Satyagraha ‘100’ Celebration on Robben Island



Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation

My dear friends and fellow South Africans,

Last Sunday I joined with a remarkable line up of leading South African freedom fighters, academics and activists at the Satyagraha “100” Celebration on Robben Island to coincide with the Day of Reconciliation.

My fellow guest speakers included Mr Ahmed Kathrada, veteran of the liberation struggle and one of the famous Rivonia trialists, Mr FW de Klerk, former President and Nobel Laureate, Mewa Ramgobin, Professor Kader Asmal and our Deputy-President, Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka – who, we discovered, has a wonderful singing voice!

As we returned on the ferry, I could not help reflect upon how remarkable and to be frank, how unlikely, our relatively peaceful transition to democracy was.

I felt, once again, something of the mighty collective digging-in-of-the-heels of the South African people who said in those turbulent days leading up to our first democratic elections in 1994, “we will not allow our country to be dashed to pieces”.

A drop of this spirit is needed in the highest places at the present hour. I am speaking of the race to lead the ruling-party.

Already the divisive succession question has filtered down to economic confidence and a weakened currency which has lost 40 percent of its value in the last year. Even the foundations of our liberal constitutional compact were brought into question in the year that we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the adoption of our constitution.

In evaluating the damage that was being done to the institution of the Presidency, I warned members of the ANC during the Presidency Budget Vote debate in parliament of the unacceptability of the conduct of some members of the ANC and its alliance partners.

It is pertinent to note that I was not necessarily making a declaration of political support for Mr Mbeki – as was wrongly interpreted by some, but was calling for him to be treated with the dignity and respect demanded by his office. I would expect the same if Mr Zuma or Mr Tony Leon occupied the office.

At the same time, I further expressed my fear that once this precedent was set, any future President could receive the same treatment, regardless if the incumbent was Mr Zuma or anyone else.

The point I made then and would like to reinforce now is that whilst the distinction between the Office and Office bearer is, of course, a moot point, the burning of tee-shirts bearing the image of the President and the vulgar expletives aimed at Mbeki by some of Zuma’s supporters seriously undermines the Office of the Head of State at home and abroad.

During Mr Jacob Zuma’s heated rape trial earlier in the year, I had no problem with ANC supporters and others supporting Mr Zuma. That is the grist of public life. But I was appalled by the vulgar conduct of some of those who participated in the demonstrations.

This disruption of the Indian prime minister’s visit to KwaZulu-Natal plumbed a new low. It has not abated since.

Even in the wake of huge public discontent over Iraq, I don’t think Britain’s Tony Blair or America’s George Bush have had to endure what our President has. Yes, we must have a public debate about the future of our country, but let it be conducted in a measured manner and with decorum.

In 2007, I plan to table a Private Members Bill which would provide for the offices of the head of state and head of government to be separated in the longstanding South African tradition.

I do hope that parliamentarians from all sides of the House will give non-partisan support it the Bill recognising that, at the present hour, potentially irrevocable damage is being wrought against the highest institution in the land.

I wish you all a very happy and blessed Christmas,

Yours sincerely,

Mangosuthu Buthelezi