2014 ELECTIONS, ARE WE READY LADIES?

MURDER, SHE WROTE: Please indulge me as I take on the character of my all time favourite detective , Jessica Fletcher in Murder she wrote.  Google it if you’re not in your 30’s yet.

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Well I must admit my surprise at not having read anything  lamenting the  “gender” imbalances  in this year’s list of  Presidential candidates for the 2014 South African  National  General Multiparty Democratic  “sigh”  Elections.  This I surmise  is due to one of  two  factors. Either I haven’t consulted Google enough in past few months or we have all suddenly just relaxed about the whole  “gender equality”  thing. More  especially since there are many pressing issues which need our urgent attention in this here election; Nkandla, Oscar, 20 years of Democracy, service delivery protests  et al. Ah perhaps it is indeed a good sign, we have a  good story to tell. We don’t  need to harp on about the lack of  women in key  leadership positions anymore. More and more women in South Africa enjoy  numerous positions of leadership/ power in all structures of government,  including the private sector. Why…even the KwaZulu Natal Provincial  {ANC} Politics are being fought under the guise of increasing  gender  equality at the highest level.  The incumbent  Premier Senzo Mchunu, must make way post- elections  for a female Premier to step in his shoes in the province. It’s about time, party insiders proposed , besides it’s  never happened before.

INTRODUCING…. THE FOUR LEADING  LADIES.

1. HELEN  ZILLE: I  STIR THE POT  JUST LIKE ANY OTHER AFRICAN WOMAN” 

DA Leader and Western Cape Province Premier, Helen Zille. Election Campaign 2014.
DA Leader and Western Cape Province Premier, Helen Zille. Election Campaign 2014.

Current Premier of  the Western Cape Province and the Democratic Alliance Presidential Candidate for this election,  Helen Zille is a front-runner by a few kilometers in this election  marathon.  The 63-year-old former journalist has been in the game of politics long enough to convince two former fire brand, out spoken, fiercely independent women politicians  such as  Independent Democrat Leader Patricia De Lille  and Agang leader Mamphela  Ramphele to sleep with  her.  De lille  is now the Mayor of Cape Town with a “drug problem”.  Ramphele  on the other hand quickly reneged on her decision to be the DA’ s Presidential Candidate. Actually this story was very confusing for me, but one can see how for  a moment the two let their feelings for each other get in the way of good business.   In the early 1970’s  while Zille  was working as a journalist for the Rand Daily Mail she exposed the truth behind the death of  black Consciousness leader, Steven Bantu Biko; Mamphela Ramphele’s boyfriend and “soul-mate”.  So one can cautiously  assume  that life long  bonds must have been formed between  the two women at the time. And this merger in light of this history and current context of SA politics would make sense – a perfect tit for tat. So one is left with two reasons in attempts to explain why it didn’t work out. a) They tried but the souffle crumbled before  it even got out of the oven – both women probably can’t cook to save their lives  in all honesty OR b)the merger and later divorce was planned. Perhaps it was an elaborate  publicity stunt from the very beginning to pump up media coverage for both parties who were at the time drowning under the giant black green and gold wave of the ANC. If  it was – it was simply brilliant. The two had the media practically eating out of their hands and wiping their palms clean with long salivating tongues. Which brings me to this picture. Possibly my all time favourite picture of Hellen Zille. This picture startled me at first. Then later it brought to mind similar images of  independent  Presidential candidate and fashion designer Diouma Diakhaté Dieng of Senegal in 2012, in traditional dress moving laboriously like Zille over large  pots of rice, to prove to skeptical Senegalese voters during her Televised Election campaign that she is “woman enough” for the hot seat. She can cook, sew, look fabulous and still do politics. Many Senegalese men laughed at her- she’s not serious – they said. I find it funny that women still don’t feel good enough… being kept only in the bedroom, kitchen and boardroom they want to be everywhere. No one ever asked a male candidate to prove  they can cook,   let alone drive  a car.  But even street smart, intelligent, talented , powerful  women in the form of  Zille and Dieng –  still need  to prove that they can cook in order to win votes. Even if  it’s not a cooking competition! What I like about Zille most though  is her incredible sense of humour. The things she does just makes one smile .  DA staff must be the happiest to  come up with such amazingly creative strategies to get media attention.  I admire people with a sense of humour, it’s very, very attractive.  .

MAMPHELA RAMPHELE:   I AM  IN TOUCH WITH  THE ANCESTORS”

AGANG leader Mamphele    Ramphele announcing her entry into formal politics to her ancestors. 2013
AGANG leader Mamphela Ramphele announcing her entry into formal politics to her ancestors. 2013

When sophisticated business  woman, former World Bank Chief Executive and Former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town  Mamphela Ramphele announced  that she was starting a political party I must admit, a smile spread across my heart I  was happy. The party would be called “AGANG” a seSotho  doing word (present continuous verb) which directs listeners  ( because it is a  plural verb) to simply BUILD.   Yes we must build and not destroy.  Though many who are well versed in the art of politics found her unoriginal she was to me a breath of fresh sense in the midst of stale perfumes. I could at least listen to this, she  didn’t automatically switch off  all my vital signs. Besides we shared something in common, a love for books. Her tome ” Laying Ghosts to Rest ” was published at the right time in 2008 and provided  me with some solace during a very turbulent time in South African politics. She has a lot going for her this 66-year-old former black consciousness leader.  But when I saw this picture of her going to  her parents grave site, I thought wow, she really brought something new to the table here. It’s common knowledge that many black South African’s consult their ancestors before embarking on  life changing  projects, to inform them  as it were. And this is done symbolically by visiting the grave-sites of  said loved ones. I thought she was brave to publicly reveal her ‘belief in ancestors” in that way – especially because most educated Africans while they may practice this in private,  would not  publicly admit to it as many are also  Christians (Muslims) who are forbidden to acknowledge their ancestors ever existed. This was a brilliant decision on her part because it brought her closer to the black majority – ordinary Selaeo or  Makgathi.  Suddenly what blacks did in private was not so private anymore, people could say ” sorry I can’t do it today, I have an appointment with my grandfather at the cemetery”.  The party gained momentum until the climax of the public marriage and divorce with the DA.  Suddenly Shakespeare’s 116 sonnet comes to mind ” Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments,  love is not love which alters when it alteration finds….or bends with the remover to remove. Oh no! it is an ever fixed-mark that looks on tempest and is never shaken…”  Following this shaky episode Mamphela was on every prime-time news show in the country, explaining why she dropped Hellen Zille  at the alter. But what I found to be an interesting by-product of the fall out was that  Ramphela  could finally put a highly annoying issue to rest. Teach the nation how to correctly write and pronounce her name. The nation  had been secretly struggling to pronounce her name, even black Africans where finding it hard to get it right. Mam phela Ram phele,  M-a-m-p-h-e–l-a  R-a m p h e-l-e she repeated on  screens across of the country’s major news outlets.  I found myself repeating her name under my breath too, Mamphela Ramphele, promising myself never to forget the meaning of a name.

3. ZANELE  kaMAGWAZA MSIBI:  ” I AM  A SHOULDER TO CRY ON”

National Freedom Party Leader; Zanele KaMagwaza Msibi, comforting a grieving mother. KwaMashu 2014
National Freedom Party Leader; Zanele KaMagwaza Msibi, comforting a grieving mother. KwaMashu 2014

The sweetheart of KwaZulu Natal Politics. What I love most about kaMagwaza-Msibi is her smile so wide and beautiful it reminds me of Julia Roberts in the iconic Hollywood blockbuster movie “Pretty Woman”.  Her smile is so disarming, relaxing she is a very nice warm, friendly and approachable person….as a result… everyone(i spoke to about her) sings her praises, she is an amazing leader, truly gifted.   Her profile on Wikipedea is very brief:**** Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi is the (NFP) and Mayor of Zululand District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and President of the National Freedom Party (NFP). She was formerly chairperson of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the IFP’s candidate for Premier of KwaZulu-Natal in the 2009 general election.****

Her public break up with IFP leader MangoSothu Buthelezi was more than just rough, it was bloody violent. kaMagwaza Msibi is Popular,  she enjoys a lot of support among men (especially) and women in the province of KwaZulu Natal. I tried to speak to Mr Buthelezi about it  during lunch one Sunday afternoon, when suddenly a thick  wall of ice appeared between us, I could barely make out his face which was centimeters away from mine. ” I don’t trust anything she says” he quivered his temperature obliterating  the thick fog  to reveal eyes glistening with  hurt.  I didn’t know which side  to look after that. The IFP  has also publicly expressed its belief that kaMagwaza Msibi is in bed with the  ANC. They(NFP &  ANC) currently share a coalition government in Zululand where kaMagwaza Msibi enjoys overwhelming support and is the incumbent mayor. ANC party insiders love kaMagwaza-Msibi   and have  intimated on more than one occasion that the party is seriously courting her in its quest to finally gain complete control of the province.  Yet she is playing hard to get.  But the mutual attraction between the two parties was  more than an apparent during a Multiparty Prayer meeting in KwaMashu. The women there were so over joyed my collegue kept looking at me and saying ” yo these women are happy ne” to see kaMagwaza Msibi amongst ANC leaders on the podium to lead them to prayer. But they completely lost their minds ( as did kaMagwaza Msibi) at the sight of former Police Minister and ANC national executive member  Bheki Cele. Women ran to the front danced and swayed, shook their bottoms and raised their arms to embrace and pull Cele to the “religious” dance floor.  I must say I have never seen a reception like that before, not even for the country’s President Jacob Zuma, admittedly I have not attended enough of his political events.   kaMaGwaza- Msibi herself  couldn’t contain her infectious smile,  glancing at Cele every five minutes. Once prayer was out they quickly  huddled together like magnets laughing and giggling with each other  forgetting  about the “media” hovering about.  KaMagwaza Msibi though was on a serious mission ” We, as the NFP have done all we can to contribute  towards peace in this province, at this point prayer is our only solution”  She said referring to the recent KwaMashu  killings of two women friends, who were members of the IFP and NFP respectively. kaMagwaza Msibi smiled broadly at my questions and ask me who I was as her long red-painted  nails  lightly clawed at my torso playfully. This picture above does a great job at encapsulating her multi-layered personality.  Not only is she beautiful, admired and desired by men, she is also tender enough to grieve and cry with the bereaved. Our very own Princess Diana.

4. SHAMEEM RAJBANSI – “ I  AM THE WINNER OF THE GAY OSCAR AWARD”

And the  oscar goes to: Minority Front Leader, Shameem Rajbansi at the Gay Oscars in Durban, sometime ago.
And the oscar goes to: Minority Front Leader, Shameem Rajbansi at the Gay Oscars in Durban, sometime ago.

Minority Front Party leader Shameen Rajbansi was a complete surprise  for me. I didn’t  know much about her or even what she looked like  when I first met her. But yes you guessed it I was already in love. Because of her words.  Perhaps I should just admit that it was an emotionally charged day for me in a  positive way. It was the first time I  returned to Coastlands Hotel in Durban’s city center  where she held her party’s manifesto’s launch, after 15 years. I had to call my mother to tell her about this momentous event. I was marveling at life and was just being present in the moment when she interrupted the running order of  proceedings and said,” we must cut the cake first, it’s really important”. This was to celebrate 20 years of the Minority Fronts’ existence.  She then proceeded to say ” It’s been a very  rough couple of years, but being the lady that I am  my cake is still in tact”   she said as she brushed off  crumbs of the cake from her  fingers. She was  referring to the internal struggle for power  within the party  following her husband’s Amichad Rajbansi’s death two years ago.  During question and answer time I ask her where she stood  on the Gay issue. She said she was for gay people. She supports them.  They have a proven medical hormonal defect, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Who is she to question God about his creation. Anyway they are generally very warm and helpful people. Who always have very unique and an interesting approach to things. She is for all minority groups. After the launch she asked me in the company of her lawyer how she did. You spoke from the heart he said  and I agreed. Well you should have my number call me anytime you need questions answered. But you should go and have lunch now she advised, we’ve prepared a meal for you thank you for coming. I walked to the dining hall and sat around a crew of  6 men ( my colleague)and I was the only woman. They ranted and raved about the food.. and then came time for dessert and they all honestly couldn’t keep quiet about Shameen Rajbansi’s cake… it’s nice they talked about it and described it in ways only men can. I sat there smiling from here to ear – thinking about what she said about her cake and just thought how fun to meet  people who are in the deep end and still find a way to make fun of themselves! My team and I had never been so happy.  Many of those conversant in the art politics have already said – she might as well pack up and go or join the DA or ANC.  But I think Shameen might still have a few surprises under her Sari. Do it for  Raj, her husband, she says.

 

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4 MINUTES WITH THE CROWN PRINCE: IFP PRESIDENT MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI

IFP President Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
IFP President Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

” Democracy means  freedom to choose” –  PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI

I didn’t know quite what to expect when I attended the Inkatha Freedom Party’s 2014 Manifesto launch at the weekend.

Sunday 7:30 am. We arrived at the King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi the second largest township in South Africa, and the hi-jacking capital of  KwaZulu Natal according to those who live there and  I still had no idea what was going on….. actually.

Preparations for the launch set to start four hours later,  at around 11:00 am  were already underway. At the entrance a row of women were busy at work setting up  their  stalls from which they would be selling fried, boiled and cooked meat: chicken, beef sausages, stakes, fruit and all manner of beverages to IFP supporters still on their way to the stadium.

It was as if I was intruding into a private family ceremony. Familiar images of relatives aunts, sisters, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, uncles, brothers, husbands, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends all dressed in the tried and tested uniform of blue overalls, multi-coloured aprons, pinafores, petticoats, head scarves, hats and white face masks – helping each other off-load pots, pants, trays and buckets full of this and that, the stuff they would need to serve  hundreds of hungry men and women filled my eyes – They all worked quietly and calmly.  A  peaceful scene of activity.

During our drive  to the venue  we saw  groups  of police officers  positioned along the man road leading  towards the stadium. I couldn’t help but wonder if I should be anxious.  Armed police men leaned casually on white police Casper’s which have become synonymous with the sometimes violent service delivery protests flaring up across the country since, before and after Marikana.

The IFP – a party founded by the crown prince, Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi in 1975 is infamous for political intolerance and has been for as long as I was old enough to tell the difference between the ANC and the IFP.

The party is feared from  the Gauteng province  to  the East Coast of the country for threatening bloody murder and mutiny to anyone opposed to their leader, uMtwana, Shembe, Buthelezi.  At least that’s the talk about town. Images of the ubiquitous red arm and head bands  worn by Zulu-Inkatha  warriors brandishing  sticks, pangas and  spears piercing into  the blue sky accompanied by feverish calls to war come to mind as I stepped out of the car and surveyed the large image of a smiling Buthelezi wrapped around a tall pillar at the edge of the stadium. My memories of the early 90’s are clouded with red dust.

What could Mr Buthelezi have to say that other politicians haven’t said?

Just last week the party and its break- away faction  the National Freedom Party  {NFP}  met to discuss pockets of violence  between party members in KwaMashu   in February.  Tensions had been simmering between the two parties since the break-away in 2011 when  then IFP National Chairperson  Zanele  kaMagwaza-Msibi broke away from the IFP to form a new party the orange NFP.  Tensions reached a climax outside court one day  in 2012  when an NFP member shot at an IFP member  point-blank in front of police officers, in broad day light  killing him on the spot.  The NFP member  was arrested but released due to lack of evidence.  Violence re-surfaced again last month resulting in the shooting of four women . Two  died after they were shot within days of each other,  they were friends, and  members of the IFP and NFP respectively.   An IFP youth league leader in KwaMashu has since been arrested on two charges of attempted murder for two of the shootings in which both victims survived.

“It is so much like her to call for peace talks” offered  one of  Magwaza Msibi’s admirers during an ANC rally earlier in the week after I asked her  what she thought of political violence in the province.  “She is  gifted that woman and is a  huge  threat to the IFP.  The IFP lost a great leader in her, she is a good person, a people’s person and she is a great orator too. I have so much respect for her  because of how she treats people and because of what  she is trying to do – the ANC has been trying to get her  on-board but it seems she knows her power. The IFP has lost a lot of support since her departure.” She said nodding her head emphatically. Grief stricken images of Magwaza Msibi crying helplessly while comforting the bereaved family of a deceased NFP  member come flashing back to memory. He empathy was undeniable on the Television screen.

Except it was not Magwaza-Msibi who called for the round of peace talks, it was Prince Buthelezi who requested the meeting between party leaders in writing.  I wondered why (informed) people would automatically assume that it was Magwaza- Msibi who called for peace talks between the warring parties.  Clearly the IFP hadn’t managed to shake off the image of its bloody past.  Why, I can still remember anecdotes of people accounting stories of how they were being terrorized by Inkatha fighters in trains and hostels to and from work during the 1980’s and early 90’s as black on black violence spread across the country from Thokoza, Boipatong, Soweto, and KwaZulu Natal which was attributed largely to third forces (Apartheid government) using the IFP as its front men. Prince Buthelezi was a puppet of the Apartheid government : a sell-out who used the money apartheid money to fund more bloodshed in the province which he declared a no-go area for non-Zulu’s during the 90’s. They say  he connived with the then National Defence Force (SANDF)  under the apartheid government  to fuel violence which saw at least 20 000 people being killed in KwaZulu Natal.  Whatever he may say, it would be hard to erase  memories of blood-shed which ravaged the Natal Midlands in the lead up to the 1994  National Elections that ushered in a new democratic dispensation and a government of national unity.  I personally” remember stories “I was told by my aunt Zozo who arrived one day to live with family relatives close by, of horrifying stories of the violence in the Kwazulu Natal Midlands – of people fleeing burning huts, and being stabbed brutally by unknown men, how she escaped the violence to come and live with us in Gauteng.  KwaZulu Natal was never a place I wanted to live in.

But I had to keep an open mind.

The IFP’s election manifesto messaging was surprisingly simple and uncluttered with promises, it simply read: “The power is  yours” – “You have the power” a few banners admonished followers.  The stadium which had been empty for the large part of the preparations  was filling up rapidly. Party organisers were friendly and welcomed the media with open arms. “We are not fighting with the media” newly appointed IFP spokesperson Alco Ngobese  after I requested an interview with the president  of the party.” we want to work together with you”.

The SABC’s outside broadcast vans were already stationed at the edges of the stadium. The party’s 2014 manifesto launch would be broadcast live on the public broadcaster’s 24 hour news channel and the SABC’s Nguni commercial TV channel SABC one. By the time the crown prince arrived – waiving to crowds who had filled up the main amphi- theatre the mood was euphoric. Praise singers praised and crowds sang , Is’cathamiya, and traditional hymns swaying in unison  in honour of a leader they said “never changed”. Mr Buthelezi wore a distinctive black and gold hat, a simple shirt and chino pants.  The program quickly got underway by one o’clock following messages of support from the party’s youth league and women’s’ brigade who were all very brief.  Soon it was time for President Mangosuthu Buthelezi to deliver his speech.

It was the first time in many years that I stopped to listen.

Mr Buthelezi, a former ANC youth league member, began by his speech by recounting how he was trained and mentored by the founder of the ANC, Dr Pixley kaIsaka Seme while he was still in matric ( Grade 12).  Pixley kaIsaka seme   needed help writing  political documents for the ANC while undergoing an eye operation, and asked the young Buthelezi to assist him. ” I was his assistant, I sat with him for hours learning from his  beautiful mind – of his visions and values for the struggle”

“I also learnt from King Albert Luthui, the first black Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, while still in my youth fresh from University, I learnt from him how to serve the people,  about the values of freedom and democracy.” Buthelezi  said over his 60  year career in politics and public service he learnt from men of integrity and honour, from heroes and heroines of the struggle.  As the leader in the opposition he told  his supporters that in the ten years that he  governing  in KwaZulu Natal – no single allegation of corruption was leveled against him.  He founded Ithala Bank, built 6 thousand schools, a University of Technology which he counts as one of his proudest moments in his political career as I sat next to him hours later at a sea-food restaurant in morning side.   Infact – the IFP he said was  a bridge between the values and Ideas of  the struggle and the future prosperity of the country.  On my way to the interview I asked a young IFP supporter why we supported the IFP. “Ubaba taught us values, especially respect, values that I learnt from home. That you must always remain humble, and never raise your voice even when the other  person is screaming ans shouting at you, you must remain calm and speak with them with respect, because that’s the most important thing. That is why I support him”

Between The Lines:    Are you happy with the  show of  support for the IFP today?

Prnce MangoSuthu Buthelezi:   Yes I was very happy with the turn out of voters, I had not expectations but as far as turn out is concerned I am very happy

BTL: Are you confident of increasing support for the IFP in the province  for the upcoming elections?

MB  Yes. The  recent by-Elections demonstrate that there is a growing support  for the IFP i the province especially in  Nongoma. We didn’t rig votes like others.

BTL: You have spoken a lot about the failures of the ruling party and you spoke a lot about your years of experience in politics  and public service. Are there any mistakes that you have you  have made as  the  leader or the IFP have made over the years?

MB: What mistakes are you talking about? it is for my critics to say.

BTL: Baba.. I mean  as we are all reflecting  on  what we have achieved in the past  20 years and working on where we want to go  certainly  there are things we did wrong and things we did right? at this point no one wants -to admit any wrong doing –  are the any mistakes that you could identify that we could learn from?

MB: I don’t think I should be answering questions like that, I have always been fair in my criticism of the ANC. I have praised them were they have done well and have pointed out  where they were

going wrong.

BTL:  What has been your proudest achievement in your political career?

MB:  Every victory in one way or other has made me proud, there are many  things I could talk about, one of them is building six thousand schools and the  University of Technology .

BTL:  What is unique about the IFP, why should people vote for you?

MB: We don’t make unrealistic promises. We’ve been in Government for many years, we have a track-record.

BTL:  What is Your greatest fears for this country?

MB:  Corruption.

BTL: Greatest Hope?

MB:” I wouldn’t be contesting the elections if I had  lost hope”

BTL: Thank you very Much for your time.

MB:  Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

BTL: Everyone deserves to be heard.

Ends.