Johannesburg Book Launch Remarks
After the Party was launched in Johannesburg on 6 Nov 2007; here are my notes from the occasion.
Thank you all for being here. It is great to see so many TAC comrades here, the true heroes of SA democracy. It is wonderful to see so many old and new friends, including a number of former colleagues, Mark Philips and Roddy Payne; Murphy Morobe, Laloo Chiba and Ahmed Kathrada – heroes of the struggle and early years of democracy, who characterise what is best about the ANC.
There are also many of the journalists, such as Sam Sole and Peta Thorneycroft, who have kept the arms deal and the crucial issues it evoked, alive. They represent one of the most crucial elements of our democracy in these strange but interesting times.
When I arrived in the country ten days ago I was asked “why this book, why now?” I answer that question with a quote from one of Africa’s foremost, and bravest novelists, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who writes in his novel Devil on the Cross:
Certain people told me that this story was too disgraceful, too shameful, that it should be concealed … There were others who claimed that it was a matter for tears and sorrow, that it should be suppressed so that we should not shed tears a second time. I asked them: How can we cover up pits in our courtyard with leaves or grass, saying to ourselves that because our eyes cannot now see the holes, our children can prance about the yard as they like? Happy is the man who is able to discern pitfalls in his path, for he can avoid them.
I argue in the book that the arms deal was the moment when our new democracy’s moral compass went awry, when people in senior positions were prepared to sacrifice Parliament and other institutions of our hard-won democracy to protect themselves, their allies and the party. A litany of events since then has only confirmed the unfortunate impact of this action.
As we stand here today British and German investigators are investigating over $200 million of bribes that were paid by just three of the successful companies in the SA deal. The cases against Chippy Shaik – of soliciting and receiving $3 million – and Fana Hlongwane who received £3 million – are clear cut, and there is so much more, involving Joe Modise and the ANC itself.
But don’t for a moment assume this is just a South African phenomenon. According to Transparency International, the arms trade accounts for 49% of corruption in all world trade. In the biggest ever arms deal, the so-called Al Yamamah deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia, Mark Thatcher received £12 million as an agent in the deal his mother signed. After a seven year investigation, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office was on the verge of charging the chairman and CEO of British Aerospace, when Tony Blair intervened to close down the investigation. The BBC revealed that BAe paid one man, Prince Bandar Ul Sultan, £1 billion in bribes. And, as if that wasn’t enough, customised an Airbus to give to him as a gift. On receipt of the plane Prince Bandar thanked them but informed them that the jet was very expensive to run and maintain. So to this day BAe pays Bandar £150 000 per month for the maintenance and running of his gift!
The corrupters are as guilty as the corrupted , which is why my next book is on the global arms trade and how it undermines democracy where it is based and everywhere it operates.
But the greatest tragedy of the loss of accountability engendered by the arms deal is not the billions of rand wasted on arms we didn’t need and continue to underutilise, but the years we prevaricated on dealing with HIV and AIDS due to the President and Health Minister’s denialism. Tens of thousands of lives were lost unnecessarily in the almost 5 years during which ARV’s were not made available through the public health system, and that is unforgivable. I recount in the book how Thabo came to the ANC caucus, just days after withdrawing from the public debate about HIV and AIDS and restated his denialism wrapped up in a conspiracy theory that was an insult to his considerable intellect.
Those were our darkest days since apartheid and we must never allow a return to a denialism that encompassed not just the science of HIV/AIDS but also the notion that a leader is always right, can do no wrong. For political leaders are human beings and like all human beings, make mistakes. When humility is lost, and omnipotence assumed, failure and tragedy inevitably follow.
With this in mind, a further purpose in writing the book was to posit a return to the politics of hope that characterised our nation from 1994 until 1999, a period during which we put to shame the desultory and tawdry politics of so much of the world and created, on the ashes of racism, oppression and economic subjugation, a politics based on morality.
We achieved, for a time, what Vaclav Havel had exhorted the Czechs to do on assuming the Presidency: to “teach ourselves and others that politics can be not only the art of the possible, especially if the possible includes calculation, intrigue, secret deals and manoeuvring, but that it can also be the art of the impossible, namely the art of improving ourselves and the world.” This should be our objective.
We still have the ability to recapture a politics of the impossible in South Africa because we still retain some individuals of great integrity and courage in public life, people like Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale, Kgalema Motlanthe and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. Both Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, who lack the moral integrity to lead the ANC and the country, should stand aside and enable these leaders to emerge.
This was not an easy book to write: I retain enormous admiration for the ANC as an organisation. I believe South Africa is so much better than it ever was prior to 1994 and so much is going right that it is not easy to publicise some of the negatives, which I believe have to be voiced in the interests of our democracy.
Thank you to my courageous publishers, Jonathan Ball and to Exclusive Books. And again, thanks to all of you for being here. It makes the trials of producing the book seem well, well worth the effort.