Evita’s 2015 Luthuli Housekeeping Report
The 2015 Luthuli Housekeeping Report is a behind‑the‑scenes look at the state of the nation during the 21st year of our democracy and a glance beyond the barricades of hashtags into the next leap forward.
Evita Bezuidenhout, who has been a member of the ANC since 2012, cannot speak on behalf of the party, but will celebrate her freedom of expression in a personal capacity as a grandmother of three born‑frees and a citizen of South Africa. Her relationship with the president and his matrimonial cluster, as well as her oversight of improvements at Nkandla, will be shared, as well as details of her present onslaught against corruption and junk food through the strict diet on which she has placed the cabinet. The main focus will be on the upcoming Municipal Elections, a critical step into the next phase of democracy.
President Jacob Zuma will present his 2016 State of the Nation address at the opening of Parliament on 11th February – or not. Some opposition parties might exercise their freedom of verbal explosion. The world will watch until the parliamentary television links are cut for technical reasons. The parliamentary precinct, a national key point, might even be swamped by thousands of uninvited fans of President Zuma who will expect free sausage rolls and T-shirts. Meanwhile the Cape Town Press Club will have had the chance to lift the cover of the firepool in the president’s urban heaven and identify the drones of empowerment that will circle the sky above the National Assembly like vultures wearing red berets.
Evita Bezuidenhout presented her 2015 Luthuli Housekeeping Report at the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday 9 February 2016
I must apologize. A senior ANC cadre was to present this 2015 Luthuli Housekeeping Report today, but unfortunately Comrade Marius Fransman was suddenly called away. So I agreed to step in and try and fill his shoes. Of course as a member of the ANC, I am not permitted to have any opinions in public, or speak for the party without politburo clearance, so therefore I am here today speaking to you in a personal capacity as a Gogo, a Citizen and a Christian.
I watched a film on DSTV with my grandchildren last night. I can’t remember the name, or much of the film, because Jesse Duarte was on the phone constantly about which Mrs Zuma is wearing the Mugabe Diamonds for the opening of Parliament on Thursday. Anyway, this film was about a man who had a drinking problem and in this scene he went to a meeting Y (AA? Alcoholics Anonymous?) You could see how much courage it took him to go up onto the stage in front of everyone and say: “Hi, my name is John and I am an alcoholic.” And all the alcoholics in the audience answered: “Hi John.”
Well, driving here today thinking about all of you, I decided that maybe I should start this conversation by saying: “Hi, my name is Evita and I’m a racist.” Now you can all say: “Hi Evita!”
Let me quote the French philosopher Voltaire: “Racism is the hostile attitude or behaviour to members of other races based on a belief in the innate superiority of one’s own race. It is not restricted to whites only.” (No, maybe it’s Steve Hofmeyr.) The only way for an alcoholic to confront the disease of alcoholism is to admit it: I drink, therefore I will not drink. Then surely one way for a racist to confront that disease is to be honest: I am a racist, therefore I will not be a racist.
I will not judge people because of the colour of their skin, or how they dress, or what they eat. I will not be a racist in the city traffic when the township taxi cuts in front of me. I will not be a racist when politics passes me by. I will not believe in the innate superiority of my race. (No, it was Voltaire.)
So is racism the new virus that has no cure? Before you’ve even asked the question, most people answer: “No, I’m not a racist.” Well, let me hereby lead by rare example: I am a racist. Ek is ‘n rassis. Ich bin rassistich.
I was born in 1935 into a racist family. I went to a racist school and a racist church. My God was a racist and so was his Son. I married into a racist family. I became the wife of a racist member of a racist parliament who served in the racist cabinet of a racist prime minister and was praised by a racist press. My children were brought up as racists. In fact, till my 59th year, if I wasn’t a racist, I would have been locked up in jail as a communist or a terrorist! An enemy of the state. A traitor. And it is only because a man came out of darkness on 11 February 1990 and gave me light that I realized that it was no longer politically correct to be a racist in South Africa. Nelson Mandela allowed me to stop being scared of who I was, and to celebrate who I am C an African who is not black.
There are so many urgent areas of our survival that need to be touched upon in this conversation: Education, poverty, violence, crime, security, corruption, xenophobia, the past, the present and the future. So why do I start with this issue? Why don’t I focus on my kitchen in Luthuli House from whence I cook for reconciliation? Where I have managed to bring those who disagree together over a plate of bobotie?
Racism is not new. It’s not unexpected. It’s not profound. But if we here in 2016 do not allow ourselves to get beyond it with understanding and honesty, we will once again be imprisoned by that accusation and every other issue will fade by comparison. The first step in the right direction towards our planned non‑racial, non‑sexist society is to admit that the majority of South Africans are racists one way or another, finish en klaar.
Prejudice. Is that word a polite way for the pot to call the kettle? We suffer it every day on television. Prejudice against people of colour, speaking another language we don’t understand; politicians whose names we cannot pronounce without practice (It was so much easier in the days that they were called Precious, Nimrod or Nelson.), making us feel like tourists in our own country as they mess up our language by mispronouncing Acirkumstins and Akatagorie; being unable to articulate complicated numbers in millions and billions and trillions. No wonder our rand is becoming a cent. But our prejudice does not allow us to realize that these voices are speaking in a second, sometimes a third language; that even the president struggles with English (as I might add, so did John Vorster, as did most of the National Party Politburo of the past). Let President Zuma make his State of the Nation Speech in Zulu if he can do it better. Yes, with subtitles to help those of us who need the help. Zulu after all is one of our official languages! Who is in the wrong here?
So let me start the 2015 Luthuli Housekeeping Report with this diagnosis: South Africa has nearly completed its 21st year of democracy and considering where we come from, we are doing remarkably well. Everyone’s fingerprints are on that silver chalice of freedom. Everybody has the right to be seen and to be heard. And so democracy will never be perfect and so it isn’t. It is confused. It is corrupt. It is crippled. It is unfair. It is infuriating. But it is the best thing we have. Either we accept that and make it better, or we shrug our shoulders and allow our hiccup of hope to slide into the mists of historical memory. In a healthy democracy the people must lead and then the government will follow. But free expression also attracts those new obstacles littering the internet highway.
Today, social media forces us down high roads of political correctness and along low paths of innuendo and insult. On Monday, fees must fall. (If only they would, but in reality they won’t.) On Tuesday, Rhodes must fall! (Alas, the only roads that do, are the ones falling prey to potholes and disrepair.) What will a hashtag trend today? Xenophobia must fall? (Not fashionable any longer.) And tomorrow? Economic inequality must fall! (It’s happening; we’ll all soon be equally bankrupt.) And yes, racism should have fallen 22 years ago; and yet today it just keeps trending and being tweeted and retweeted. (I just advise the twitteratti not to press SEND after two glasses of Chardonnay.)
The word ‘racist’ has become the tattered umbrella in a sea of political tour guides and their groups. Even the young leader of the Democratic Alliance has publicly stated that racists are not welcome in the DA. The ANC is very happy to agree, because as we all know there are no racists in our party. There are communists, there are ex‑terrorists and jailbirds, there are trade unionists, there are millionaires, even billionaires, who 26 years ago were on bread and water twice a day – but no racists. So thank you, DA. Gauteng and the Nelson Mandela Metropole will not be lost to us, because who will vote for you now? But has Comrade Mmusi forgotten: the vote is secret, so how will anyone know who the racists are voting for?
I was very nervous when I joined the African National Congress. Why would they welcome me? Everyone knows who I am and where I come from: Evita Bezuidenhout, National Party icon, the apartheid ambassador in the homeland of Bapetikosweti, racist supported of PW Botha and public embracer of a cardboard cut‑out of Paul Kruger. “Sayibona,” I said, “I want to join the ANC.” “Do you have cash?” they asked. I said yes. “Okay, you’re in.”
I know people still say: seeing Evita Bezuidenhout in the ANC is like seeing Angela Merkel as a Greek bank manager. I have been in Luthuli House for over a year and I am still shocked when I realize with how much prejudice I arrived there. Yes, the familiar accusation that all members of the ANC are corrupt, are criminals, are stealing state funds. We will always find six corrupt cadres to fill the front page of The Citizen every morning, but there are hundreds of thousands of members of the ANC who are not corrupt. They are working hard to keep the fragile balance of our democracy so that hopefully we will be able to vote freely and fairly when that Municipal Election becomes the next millstone round our necks.
So enough of all the extremes of prejudice. We as the ANC must admit that many of today’s problems are not the legacy of apartheid. The drought; textbooks not in schools; the HIV epidemic; SAA, Nkandla, Eskom; Telkom; the Post Office. The rand. One thing that definitely is the legacy of apartheid and responsible for a lot of our troubles is seeing and counting people in terms of their race. Black vs white. Not so simple. Then there is coloured vs black, Zulu vs Xhosa, rural vs urban, revolutionary vs counter‑revolutionary. Blah vs blah.
I must keep a very low profile in Luthuli House, because I’m not affirmative. It is not easy because in the crowded lift, my white face glows like neon is a dusky room. It has taken some time but I have managed to prevent President Robert Mugabe’s monthly gifts of toilet rolls to be distributed in the female washrooms. The rolls all carry a printed image of Cecil John Rhodes. I had them replaced with 3‑ply rolls with the image of a little sparrow on a Durban beach.
Today the American Presidential Primary takes place in New Hampshire. I am fascinated by that reality television show. I bring cadres into my kitchen, put them in front of the TV with some biltong for the Bantings and say: “Watch and learn. These American candidates talk, argue, attack, apologize, retreat day after day and they still have till November to go! The Youth League and Woman’s League just laugh – “Gogo, what’s it got to do with us?” they say. “That Bernie Sanders is an old white man. Hillary Clinton is an rich white woman.” No, it’s not about who’s white and who’s right. It’s about stating a position and defending a point of view. And sharing it with the citizens who vote.
Why is it that the only local politician that seems to speak sense to power here is Julius Malema? Last week he said (among other comments that would appeal to Mr Donald Trump) that not all Afrikaners are racist. (So who I am to argue with him; that would be racist.) FW de Klerk and Adriaan Vlok are up on charges of crimes against the nation. (Who am I to defend them; we all got away with it.) Can I now say: I didn’t know; ek het niks geweet nie; ich habe nichts gewusst?
Nkosazana Dlamini‑Zuma with her ANC/AU Superpac is now our Hillary Clinton, but where is our Bernie Sanders? We just have a Zuma who can’t count, and too many Guptas who shouldn’t count. The USA have a Trump who can’t finish a sentence and we have our trumps who can’t even start one. If we don’t learn from those former colonialist politicians who now put their mouths where their money is, we will be stuck with the inspirations from Russia and China as to how a democracy is supposed to be run. Into the ground.
In forty‑eight hours our president will give his State of The Nation Address in Parliament. The chorus of Pay Back the Money will probably be replaced by the roar of Zuma Must Fall. Yes, I think he’s quite nervous. Siestog. I tried to calm him down even before he went to Davos. With the state of the economy, his speech was full of numbers. Not helpful. Somebody in Luthuli House has finally clicked that numbers have to be replaced with words carefully written out: forty‑three billion, five‑hundred and sixty million, nine hundred thousand and eighty‑eight dollars and twenty six cents. But luckily he didn’t make that speech, so no one there knows how much our Treasury has lost. In fact the only policy statement at Davos from the South African President was a T‑shirt that said: South Africa is Open for Business. The rand stayed in the stable.
What are we to expect from the opening of Parliament this week? Could it be a sequel to the chaos of 2015 (or to quote Number One: two thousand and one five.) What lies in wait for the digital media? Madame Speaker again wearing a hat borrowed from Alice in Wonderland? Armed police once more storming into the Chamber disguised as wine stewards from the Blue Train? Die Rooi Gevaar of the EFF again supplanting the Official Opposition as The Noise of the People? Whatever happens, it cannot be business as usual. Someone who knows more said to me: “Fasten your seatbelt, Tannie Evita. It’s going to be like an SA Express flight landing in a Port Elizabeth storm.” Of course, thanks to Dudu, no ANC MPs fly SA Express.
My most fascinating experience is watching the rise of the personal empire of a sitting president. Of course power is dependent on patronage. The elevation of mediocrity into a new aristocracy is not new by any means. World history is cluttered with those who ruled and those who kept quiet for their own good, usually at the expense of the lives of many people. But here is the good news: factions fall out of favour. Those who today stand aloof on Kwa‑Olympus in the sun of power would be well advised to keep an umbrella handy for that rainy day. And believe me, rainy days are on the horizon. I believe (and I might be wrong, because why should I be right?) that there is an independent secret unabridged forensic report focused on the lifestyle audit of the nouveau‑noir suspected and even proven to be corrupt. Make hay while the sun shines, Comrades, for after 2019 there might be no shade of political patronage. The Comrade‑chief is gone; get out of the way. It’s now our turn to eat the cheese.
Meanwhile hashtags have gone feral. After the huge poster #ZumaMustFall was magically smeared across the twelve stories of a Cape Town building, there were mutterings that after the Nene‑nonsense, and now the Nkandla payback‑playback, the solution could be to encourage President Zuma to resign for health reasons with full amnesty. The people of South Africa would then donate Nkandla to him as a farewell gift, and an airport would be named after him too. Imagine, the JG Zuma International Airport in Upington.
All I could suggest from my kitchen was: there’s too much red pepper in the recipe! Give the president a T‑shirt that says ZUMA MUST FALL and let him wear it with one of his big smiles – and that pointless campaign will die an instant death. For fear not, Jacob Zuma will not fall. There are just too many grateful comrades clustered round him in order to keep him upright. Until he behaves like an all‑powerful statue of dictatorship.
But must the statues of Cecil John Rhodes, Paul Kruger, Jan van Riebeeck, Queen Victoria and Louis Botha fall? History is history and is usually written by the winner. But here there were no losers, so every South African now has the freedom to celebrate their history, their struggle, their survival. So let us leave the past where it belongs: behind us! Remember where we come from so that we can celebrate where we are going. If statues fall today, people will fall tomorrow. (I have the perfect resting place for all unwanted statues at Evita se Perron in Darling. It is called Boerassic Park. Need I say more? We are waiting for the dinosaurs.)
I am sick of being white. I am tired of listening to white outrage and complaint. Enough white noise! When will we realize that we white South Africans in our Rainbow Nation have been given the greatest liberation of all its people. We are now totally irrelevant! No one cares a damn about us. So we can do everything to make this country a better place. We don’t need permission to go to the local school and help the learners with their homework. We don’t have to submit tenders to share our optimism and hopes. It can just be done by doing it. We are what we do.
As news breaks in the palm of my hand, I realize that history is repeating itself and turning tragedy into tweets. I have been approached off the record by persons who wish to remain nameless for obvious reasons. They are from France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany. And all they say is: “Comrade Bezuidenhout, we are having a little problem in Europe with uninvited guests. Maybe you can help? Surely you remember the way it was done so successfully?”
Yes, during apartheid we called it influx control. We had pass laws, mixed marriage acts, locations, groups areas acts, a population registration act made sure who belonged where. Easy to rub out ‘coloured, black, Indian, Chinese’ and replace them with ‘Muslim’. Who would have thought that apartheid was 25 years ahead of the world? But I must be careful how well I advise the Europeans. With whites making up a mere 6% of the population, the possibility of us clustered at the Croatian border with a few pathetic possessions clutched in Pick‑n‑Pay bags is not so far‑fetched. At least I know what I will say when I get to the Danish border: No, I have no assets to surrender except a copy of the South African Constitution. Take that to your liberal leaders.
So are we white South Africans prepared to take the back seat? Believe me, as a member of the ANC from a protected minority, I have found the back seat very comfortable. As long as the driver isn’t drunk, or carrying a forged license. We whites can never and we whites will never again lead, but we can lead by example. Things will not go back to what they were. What you see is what we’ve got. This is it. Let’s make the best of it together.
Till recently my year had 365 days. Now my year has two: today and tomorrow. What I do well today, will enrich what I live tomorrow.
Hi! My name is Evita – and I am a South African.