it was a low moment.
Hasan: I mean one witness – the former Government Minister Emwoka Ramolodi says ANC members were like a pack of wild dogs tearing at their prey, the prey being Nelson Mandela. Only two members defended Mandela’s right to speak out for antiretrovirals, only two.
Mbete: But what’s the point Mehdi in you recalling all this about that moment?
Hasan: What is the point?
Mbete: How does it take us forward?
Hasan: It’s called accountability.
Mbete: Yes, it’s the past.
Mbete: We have since come out of there …
Mbete: And we are now doing way better than what happened at that time.
Hasan: OK, and the families of the people who died might want some accountability.
Mbete: And you are not going to get it from this woman who is sitting here …
Mbete: Because …
Hasan: You were there.
Mbete: I don’t …
Hasan: You were a key player.
Mbete: My presence there did not make me have the wherewithal at that time to understand even what the debate was about.
Hasan: OK. Is it one of the fundamental problems of the ANC as a result of your history as a liberation movement, the party loyalty and discipline and unity is always put before everything else, and criticism, debate is shut down whether it’s on issues around corruption under President Zuma or AIDS under President Mbeki, the party sticks together and doesn’t say anything publicly about the bad leadership.
Mbete: You know Mehdi right now there’s a commission of inquiry headed by the deputy chief justice.
Hasan: The Zondo Commission?
Mbete: The Zondo Commission. Why we have that commission is because of a discussion of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, and a number of meetings insisted that we needed such a commission. And that is why finally, that commission was created.
Hasan: Very late in the day.
Mbete: Very late …
Hasan: After years of Zuma …
Mbete: Very late in the day I agree with you because …
Hasan: You are saying that Jacob Zuma should finish his term with equity?
Mbete: In parliament – no, you are not telling the truth yourself now.
Hasan: Did you not say that?
Hasan: You never said that? OK, that’s on the record then.
Mbete: The point I was making is that in parliament we kept saying to the president, ‘President, please form the judicial commission of inquiry so that we can get on with this inquiry into how in fact was this state capture happening.’
Hasan: And yet, President Jacob Zuma said in 2015 that the ANC comes before the Country. That’s a bit of a shocking statement for the president of a country to make, isn’t it?
Mbete: So, he made it.
Hasan: Did you condemn him at the time for making it?
Mbete: Why should I condemn?
Hasan: Do you agree with the statement?
Mbete: I don’t.
Hasan: So, then why not say you disagree?
Mbete: Why should I?
Hasan: Are you proving his point? You’re proving his point …
Hasan: And no one will criticise him …
Mbete: No! No Mehdi.
Hasan: From the ANC and the ANC is the head of the country.
Mbete: This mechanical thing of ‘Why didn’t you do it this way, why didn’t you didn’t scream at that moment? Why didn’t you shout’ …
Hasan: I didn’t say scream, you could have said it softly.
Mbete: No, the point though is that if a person did not …
Mbete: Respond the way you want them to have responded does not mean they necessarily agreed.
Hasan: So, you disagreed quietly and privately?
Hasan: OK. Let’s go to the panel who are waiting to come in. I’m joined by Andrew Feinstein, former ANC MP who resigned in 2001, author of the book After the Party, a Personal Journey Inside the ANC’. You were an MP for the first two years I think of President Thabo Mbeki’s term. Is it fair to say that the debate over HIV, AIDS, antiretroviral was shut down even when raised by someone like Nelson Mandela?
Andrew Feinstein: On the 28th of September in the year 2000, Thabo Mbeki had just been at the United Nations where he had been forced to say that he was withdrawing from the science of the relationship between HIV and AIDS. He returned to an ANC caucus meeting on that date, and he said, ‘I have not changed my views. HIV does not cause AIDS’. The vast majority of MPs including the leadership …
Andrew Feinstein: Cheered Thabo Mbeki’s statement. This was as the corrupt arms deal was taking place, and the reason I link those two very quickly is because those 330,000 avoidable deaths, the 32,000 babies who were born HIV positive every year for five years after that according to Harvard University, was at the time that we were saying we did not have the financial resources to provide anti-retroviral medication. But we were spending $10bn on weapons that we didn’t need because of the bribes, and it speaks finally Medhi to the issue of accountability, and this is where the ANC has failed itself and the people of South Africa.
Hasan: So, let me put that point to Xolani Xala who was chairman of the South African Business Abroad and a member of the ANC. Deal with that point that Andrew’s making, you know, 330,000 deaths, 32,000 babies born a year with HIV. Is that a stain on the conscience, not just of South Africa but specifically of the ANC in your view?
Xolani Xala: Well, many things have happened Mehdi we feel sorry about it, but let’s be honest about 2 things here. The Government of the African National Congress, its own members at large, they go to a national policy conference they discuss policies, how to help those who are suffering from this disease in South Africa. I think there’s a perception here that the media didn’t translate President Thabo Mbeki never actually denied that treatment must be given. He was actually looking for a long-term treatment, not how …
Hasan: Was it a treatment that involved beetroot and garlic?
Markhosi Khoza: Well, honestly some people may say beetroot is not part and parcel of it. But the President was saying, ‘Let’s look also at the nutrition, how to help our people’. How to look at the long-term prevention.
Hasan: Andrew you’re shaking your head very briefly, why are you shaking your head?
Andrew Feinstein: Very quickly. I mean Thabo Mbeki said explicitly that antiretrovirals kill. The problem is that Thabo Mbeki bought into the dissident science on HIV and AIDS, and to his credit, Jacob Zuma did not and ultimately rejected it. But hundreds of thousands of South African’s avoidably lost their lives.
Hasan: Makhosi Khoza is a former ANC MP who resigned in 2017 after calling for President Zuma to step down following corruption allegations. Makhosi, I asked Miss Mbete about whether party loyalty is considered to be more important in the ANC and the interests of the country. She said she disagreed with Jacob Zuma’s statement which he made in 2015 saying the ANC is above the country. Is that an accurate description of how the ANC and its leaders behave?
Markhosi Khoza: Well, certainly from the experience that I have because I chose to abide by the constitution of the country. But I was disciplined for not adhering to the party position. Notwithstanding that, I do want to comment though on this HIV/AIDS issue.
Markhosi Khoza: I really do think that we have to admit that at its initial stages it was tragic. A lot of women in particular lost their lives and I don’t think we should sugar coat our mistake, we should admit but what is good is that the ANC …
Markhosi Khoza: Did at some point listen to civil society and they did adhere to the will of the people and hence, the many lives were saved.
Hasan: OK, on that note, we’re going to shift to our audience who have been waiting here in the Oxford Union to come in. Let us go to the lady here in the second row.
Audience Participant One: While the State was being looted, universities were being chronically underfunded and in 2015 and 2016, the #FeesMustFall movement shook the country and put this on the national agenda. Many of us suffered injuries from police brutality at the time. In fact, some students were killed. Benjamin Bela was killed at TUT by police. How do you as an activist reconcile that the policing in South Africa right now, by the ANC is reminiscent of the policing under apartheid that you yourself were a victim of as an activist at the time? Thank you.
Mbete: I think where police have been brutal, the law must take its course against them as well. And so, we as government, cannot be happy with bad elements among the police, elements that still exhibit signs of really actually being more like the old order and therefore I agree with you that where police are behaving brutally, they should also be dealt with as criminals.
Audience Participant One: No one has been held accountable.
Mbete: They are because I know with the minister of police, we discussed these issues and in fact, there is a programme of putting an eye on the conduct of the police themselves.
Hasan: Is this a different minister of police to the one who made the swimming pool video?
Mbete: No. Yes. It’s a new minister.
Hasan: Let’s go to the back.
Audience Participant Two: Good evening Mam Baleka. We find ourselves in what can be termed as the perfect storm as a nation in South Africa. And we find ourselves at a time that we’re deeply divided and we’re also all introspecting as a nation. Could you kindly share what your outlook is for South Africa, especially for young people and also what your message would be to potential young leaders to convince them to stay in South Africa. Thank you.
Hasan: What’s your message to young leaders to stay in South Africa?
Mbete: I think young leaders must know that South Africa, the future of our country, in fact, must be their concern. They must be involved, they must find forums where they must participate in different sectors, where they can also contribute towards becoming active decision-makers about their own future.
Hasan: OK, let’s go, I said this gentleman, go to this gentleman here in the corner.
Audience Participant Three: You said the police in South Africa have been held accountable, but my question is, for the Marikana incident, on the 16th of August no one has been brought account to that. So, what are you doing about it? Is there a growing culture of impunity in South Africa?
Hasan: He’s asking about the Marikana Massacre 2012, 34 mine workers who were killed by police. No one’s been held to account for that 7 years later. What are you doing to hold the police accountable now?
Mbete: I’ll find out. I’ll get myself …
Audience Participant Three: That is not enough. That is not enough
Mbete: Better informed.
Hasan: Hold on, the Marikana Massacre was a big story.
Mbete: Of course, it is.
Hasan: It is a big story.
Mbete: I know it, it’s not that …
Hasan: You need to find out more information about it.
Mbete: I’m just saying I have to update my information.
Hasan: But you’re aware no one’s been held to account for the killing of 34 people. Some of them were shot in the back.
Mbete: I’m not sure about that. That’s why I must find out.
Hasan: I mean we’re pretty sure because we looked into it. 34 people, no one’s been held to account.
Mbete: No, I know that. I know how many people died.
Xolani Xala: Mehdi…
Hasan: Very briefly, Xolani.
Xolani Xala: The commission of police, if you remember very carefully, she was recalled from her position …
Markhosi Khoza: So, something has happened there.
Hasan: Wow, 34 people died, and someone got fired.
Markhosi Khoza: You said nothing had happened but I’m …
Hasan: I meant in terms of prosec – I’m guessing he meant in terms of putting people in prison for killing people and shooting them in the back. The audience member asked about people going to prison. You’re aware that no police officer went to prison specifically for killing any of those 34 people, is that wrong? Was that wrong?
Markhosi Khoza: I’m saying my own information needs to be updated.
Hasan: OK, and if it’s updated and you find out that nobody went to prison, is that wrong? Do you think someone should have gone to prison?
Markhosi Khoza: It would be wrong, of course, because people were killed.
Hasan: Gentleman here in the brown jacket.
Audience Participant Four: In 2017 you said following the fall of Robert Mugabe and the military coup in Zimbabwe, when, and I’m quoting your words, ‘When one member of the first family i.e. Grace Mugabe thinks she has the right to determine who should be thrown out of the ruling party, I think anybody’… you meant the military, in this case, has the right and responsibility to intervene. Now, since 2017, a civil-military coalition government has taken over in Zimbabwe, there’s been abductions, shootings by the military in the street, economic downturn and persistent risk of another coup. My question is, do you still think militaries have a responsibility to intervene in politics in light of these developments?
Hasan: Did you support the military intervention in Zimbabwe?
Mbete: I thought it was great.
Mbete: That intervention …
Mbete: Was politically motivated.
Mbete: It happened to be an initiative of military people …
Hasan: Do you call it a coup? Is it a coup? Was it a military coup?
Mbete: Because it was the military then I guess coup will do. But I’m saying, there was a crisis busy unfolding …
Mbete: In Zimbabwe.
Hasan: Do you think it was better for that to happen?
Mbete: I think that intervention helped ZANU-PF.
Hasan: OK, we’re gonna have to go back to the audience. I said we’d go to the back, gentleman with the glasses there.
Audience Participant Five: My grandmother and mother took care of ANC cadres and taught them how to create an education system in Aroura, they remember you. I was one of the people with the open-border policy in South Africa who was able to become a doctor and a Rhodes scholar here and I only became a citizen in South Africa a month ago, I am deeply hurt that people like me have no future in the country because we are seen as being Zimbabwean’s and Nigerians who conduct crime. How can I tell my girlfriend to come back to South Africa with me to contribute for a future? Can you please take this opportunity to think about your views with your heart when people like my grandmother fought for your liberation in South Africa not knowing when it would come?
Mbete: It is exactly because as the ANC we’ve been thinking with our hearts, that we are in the problem that we have. Where we were hoping it will work for us all to live together in our communities, and like where we lived in refugee camps when we were in other countries, and unfortunately it has not worked and what we are saying is let us sit down together with you and your girlfriend and talk about the reality … the challenge.
Hasan: Just a minute, are you saying you want to see … to use kind of quote-unquote, western lingo, tougher border controls, tougher migration policies, less immigrants? Is that what you’re trying to say?
Mbete: We’ve got to manage whose coming into the borders, like every country does. Every country does not just allow anyone to come in without proper documents and come and do as you like.
Hasan: You’re not worried about scapegoating immigrants for South Africa’s problems.
Mbete: And even breaking laws of the country.
Hasan: OK, very…
Mbete: Which we don’t allow in other countries.
Hasan: OK, very briefly, Makhosi wants to come in, very briefly.
Markhosi Khoza: I’m deeply disturbed by what I’m hearing because this means that South Africa will never be developed because if we as South African’s are only to take an exceptionalistic view that means we will never be able to integrate our economies. South Africa in Chinese terms is just a village. We’re under 56 million people and I think we ought to begin to think broader than just thinking of South Africa as a little island in exceptional terms.
Hasan: OK. I said I’d come to this gentleman here and then we’ll go the gentleman behind him. Yes.
Audience Participant Six: Yes, good evening. I just want to ask why is it so difficult for an ANC government to solve a land issue programme in your country because 72 percent of farmland is owned by white minorities. That’s where the problem is which you are facing right now, it’s going to be a time bomb.
Hasan: Do you want to answer?
Mbete: It is a problem. I agree with you, we must deal with it, we have not been great at it in the past, two decades or two and a half decades, and we are seized with it right now.
Hasan: Gentleman in the white t-shirt.
Audience Participant Seven: President Ramaphosa named a cabinet consisting of 50 percent of women. So do you think in the next decade maybe we’ll have a woman president? Thank you.
Mbete: I hope so.
Hasan: Yeah? Do you wanna throw your hat in the ring or a younger …?
Hasan: No? OK. Gentleman here.
Audience Participant Eight: So an article in 2017 by Biz News referred to the ANC Government as an organised crime syndicate and levels of criminality in the government have reached such stages where they’ve resulted in a breaking down of moral and social fibre of the country, and crime – violent crime – has flourished to extreme levels there’s on average 56 murders and 110 rapes every single day. My question is, because this seems to be a theme of denial both here tonight and not taking responsibility for anything, what responsibility do you take as a senior member of the ANC?
Mbete: I think we can’t blame the problems of South Africa and society on the ANC. Criminality has been in South Africa for more than three centuries, especially after the colonialists came and brought crime from Europe to Africa. So, you can’t say …
Mbete: That there’s …
Hasan: Hold on, hold on. Hold on, hold on, hold on …
Mbete: Criminality …
Hasan: We’re sitting in the UK, let’s be clear, the British empire did do exactly what you just said, but they did it to a lot of countries. Why is it South Africa has the fifth-highest murder rate in the world in 2015?
Mbete: I’m wondering who says that?
Hasan: The United Nations, you may have heard of them, they’re a big organisation.
Mbete: So what?
Hasan: So what? OK.
Hasan: So, no UN, no World Bank.
Hasan: We’re way over on time so it’s gonna have to be the last question. I hope it’s a really good one, no pressure.
Audience Participant Nine: Former speaker welcome to this place. My question is in light of where South Africa finds itself in, both politically, economically and even socially, how do you see your role in the facilitation of the erosion of public institutions in South Africa and what would you have done differently?
Hasan: That is a good question.
Mbete: I have no ‘me’ outside of the collective, that is my home politically …
Hasan: You personally as an individual politician don’t think you could have done anything differently over the last 10 …
Mbete: I don’t have a personal space to do things, you know, personally as an individual.
Hasan: OK. One last question from me, Chris Hani, the anti-apartheid icon who was killed 26 years ago. He said in October 1992, ‘What I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists who drive around in Mercedes Benz’s and use the resources of this country to live in palaces and gather riches. Was he rather prophetically describing the South Africa of 2019, the ANC?
Mbete: To a certain extent.
Hasan: In 2019?
Mbete: To a certain extent, yes as we’ve been finding out about the kind of things that some of us, some of are our people have been doing, and I’m saying, it’s not a bad thing that that is coming out, it’s actually a good thing because then only can we address it.
Hasan: On that note Miss Mbete we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks to our audience here in the Oxford Union. Thanks to our panel of experts here and thank you to you for joining us. Head to Head will be back next year. Thanks for watching at home. Thank you.
Source: Al Jazeera