It is May, 2019 (or December 2017, or maybe 2018), and Cyril Ramaphosa wiggles his black-suited butt to adjust to the depressions in the presidential seat left by his ample predecessor. In front of him at the head of the long gleaming table lies a thin buff folder.

Seated around the table are men and women clad in tailored clothes that blurt money. Their eyes are anxious and their fingers twitch. About 20 sit at the table, the rest in two stepped rows of chairs behind them. There are about 65 in all, some still with jobs, they think. Those in the back are dogsbody civil servants; one never knew exactly who was what in the recent pre-election months of chop-and-change as unpredictable as a marbles match while the big goenie cannonballed among them, and lost.

The atmosphere is as thick with nerves as smoke at a dogfight. At the table are ANC seniors, some of them from the just dissolved South African Cabinet, ex-ministers and ex-deputy ministers with the dubious distinction of having been in one of the largest political cabinets on earth.

A buff folder lies tidily before each, pen and pencil to the right, bottle of spring water water in front.

There are four words printed in bold on the single sheet of paper inside: On one line ”Agenda”; on the next “Fix South Africa”.

Three simple words but the biggest challenge this 119-year-old country has ever faced. And dangerous. Outside the Cabinet chamber in all the gracious airy corridors of the Union Buildings wary suited men with tiny earphones and unbuttoned jackets amble casually, eyes constantly sliding.

More stroll the sunlit main road in front of the splendid Union Buildings, plus policemen in blue combat kit with Vektor pistols and R5 rifles, and beyond them in the gardens and bushes soldiers in camouflage fatigues carrying R1s and R5s, a flashback to the Angola days.

Conveniently near the Cabinet chamber heavily armed five-man squads wait in several rooms, relaxed and alert. They wear the black fatigues of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics).

There is a humming silence in the chamber. Sipho Pityana sits at Ramaphosa’s right, looking much younger than his 58, his classically tailored pale grey suit murmuring wealth. Robert Johnson slouches at left, wearing a double-breasted blazer as creased as his face.

Ramaphosa finally settles his behind comfortably, opens the folder, stares down at the four words of his choice for long seconds, then raises his head to look slowly around the room. A light sheen of sweat gleams on his bald head. Eyes meet eyes and most turn aside. He has an intimidating stare.

Ramaphosa is tired and restless. He has already started to “fix South Africa”. In a few days he has summarily fired, retired, “redeployed” or drastically demoted many of Jacob Zuma’s bloated inner bureaucracy of bootlickers. A few from Zuma’s regime are present and still politically alive, waiting to find out for how long.

Zuma himself is at faraway Nkandla in KwaZulu Natal among his chickens, goats, wives and other livestock within the bounds of his mundane collection of thatched tribal mansions styled something between Sandton and uMgunghundhlovu, a model of unimagination. Sarcastic neighbours call it “Bokingham Palace”.

Ramaphosa unbuttons his jacket, leans on his forearms, hands clenched, and speaks into the miasma of tension.

“The three of us here,” he says, indicating Pityana and Johnson with a wave of his hand, “have convened this meeting to brief you select few about our intentions. It is not required or precedented for us to do this but the recent experiences under our so-called government are an urgent lesson on the need to be open and honest.

“On my right I have a capitalist,” he glances at Pityana who is leaning back impassively in his executive chair, chin resting on his peaked fingertips, “He is not white and he is not monopolist.”

Nervous chuckles from around the room.

“On my left is Professor Robert Wood Johnson, a professor of history, an Oxford don emeritus, an acute political observer and a leader of public opinion in South Africa. I doubt anyone in this country knows it better. He talks sense when he opens his mouth. If he has a monopoly on anything it is intellect.

“Between the three of us and our experience we represent all of South Africa.”

Ramaphosa pauses because he is coming to the point of this gathering and he is an overloaded man with much to do. He leans back, arms extended to the folder before him.

“Winning the election does not end the rot in South Africa,” he rumbles, hoarse from days of talking, “It is still everywhere like an economic ebola in commerce and industry as much as in governance.

“It will take us many, many months, maybe years, to unravel the tangle of corruption and maladministration we have inherited and simultaneously to set up and properly run the complicated machine of a new State administration, together with those of the provinces.

“Let me make one thing clear right away. We have no intention of sacking masses of civil servants, of sweeping the decks clean, of firing people just because they disagree with us. It  would be disaster, this is not the Congo.”

His voice rises. “We are all still members of the ANC, even our ex-president wherever he may be and whatever he is doing, and it is the ANC that still rules South Africa.”

Hope begins to flicker back among the listeners.

“Many in the civil service will stay in their jobs, I think most from high to low. They number tens of thousands. I believe the great majority are loyal to the principles of the ANC and have simply never been showed how to do their work, or they have been grossly misused by the Zuma regime. There will be some reshuffling but our aim is not to sack cadres just because they are DA or this or that or even EFF.” He glances at a red-uniformed man down the table.

“However, it is vital to get our civil service functioning efficiently. It is vital to quickly rid ourselves of those we know to be dishonest and incompetent and replace them with people we know are true and honourable, intelligent and above all willing to learn and to learn damn fast and work hard!” He smacks the table with the  palm of his right hand.

“That goes for politicians as much as for officials.

“We are now at a moment of great national risk, which is why I have ordered such strong security around us here today. All of you who will still be in support of our new government at the end of this day will have protection until we regain calm after the rioting, protest, looting and sheer opportunistic crime now causing upheaval all over South Africa.

“I will not order a state of emergency because that would make some reckless people think we are weak and they can seize back power with force and contempt for the law.

“They are wrong. We are ready for them. We do not want to become a sea of conflict. We do not want a civil war and we will demonstrate that we will not tolerate the kind the lunatic bloodshed we have seen elsewhere in our continent.”

At this point Ramapahosa stops speaking, draws a handkerchief from his breast pocket, wipes his face and keeps the handkerchief in a tight fist, frowning. If anyone in South African politics knows how to exploit drama, it is him. He has many hurdles ahead that need more credibility than drama.

“We will use as much strength as we need to maintain stability. We are better than those who want to seize power by violence and we will prove it.

“Our people are hungry. Like you and I, they are sick and tired of bloodshed. They want peace and security and food and jobs. It is to them we are accountable and responsible for creating a better lifestyle. We will start doing that today – right now.”

Ramaphosa sips from the bottle of water on the table and, switching off his microphone, listens to Pityana and Johnson as they lean towards him. A mutter of subdued conversation rises from the guests. They talk for two minutes then both Pityana and Johnson nod.

The hum of whispers evaporates. That radical changes will be made is not unexpected but the assertive tone of this upstart Venda from the north and his aggressive confidence catch most by surprise.

The guillotine is still up there on the horizon but there is no clatter yet of the iron wheels of coming tumbrils.

Ramaphosa rises to his feet, large and intimidating. He begins to talk in a tone as severe and loud as a muezzin’s.

“My priority today, and that of the my friends around me, is to ask for the loyalty of each of you sitting at this table, under oath. Those of you who give it will be the pool from whom we will invite cadres to join our new cabinet. Those selected will be entitled to entitled to choose their support staff from the rest here, subject to their giving their oath of loyalty at a later stage, or you can propose others to us.”

Ramaphosa scans the battalion of eyes fixed upon him and frowns.

“If there are any of you who do not agree with what I have said, who do not believe it is possible, who have no wish to follow our ideas and our beliefs and our policies, then please be so honest as to leave now.”

He waits, fists resting on the table.

Nobody moves.

“Good,” he says, with a small smile. Pityana relaxes visibly, leaking tension like Roger Federer’s coach at the end of a furious tennis struggle. Johnson remains inscrutable, alert.

“When Parliament resumes we will need a two thirds majority to make changes to our constitution, only a few changes but all extremely important.

“The first will be to put an end to the unilateral powers the President has now. No more will he be able to appoint and discharge cabinet ministers without the consultation and approval of the majority of a core cabinet of ten, with the president having a casting vote. Their choices will be subject to the approval of the full cabinet and later the approval of a simple majority of the members of parliament.

“No longer will he be able to appoint top officials who will bend to his wishes. These appointees, from director-generals down to certain department heads, will be subject to revision                           and scrutiny by portfolio committees like that on public accounts, who will have powers of interrogation and sanction extending further than finance, something like the American Congressional committee system.

”In this new arrangement, as in all decisions concerning major political appointments, the members of the house will be able to vote by secret ballot …”

Ramaphosa pauses with a grin as a thunder of clapping and some loud cheers interrupts him.

“… but the first cabinet of this government will be chosen by us,” he says, smiling broadly, “If you don’t like it you can take us to task afterwards by secret ballot.

“What’s more, provincial parliaments will have the same. Municipalities already do. But the size of provincial parliaments will have to be re-examined. They don’t all need flocks of ministers and blue light brigades and expensive buildings while their people are hungry.”

Ramaphosa stops, switches off his microphone and sits down to confer with Pityana and Johnson. They know, these three, that what he has to say next will cause an uproar of excitement.

He readjusts the mike and leans forward on his forearms. The room is deathly silent in expectation.

“Consider this though: a secret ballot is only half of democracy. The other half is the person who uses it. Therefore the other major upgrade we will make to our constitution is that in each constituency voters elect the candidate of their choice. No longer will your party appoint your member of parliament or MLC. YOU will put up candidates, one for each party, and there you go.”

They are right. A roar of applause rises from the crowd, magnified by the confines of the chamber.

That has won them over,” Pityana smiles at the beaming face of the new president, “That more than the secret ballot.”

Ramaphosa raises his palms to calm the gathering.

“The details will be worked out by a team selected from those who drafted the present constitution,” he says, “and with his family’s  permission, they will draw on the research and ideas of the late, much lamented Dr Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, who was working on this when he died.

“Okay. Let me explain what we have right now. You all know Sipho Pityana. He is …” grinning “… a highly educated arch-capitalist, on the boards of nearly twenty businesses and institutions, a billionaire, a huge philanthropist, a true African and a true man of the ANC. And most of you will know, or certainly know of, the man on my left, Professor Johnson, who has long been an active member of the ANC and probably the most sensible analyst of South African politics for the past decade.

“Mr Pityana started the Save South Africa movement which had a large part in rescuing the country from rape and for bringing us to where we are now. He is the best man to show us how to turn the economic tide back towards us, to bring in former investment, to lure new investors, to initiate development, and above all to make sure that our people get jobs and a fair share of all the work and money. And he is only one of many who think like him and who will help us.

“Ours will be a kind of social capitalism, or capitalist socialism if you prefer. We will use capitalism to fund our social objectives. The world has always worked that way and there’s nothing wrong with it. Entrepeneurs want to make big profits and there’s nothing wrong with that either, so long as it doesn’t all get taken away by the fat cats. Do that and the investors leave, as Zuma’s policies proved. Profit for them means more jobs plus a share in that profit for the people who helped them make it, the workers.

“Neither of these two eminent and capable men will be members of the cabinet. They will be my personal presidential advisors and will be paid standard consultancy fees, not the gross millions the old non-ANC fed their so-called consultants and legal advisors. Their presence at my side will show the world we mean business, we are returning to normality.

“Sipho will be our first guide and mentor in all things economic and the personal contact between me and commerce and industry. That is not to forbid anyone out there in the economy from contacting us direct, even the spaza shop Somali with a new idea or the lady selling mopani worms on the street corner. We will set up the means, and I do not mean those damned ‘Press this button or that button next’ telephones.

“Robert here will advise me and the Cabinet on a number of things. The first of them is the so-called ‘security cluster’. Zuma held the strings of all sorts of government security from defence to police to ‘State security’, whatever that’s supposed to be, to national intelligence and to prosecution and some others. Each of those, again, had its own sub-divisions. He personally picked their heads. The competition between all of these and the animosities between them was so fierce it virtually destroyed their purpose. As a group rotten with corruption they were close to useless in fighting corruption.

“It gave our almost-dictator huge personal power that he exploited in a manner completely contrary to what our constitution intended.

“It has been stopped, thank the Lord. and the proven, reliable professionals we have in all the security sectors will come up with recommendations for the Cabinet and parliament to look at and choose.

“There is one very important subject I must raise here and now because some of you might not like it at all. It is this BEE and BBBEE and all those other acronyms which were so parroted by the previous regime they have lost all meaning.

“Affirmative action as we knew, as it was supposed to be, is dead. It has long failed in its true purpose, which was opening the doors to all opportunities to the victims of apartheid, favouring the victim when there is a choice between equals. The Zuma-Gupta regime abused this horribly to put all the power and taxpayers’ money into the hands of a few and ignore the masses. They will answer for it in the courts.

“Politically the colour white means nothing in Africa today except economic strength and knowhow. Yes, I realise this goes against the grain for you, Lindiwe …” Ramaphosa looked at Lindiwe Sisulu seated at the far end of the table; she was known for her dislike of whites “…  and for many others.

“You have good reason. But this is not the time for vengeance. Let’s get our priorities right. Change will take time. School alone is for ten years, a university education at least another three, usually more. So be patient. It took China thirty years to drag millions of its citizens out of the mud Mao left them in. And look at how their patience has paid off. We have had twenty three years in power and look at what we have – a mess. We do not promise miracles but we will do the best to uplift the quality of life of our people as quickly as possible within our financial and other means.

“Before Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980 both Mozambique’s President Machel and Zambias’s President Kaunda, himself no angel, strongly advised President Mugabe to do his utmost to retain his small white population.

“Politically, they pointed out, whites were irrelevant. They numbered little more than a quarter million in Rhodesia. Mugabe was all sweetness and light at first then drove out whites as fast as he could. The result: a once fantastically productive country is economically down the tubes and his own black people are much worse off than they were.

“Our white population numbers about about five million. That’s against some 35 to 40 million blacks back in 1900, when apartheid died. And many more whites than you realise were on the side of the ANC.

“Mandela took that advice, which he had realised by himself anyway, and he succeeded. Then along came Mbeki and Zuma and opened their big mouths racially and the whites began to leave in droves, taking not just their money but their expertise. South African whites have hugely enriched the skills and brain power of Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and even America. People forget that many of the most significant academic, medical and technical advances in the world today came from South Africa.

“And our colour-mad leaders after Mandela threw it all away.

“Okay, I am boring you with history and a lot of what you know already. But it must be said, and it must be put on record as we are doing now, because we are starting afresh.

“We will welcome back into South Africa all of those who have departed and also anyone from anywhere else in the world who has the skills, imagination and willingness to join and improve our society. It goes without saying they must be non-racial. We will reward them and give them guarantees. We will ask them to train our black and brown citizens who were deprived of learning for 42 years.”

Looking increasingly tired, Ramaphosa switches off his mike and wipes his face again with his white handkerchief. A mutter of excited discussion arises from the gathering while he and his two advisors put their heads together. They sip spring water. It is getting warm in here.

They wait for ten minutes while those seated move about to stretch their legs.

Professor Johnson rises to his feet. Hands clasped in front of him, he looks around the room until the chatter subsides. He has a mellow demeanour and is known for a calm confidence which adds pungency to his comments.

“We will put before you now the names of the ten people provisionally selected for our inner cabinet, for your approval, we hope. Some of them will surprise you and I am sure there will be objections. We have to start somewhere and we have given many, many hours to this since long before the change. Our choice and the way in which we have gone about it is well within the framework of the constitution, according to our State legal advisors.

“Mr Ramaphosa here is our new president, of course, and I hope you will give him the honour he has earned by his success and the policies he has promised.”

A burst of clapping and some cheering stops Johnson, who waits patiently until the noise subsides and those who rose to their feet sit down again.

“Our deputy president will be Trevor Manuel …” Again he stops as an even louder burst of applause drowns his voice. “… I think you will all agree, whatever party you belong to, that he is a man of international stature renowned for his excellence as our first Minister of Finance and a benchmark for the competence Mandela brought to our then government.”

Manuel, looking more mature and plumper than in his earlier days of fame, smiles easily and nods to the crowd.

“His voice has been a powerful influence on the voters and will be even more so now, and also on the investors we so desperately need. We could not ask for better. He has a precious depth of understanding and experience of this party and country.

“I have one more Cabinet appointment – in fact, two in one – to tell you of and then I will hand over to President Ramaphosa, who I think wants to tell you himself about the rest of his surprises.

“Our Minister of Finance will be Mr Pravin Gordhan.”

Another burst of applause stops him in his tracks. In this crowd no politician is more popular than Pravin Gordhan.

“In the past three years this man has demonstrated more than adequately against huge odds that he is a true South African and totally loyal member of the ANC who puts country above party and ideology.

“When reorganising the office of the Receiver of Revenue Mr Gordhan came under a cloud of allegations, rumours and slander that he was diverting taxpayers’ money into his and his friends’ pockets. They were downright lies, a political ploy by people in the Gupta-Zuma cabal who feared he was getting too close to their underground activities in the Receiver and Treasury offices.

“I can assure you Mr Gordhan is absolutely committed to eradicating corruption and has already saved the nation billions while he held the strings of the purse. His competence in all things financial is beyond question. With his high intelligence he will bring great calm and rationality to any situation the government has to deal with. More than anybody else he knows the manipulations and the manipulators who have to be sorted out to drain the swamp Zuma and the Guptas have made of our country.”

Gordhan sits halfway down the long table. People beside and behind him crowd around to pat him on the back and shake his hand.

“He will have as his deputy minister the same man he had before, Mcebisi Jonas. It was Mcebisi who blew the lid off the Zuma-Gupta can of worms when they tried to bribe him. Since then he has been the target of enough mud to build another Nkhandla and much of it still sicks. Like blood, it is not easy to wash off even though it is fake.

“Between these  two – Gordhan and Mcebisi – we have a large and vital store of information about how the corrupters went about their business. These two will enjoy special protection.”

Johnson sits and pushes the microphone over to Ramaphosa, who remains seated.

“I will name the new ministers in order of the priority their portfolios will have,” he says, “Please don’t get the idea that this is a bucket list, that we will first tackle the Number One and then Number Two and so move on one by one. We will tackle them all at once but some have greater urgency than others.

“The first portfolio on my list is Police.” A surprised silence followed his words. “Police” meant many different things to many people in South Africa, from Zuma’s private army to shelter the plundering of the State, to collaborators with and suppliers of arms to the highly organised criminal gangs, even to – in rarer instances – a real police force.  But it was not expected to be a top priority.

“We have had seven police commissioners since 1995,” says Ramaphosa, “and all but two have been kicked out for crimes or maladministration or having charges hanging over them or for ignorance. Of the other two one was a competent cop, General van der Merwe. Unfortunately he was an ardent National Party man and that’s one position where we have to have our own man.

“The other is our recently appointed acting commissioner General Lesetja Mothiba who has a clear record with considerable experience and hopefully will be with us rather longer than his predecessors.

“This record of police command and administration since the force became ours is absolutely appalling. No country in the world can claim to be properly governed unless it has a well led, efficient, accountable and respectable police force and capable minister. Ours are not. There is no cohesive control over this body of armed men and women with almost 2000 policemen and 1400 police stations – a ridiculously small and futile number for a country of over fifty million people.

“Do you know that because of the incompetence of the SAPS the private sector hires nearly half a million private security officers – more than the SAPS and the defence force combined. The police have even had to hire private security to guard some of their stations.

“There is no strong leadership, no real command and no unity. It is full of divisions and sub-divisions, some competing or undermining, some with dubious records and objectives they appear to make up themselves. There are personal feuds between senior men who are supposed to lead, not fight – a terrible model for the thousands under their command.

“It is shocking that nearly half our policemen are illiterate or semi-literate and even more are innumerate beyond the basic arithmetic they need to check their wage slips and receipts at a Pick n Pay till.

“It is even more shocking – in fact it is a disgrace to the nation and to our former regime – that thousands of police weapons from pistols to R5 rifles have been, and I quote, ‘lost or stolen from or sold by’ SAPS officers. And that thousands more pistols and other guns surrendered to the police by trusting citizens under new licensing legislation have also disappeared into the criminal limbo.

“What in hell has happened to our society?” Ramaphosa demands, “We have become a happy hunting ground for every kind of criminal in Africa. After 42 years of apartheid and all the crazy fighting and racialism since, do we need this too?

“Look at the history of Africa these past fifty, sixty years. It is awash with blood. Most of the coups and wars were started or backed by the only part of government with weapons, the police or, where there wasn’t a police force, the army, which sometimes did both jobs.

“I am not suggesting for a moment that our policemen, or our military for that matter, are about to take up arms against us who now hold the reins of State – in fact I believe the reverse – that they believe in democracy and if anyone tried an armed coup they would stand up against it. The great majority are loyal South Africans, they simply lack leadership.

“However, there is a huge amount of reconstruction to be done in the SAPS to correct the decay of maladministration and political interference for over twenty years. It must be groomed back into an effective, utterly impartial and highly disciplined force which is properly financed, trained, directed and used to maintain democracy .

“We need to think carefully about such things as subsidiary police forces, metropolitan police, railway police and a whole host of other sides to the business of policing objectively and thoroughly. We must consider dividing the SAPS into two broad divisions, one for the cities and towns – the urban areas – and one for the rural areas because the country is so sharply divided between those two and they also represent our wide mix of cultures and traditions.

“It’s going to take a very tough person with a strong will, a natural aptitude for leadership and a vast store of energy. It goes without saying that person must be honest and trusted by the party.

“I have asked Lindiwe Sisulu …” Again there was a shocked gasp from the listeners and Ramaphosa waited until everyone had his attention once more.

“You are surprised? Well so was I when one of my colleagues raised her name but after a thorough scrutiny by myself and others we believe she has the brains, the ANC credentials and history, she is competent, she loves this country and she is tough, very tough. That is what a police force needs. And she has considerable experience in Cabinet including a spell as Minister of Defence, which equips her well for the  task.

“Yes, Lindiwe has also been named in some scandal but who in the ANC hasn’t got some mud sticking to them after so much has been slung around since 1994, especially by our recent leaders. I am satisified that she is clean and will do the job well and she has accepted it. Thank you, Lindiwe.

“We’ll take a short break now before I tell you more. Snacks and soft drinks are waiting outside. Please don’t talk to anyone else about what we are discussing. No media have been allowed inside the building, all cellphone communication has been blocked and we’ll have a Press conference later.”

The high, cool passages and balconies of Sir Abe Bailey’s classic Union Buildings built more than a century ago to mark the creation of South Africa gently echoes the buzz of talk. Most of the people are black with a handful of whites and Coloureds, coincidentally more or less reflecting the national demographics. A small bunch moves further down a broad corridor to light up cigarettes while they admire the view to the west over Pretoria’s tree-gentled suburbs. Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary-general, and Blade Nzimande, former Minister of Higher Education, chat quietly in a corner as they sip tea.

So much history has passed across these stone-flagged floors in the past century, Today will see much more, possibly the most important for the present century.

“Right, everyone,” Ramaphosa stands up and says when the last of the audience has returned to the big room, “Back to business. I will be as brief as I can but for reasons you’ll understand, I’ll have to expand on some matters.

“Now, to the South African National Defence Force. It is certainly not the very well run, equipped and competent fighting machine we took over in 1994. Nor is it as good as our own Mkhonto se Sizwe was then. No …” Ramaphosa raises both hands, palms forward, when a mutter comes from several parts of the room where some MK veterans and a few men in army and navy uniform stand, “… I am not about to indulge in comparisons or make odious inferences, nor to criticise our fighting men, only the people who misused them up. I am looking ahead, not back and I am dealing with facts.

“As those of you here from the SANDF will know, what we have now is a defence force not tailored to our specific needs but a mishmash left over after it was used as an excuse to line the pockets of certain politicians and businessmen.

“I am not talking about our military personnel. With the exception of a few political appointees, they are as good as any. Their standards of performance, discipline and duty have improved markedly since the force was all but ruined by political tinkering and neglect in the 1990s.

“We have sent military peacemakers into a number of conflicts in other states. We have lost lives there although they performed well. They would have performed much better had they been better equipped, trained and looked after in terms of war material, accommodation, food, clothing and their pay,  and better disciplined.

“Look at our navy. We have over three thousand kilometres of coastline and to defend that what did they get? Four fancy frigates and three fancier submarines bought for billions with little respect for our requirements.

“The frigates with all their modern gadgetry might be useful if we are attacked by the navy of Kenya or Gabon or Swaziland. They are great ships but meant to be part of a balanced naval force with a full array of warships to meet all contingencies.

“And submarines? Why submarines for heaven’s sake? Nobody has ever explained why we need submarines, expensive toys we look after so poorly that only one is in service at any time.

“If we ever become involved in a full-scale war, which is extremely unlikely, God knows, our navy will vanish in weeks. The gigantic sums of money spent to satisfy the need and greed of politicians and profiteers could long ago have paid for most of our housing needs, or provided free education from top to bottom, and maybe even a decent national health service.

“Or, at much less expense, it could have bought us what we need, a large fleet of smaller craft that can constantly cover our territorial waters with enough weaponry and air force backup to deal with everything from abalone poachers to foreign factory ships using fleets of poachers.

“The strike craft used by the apartheid regime demonstrated how well that approach works. There is no harm in using a good idea even if if is the enemy’s.

“And again, our air force has a squadron of fancy Gripen fighters and other costly toys but cannot use them fully because of lack of maintenance, the high cost of flying them and not enough trained pilots. Half of them are in mothballs. And why do we need them? Who is going to attack us by air?

“The only thing that keeps the navy and air force going is the men serving in them. They are both heavily dependent on high-tech equipment and they do their best in spite of the red tape tangles by politicians.”

Ramaphosa stops again to mop his glistening face with his large handkerchief. He knows his listeners may become restless.

He stuffs the handkerchief into a trouser pocket and takes a deep breath.

“Okay,” he said, “So what will we do to clean up this Augean stable? We will appoint as our new Minister of Defence  General Bantu Holomisa.”

The reaction is loud and mixed. Cries of astonishment, lots of clapping, a great deal of chatter, a few angry shouts.

Holomisa is an astute politician and strong leader, down to earth and short on crowd-stirring rhetoric, and respected. But he is also leader of a political party in opposition to the ANC, the United Democratic Movement, which has long hovered hesitantly between left and right, a tricky balancing feat in the gales of South Africa’s change.

This breach of total ANC rule rocked the assembled gathering, all party loyalists although they might not support the Zuma regime. They expected change, yes, but within the party hegemony.

Ramaphosa senses the wave of shock and anxiety from the floor and a touch of anger. He was expecting it. But you don’t make fresh omelettes without fresh eggs.

By his sheer presence on-stage Ramaphosa dominates the crowd. He seems to gather strength and increase in size as he stands there, erect, his large face creased in a frown. This could be a make or break point.

“I can understand your surprise and it won’t be the only one you get,” he rumbles, “so I must make it absolutely clear right now why and how we are choosing the people who will guide us out of the mess we are in.

“South Africa comes first, not any political party. The ANC will stay in power because the voters chose us. We will pick the best people wherever they come from, except the lunatic extremists. Just because General Holomisa is in the cabinet does not mean he will pollute our policy or our power. The policy of his own party doesn’t differ much from ours anyway. And he has the brains, the training, the experience and the personality to command. He also has the political background.

“We don’t want ‘yes-men’ in government. If there is disagreement between us, so be it. We, the ANC, will always be in charge but we are open to ideas. We want people up top with the skills to fix our country and improve the lives of all. He can uplift the three arms of our defence force to defend us against any attack, highly improbable though that is, to keep them on their toes and keep them busy in time of peace.

“He has accepted our offer and I am damned sure he will make a good job of it.”

The assembly is quiet while they ponder the president-elect’s words. This is not a ruler’s option ANC members had considered seriously. They were nurtured by intelligentsia like Tambo and Mandela and Hani and Luthuli and Sisulu and many more. And their ranks contained skilled people educated in everything from philosophy to carpentry. Well, except running a country – the nuts and bolts of governing.

Not that this realisation slipped immediately into the minds of those present although it had been an underlying worry for many.

“So,” says Ramaphosa, “if there’s anybody else who still wants to quit, now is the time to say so. Anyone? No? Good, because there are, as I said, more surprises to come with similar deviations and caveats from our old, petrified ANC dogma.

“Now I will give you an another appointment. I think you will all cheer because it involves an exceptionally capable, high profile and powerful ANC executive whom probably not one of you trusts, which is probably his best testimonial.

“The job is Minister of National Security. I don’t have to tell you how important that is. Police, defence and almost every other government department depends on this ministry’s watchdog overview and direction. It looks after you, it will detect and help us to destroy every threat from spying to corruption. It’s not after incompetence – that’s the job of another minister.

”We have all those intelligence departments I mentioned, all competing to outdo each other at sheltering their friends milking the treasury and protecting their own interests. They will all be disbanded and their heads and members fired unless they are worth keeping … and I mean fired.

“There will be one and only one ministry of national security and intelligence, both internally and externally. It will report directly to the core cabinet and get its orders from us. We will report regularly to parliament on its activities, obviously without doing a Wikileaks – no sane government on earth can do that.

“And we have exactly the right man to find out everything and to guard the nation’s security and keep secrets. He  knows the ins and outs of labour and capitalism better than anyone, maybe better than I do. He knows you better than I do. He is Gwede Mantashe, at present our ANC secretary general.”

This time the applause is loud and unanimous. Everybody knows Mantashe or about him. He is feared and respected. He is renowned for being frankly outspoken, even in criticising the party and its leaders, and for changing his tune by a hundred and eighty degrees when it fits the national climate, or his audience, or the political situation, or his own survival. He is a totally loyal ANC man but unpredictable. He is, simply, devious.

In African politics devious is a huge plus.

Ramaphosa is relieved by the response to this appointment. He had expected some sharp opposition because in his long ANC career the round little secretary general with his distinctive spade beard and avuncular manner was known to be as ruthless as he was charming. There were people among this audience who had felt the sting of his lash; not even the president was beyond its reach, as Zuma knew well.

“I don’t have to tell you anything more about Pravin Gordhan. You have seen him in action. We have appointed him not only because he is an outstanding minister who upgraded our revenue service into one of the best in the world, and also the Treasury, but because he knows who is trying to rob us and how they are doing it.

“He will get them,” Ramaphosa says vehemently, “They will find our prisons a little less comfortable than their suites in Dubai.” It earns him a burst of laughter.

“He will command the treasury and appoint the receiver, with cabinet approval of course. He is our financial bodyguard protecting your money. The money we need to build homes, provide services, help generate industry and jobs, and support the poor, old and sick. Third time is lucky. Pravin has got this supremely important task not because it’s his third time but because he is good.

“Look after this man.”

“Next on our list is a ministry closely linked to finance – Economic Development, which will include trade and industry. They are almost twins and will work hand in hand, each heavily dependent on the other. Without a sensible finance policy we will not have development and without development we won’t have the money to run the country.

“There will be big changes in this department, however. It will be expanded to take under its wing all the state-owned enterprises, some of which have given us our biggest headaches and have been the source of our worst corruption and maladministration. There are many. Just two of them, Prasa and South African Airways, respectively ran up illegal debts of R3.5 billion and R14 billion … nearly eighteen billion rands!Ramaphosa emphasies the sum with a crash of his fist on the table. “Imagine what we could have done to boost development and create jobs!

“That is a big load for one ministry but all of these enterprises are basic to our economy, they are closely interlinked and now most must be under one hat. There are some other state operations which, though very much part of development, will come under other ministries because they have special circumstances, like fisheries.

“As I said, this ministry will also take responsibility for trade and industry, the meeting point between government and private enterprise. The previous regime turned it into a battleground. That must change. They must plough the field together.

“I must make it very clear now that our government is not Marxist-communist. Communism is as dead as Stalin. Even some of our own communists concede that, particularly those who have made themselves capitalists through the state tender process. It has collapsed throughout the world except in a couple of lunatic states like North Korea. Development cannot happen without capitalism and it is our business to encourage and use capitalism without killing it by trying to squeeze the last drop of wealth out of it.

“Let the capitalists make their money. They are the innovators, the clever blacks and whites who put their own money at risk. They deserve their profits. But they must share some with us to make it possible for them to work here – a large part but not most.

“We are a socialist government. We will plough that money first back into the welfare of our people by finding them jobs, giving them land and decent homes and services and transport. And toilets.” Laughter.

“But not for free. We expect all South Africans to make an effort to help us in this. Sure, we will continue support for the sick and old and poor but we cannot afford to go on increasing it without bankrupting the nation, as the Zuma regime almost did to buy votes.

“The Minister for Economic Affairs and Development is almost a clone of his expert colleague in finance, Pravin Gordhan. He is Nhlanha Nene, another former finance minister until the evil powers fired him for blocking their grab of the treasury. There cannot be a better team to run finance and development than Gordhan and Nene. We will depend on them heavily in the future.”

The applause is shorter this time, not because of disapproval – Nene is a highly popular figure in South Africa – but because it is becoming repetitive.

“Because the load on the department of economic development will be heavier than those of others, Nhlanha will have two deputy ministers, one devoted exclusively to major state-owned enterprises like energy and the South African Airways. One of these, I can tell you, will be a man I have lured from the Democratic Alliance because I know he will be good at the job and he too puts South Africa first. He is David Maynier, another expert in things financial. The other I will announce later.”

There are some gasps of surprise at this but the audience is impatient and the crowd waits for Ramaphosa to carry on.

“Everything these and the other ministries do will be held very strictly to the tenets of our constitution and there will be no more attempts to bulldoze or worm a way through it, as the Zuma faction and their Gupta gurus tried so many times to do.

“All proposed legislation will be scrutinised by our state legal experts before being put forward to save the time and expense of innumerable court challenges as occurred before, at enormous expense to taxpayers. The legal profession must be one of the most thriving in the country.

“We will prevent this over-burdening of the judiciary. To streamline its operations we will transfer correctional services, that is the prisons, out of the justice department and replace it with the national prosecuting authority, with a deputy minister to handle it. They are, after all, two legs of the same body.

“And I am sure you will be pleased to know that our Minister of Justice will be one of our most highly respected jurists, Judge Dikgang Moseneke.”

This time the barrage of applause is uninhibited and prolonged. Moseneke is universally admired. Disliked by the Zuma regime for his integrity and judicial brilliance, he had twice been passed over for the post of Chief Justice. Instead they appointed Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng – a move which backfired because Mogoeng was no less brilliant and honest than  Moseneke.

The retired judge stands up at the far end of the table while the clapping continues. Lindiwe Sisulu, sitting beside him, smiles hugely and reaches up with both hands to clasp his arm in a gesture of praise.

Ramaphosa uses the interruption to drink water and again mop sweat from his head. He is pleased with the way things are going. He had expected the meeting to become heated at certain points, such as his announcement of David Maynier. There are more like that to come, he knows.

“We cannot expected our Chief Justice with his already large workload and a plethora of hearings in all the courts, many politically motivated, to handle the prosecution service too so we will give him a deputy minister to do that.

“The deputy has a massive clean-up ahead. Prosecutions is in a parlous state thanks to the resignations of so many after the ANC took over, the poor legal knowhow and limited practical inexperience of most we have now, and the obstacles created by a police force which doesn’t know how to prepare cases properly. There are huge delays in all the courts from the magistrates’ up and we have people sitting in prison on remand for longer than the sentences they might have received for their alleged crimes. Dockets are missing, some stolen, some sold, some simply lost in a jungle of files.

“That’s not justice. It is ridiculous and terribly unjust. We haven’t chosen this deputy yet because we’re looking for someone with a talent for administration and the energy and ability to clear up the tangle urgently as well as find and train prosecutors.

“Another department in an equally bad state needing a leader who can wield an administrative axe is correctional services, a polite phrase for prisons. It, too, is closely linked with police, prosecutions and justice.

“You all know how bad conditions are inside prisons and how over-strained the staff are trying to cope. Some prisons have two or three times the number of occupants they were designed for and we are building more. We try to treat prisoners humanely, so much so that there are gangsters who regard a stretch inside as a holiday with better food than they get back home.

“You have seen that BBC feature on Pollsmoor, one of our supposedly better prisons? It shows us in an awful light with massively over-crowded cells, sexual abberation, and a gang leader doing time for murder who still runs his gang from his cell.

“Well we are giving this Herculean task to a former civil servant turned politician and now turned Minister of Prisons, the DA’s shadow minister of justice, Glynnis Breytenbach. This will be a real test of her patriotism and her skills.”

Ramaphosa reaches across to touch Sipho Pityana on the shoulder. “Over to you,” he says.

Pityana rises smoothly, every inch the chairman of the board in his tailored grey suit and perfectly knotted tie.

“Let us give our president a break,” he says, “and in any case I want to tell you myself about this next appointment because this man and I are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. He is a communist. I am a capitalist. We both have the same objective: to give our people the best possible standard of life they can attain.

“Put simplistically, his approach is for the State to confer that upon them. Mine is to do it by helping them to help themselves, by creating jobs, by using the country’s resources and their abilities to do so. Communism seeks to build commerce and industry under its control. It has never worked. Communism has never built a self-sustaining, profitable industry except perhaps the manufacture of the AK-47, which has generated more misery than any other weapon except the nuclear bomb.

“The name of this ministry is Cooperative Governance, Provinces, Land Reform and Human Settlements. Its task is also Herculean and one upon whose success South Africa will ultimately stand or fall. As the title tells you, it has many facets, all of them highly sensitive, requiring great intellect, experience and diplomatic tact of the highest order. The main thing they have in common is the need for close contact and liaison between their respective representatives, from provincial premiers to township leaders. In fact it is so large a challenge that I was very reluctant to bundle all these obligations into one ministry, until my colleagues here persuaded me otherwise, and until I came to know better the person who will get the job.

“He is Blade Nzimande, general secretary of our communist party and previously minister of higher education and training, a position well below his capabilities. His appointment will surprise the many of you who don’t know him, apart from the occasional speech he makes in parliament or at ANC gatherings.

“What you don’t know is that Dr. Bonginkosi Emmanuel ‘Blade’ Nzimande has a PhD in sociology, a master’s in industrial psychology, and a BA in public administration and psychology and he has been a tower of strength within the ANC for decades. His skills and intelligence have been badly under-used by the previous regime. We won’t make that mistake.

“With the aid of three deputy ministers still to be chosen, he will have four distinct although inter-related zones of activity.

“Cooperative government deals with all matters of common concern between the central government and the provincial governments. It is a hectic business because each province has its own character, problems and demands on central government.

“It also has to watchdog the traditional leadership of South Africa’s indigenous communities, that is our tribal leaders and members, and you know how many there are and how prickly they can be.

“This brings us to the ministry’s third big job: land reform. There is no touchier subject in South Africa today than land. Some aspects Dr Nzimande will have to tackle are: should land be taken from white farmers and given to blacks; should the State own all land and lease it to black and white farmers; should the vast amount of land controlled by chiefs and leased to their subjects be opened to private ownership; should people who do not use or who misuse their land have it taken from them?

“Herein lie the seeds of strife. If we do not handle the subject of land justly, fairly and quickly they will grow into big trouble. The ownership of a piece of land is a person’s most fundamental definition of belonging to the country, be it a plot in a city or a giant Karoo sheep farm. To arbitrarily turf people off their land would be devastating to our food production, our economy and our racial stability – as it has to some extent already.”

Pityana pauses, fiddles briefly with a pencil, then  looks up.

“The third cross the ministry has to bear is human settlements. We will rename it housing because that’s what it’s all about – giving everyone in South Africa a decent home to live in. When we came into power the ANC made housing a priority because of the massive migration to the urban areas, of the concomitant appearance of slums like a cancer on the landscape, and of the poor accommodation standards in the rural areas.

“With our exceptionally high level of unemployment – I think nine million was the last figure I heard – the urban slums especially have become a nursery for crime which preys on everyone, black and white and brown, and has earned us the dubious distinction of being one of the most crime-ridden countries on earth.

“Housing will be the special focus Dr Nzimande personally. While monitoring his deputies he will concentrate attention on building homes. But that does not mean merely bricks and mortar and ceilings and windows. He will make make sure that from the outset, from the day the new occupants move in, they will have water, electricity and toilets. This alone will provide thousands of jobs.

“He will ensure that private enterprise collaborates with us and also other government departments such as transport. He will oblige the owners of the new homes to form community bodies to assert authority and encourage improvements.

“Householders will have to pay some rent, of course, the government is not a charity. But it will be reasonable. And people will not be permitted to promptly sell their homes or to sub-let them as a lazy way to get money. Or to cram backyards and sidewalks with shacks. Such abuse of property has been one of the main flaws in the system so far and it will stop now. Irresponsible householders will be ejected.

“One thing we are determined to do is stop this rampant destruction in the guise of protest. Burning down homes schools because people say the government is not providing them with schools and homes is a lesson in lunacy. Protest is a right but it is definitely not a right to damage other people’s rights.

“Okay,” says Pityana, glancing at a note passed to him by Ramaphosa, “Onward and upward. This meeting will not take very much longer, I assure you, and I’m certain you will be excited and, I hope, pleased by what is to come.

“It might not seem very exciting though when you see the size and spread of the next ministry’s duties you will be more scared than thrilled. The problem they have to tackle has bedevilled the country for decades and in the past five years has become so critical it actually threatens the viability of the nation.

“It is water. Nothing can be done – not housing or transport or defence, not growing an economy – without water and we just do not have enough of it.

“To tackle this mammoth task we have the Ministry of Natural Resources and its remit will cover minerals and water, both of which have been almost ruined by political and ideological manipulation and blatant corruption. The mining industry is beginning to return to normality, so the minister’s priority will be to find ways and means to establish and maintain a good supply of water. He will have all the scientific and technical help he wants and call on expertise from around the globe. The mines, too, will be involved, they yield and casually throw away billions of litres of underground water and from now will have to save it.”

Pityana glancesup at the still spellbound crowd and grins wide. “One way we can make a small start to save water will be for those people in the informal settlements to turn off the public taps when they have filled their buckets and bottles and not let them run as if they were the Zambezi river.

“This minister will surprise you, I think. He is Joel Netshitenzhe.

“Joel is one of the most influential people in the ANC, in all parliament for that matter, and a man of unshakeable integrity and the guts to use it. He has played an invaluable role in sorting the wheat from the chaff in the ANC since our policy conference in July 2017. He has much experience in political strategy and remains right up there in the party’s top ranks.

“Joel is also a good organiser and exerts a strong authoritarian character, which is exactly what the job needs. It will involve mind-numbing expenditure and complicated tendering that will undoubtedly attract the Gupta types like crocodiles to a dead hippo. That’s why we want Joel’s power and will.”

“A man who has long been under-rated within the ANC, perhaps because he is a communist and white and the Zuma faction’s policy was racism, is Jeremy Cronin.

“He was Deputy Minister of Public Works and we will keep him there but now as minister. It is not a department which has shone with success, in fact its performance over many years has been so bloody awful that even the Nationalists called it the ‘Please Wait Department’.

“But when you consider the volume of state-owned property it has to take care of you might think twice about its shortcomings. Everything from the urinal in the dry dock in Simon’s Town to the Voortrekker monument to changing the light bulb in the office of the chief justice to patching the potholes in the runways at O R Tambo airport.”

When some in the crowd look shocked, he shakes his head. “Just joking.”.

“Its work overlaps with every other department in government and it is bogged in bureaucracy which, incidentally, will be a job for another department. Jeremy knows public works inside out, he will have top-level assistance, his budget will be adjusted and we believe he will rise to the challenge.

Ramaphosa stands, stretche and pats Pityana on the shoulder. “Thanks Sipho. We’re nearly over for today so let me finish off.” He toys with his pencil for a minute, thinking, then speaks.

“Sipho mentioned the bureaucracy we have to contend with. All our government offices are flooded with paper. It seems to be spreading like a plague although computers with all their supportive technolog are supposed to reduce the use of paper.

“But no, someone seems to invent a new form to fill in, or several new forms, for every action involving our bureaucracy – car licences, passports, building plans, birth certificates … yopu name it, there’s at least one piece of paper attached. It takes over a year to get an expanded birth certificate from Home Affairs, heaven knows why.

“So we have a new ministry whose sole job is to continuously examine, reform and modernise the functions, the records, the chain of decision and what the Brits call the ‘bumf’ across the entire government. This business of documents waiting in someone’s in-tray because that person is too ignorant, lazy or incompetent will cease. It will take a long time to fix but we will do it. Or rather, our new minister will do it, a man you all know well and respect and who has all the competence to do the job thoroughly. He is a former head of our Reserve Bank, Tito Mboweni, Minister of Public Service and Administration.

“Stopping the flood of paper will endear him to our tree lovers but that is not all he will rule over. As head he will keep a critical eye on every civil servant in the country and even beyond government, to local government. We will rely heavily on Tito’s opinions and decisions in selecting and training civil servants.

“Here I must make it clear that we are not abandoning the standing ANC principle of boosting black people because they have been ignored or disfavoured for centuries in spite of their abilities. The principle has been grossly distorted, however. Black people have been given jobs they are wholly unsuitable for only because they are black. The principle was that if two people apply for a job and are equal in ability, it should go to the black applicant.

“Fair enough. But our Zuma system of patronage placed people in posts they were completely unsuited for. Hence the blow-up of a multi-million rand generator at a power station.  Hence the disablement of one of our submarines. Hence the total stew the Metro railways in Cape Town finds itself in. Hence Dido Myeni. Hence a thousand unnecessary costly court cases. Hence the purchase, thank God since cancelled by court, of coaches which don’t fit our railroads. Hence the maniac effort to commit us to a trillion rand expenditure on nuclear power stations we neither need nor can afford – and which would have enormously expanded in cost. Hence Brian Molefe. Hence … I can go and on but what’s the point, you all know it already.

“You also know Home Affairs …” a concerted groan rose from the gathering, like a moan of pain. Black South Africans had been subjected to bearing passes and carrying other pieces of paper for generations while whites lived almost document-free. Since the ANC government took over, the exasperating load had become worse, not better, like chains around their lives.

“Yes, I see you do know,” Ramaphosa smiles, “Well it has  given us the opportunity to bring back into the cabinet a man almost everybody admires who should have been president instead of Zuma – Kgalema Motlanthe.”

“Yeah!” calls a voice from the back, “about time!” People begin clapping until Ramaphosa raises his hands again for quiet.

“Okay, now you have him and you have a man with the the mental energy and determination to stamp out the drastic incompetence and wildfire corruption that runs through that department from top to bottom. This is one area that will see more heads rolling than balls into a Bafana goal.

“Most of you who have met him now him as an always fair man who has gone out of his way to be kind, gentle and  helpful. He demonstrated this amply by working for the ANC since boyhood in Johannesburg, then during his brief terms as deputy president and president. He wasn’t a frontline fighter in the trenches but he risked his life many times ferrying our men in and out of Swaziland until he was caught and sent to Robben Island for ten years.

“Kind and gentle, sure, but behind that is a man as hard as nails which Home Affairs will soon come to realise. He was one of the first to see and decry the rot in the Zuma administration and its drastic deviation from ANC principles. Welcome back from your unnecessary retirement, Kgalema.”

Ramaphosa claps his hands as the well-dressed, bearded veteran of South African politics, now 68 years old and looking remarkably fit, stands up mid-way down the table and half bows to the audience.

“That gives us a core of ten for the Cabinet and not necessarily in order of priority,” says Ramaphosa, “All have one common factor, however, which is urgency.

“We will eventually have a total of 26 ministers against the 35 before and their 39 deputies – most of them there because of patronage at vast salaries, not because we needed them.

“You will see we have radically reduced the number of portfolios to reduce administration and so save time and expense, or because we think they are unnecessary. Do we need ministries for small business development, social development and science and technology when they can be sufficiently catered for under one of our existing ministries? We will help them, naturally, via other departments.

“And bear in mind with each one we can do without, we also dispense with fleets of expensive vehicles and bodyguards and heavy costs in hotels and air transport.

“You might not have noticed we have not retained the ‘Ministry of Women in the Presidency’ which will undoubtedly trigger a huge outcry from the ANC Women’s League. We don’t need a ministry for women. The previous president was surrounded by them all his life as history shows, so much so they ruled him, which is why it existed. Women virtually dominate our lives anyway and we have plenty in the cabinet, so why should they be more equal than the rest of us …” with a grin “… we’ve never had a Ministry of Men.” He pauses amid laughter and some jeers.

“One ministry which is at least as important as the presidency itself although we have not yet made a fuss about it is education. It is in a very serious condition complicated by issues like mother-tongue teaching, fees, a shortage of schools – with no thanks to those so-called ‘protestors’ who keep torching them – and the supply of good textbooks.

“Without education a country cannot uplift itself from the mud of the Middle Ages. There are still countries in Europe, the most advanced part of the world, which have progressed very little from their predecesssors of five centuries ago in spite of the modern trappings of cars and TV and MacDonald’s, as a result of educational neglect.

“It will take us generations to catch up even to the mid-level states of educational evolution in South America and the Far East. You cannot pump ten years of knowledge and the wits to use it into a child in one or two years. It’s a long and sometimes painful haul and we must dedicate all our effort and resources to make sure that our children – your children – will be stand proud and equal when they become adults. Most of you here were lucky enough to get decent educations from private or missionary schools or abroad, or you were simply very bright. Make sure your kids are as fortunate.

“We are keeping this Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor. She is very good but has been shunted around from ministry to ministry so often she has never been able to take hold long enough to make a real difference. She rebuilt the education system when she was minister for several years but unfortunately was shunted out of that job in one of Zuma’s incessant reshuffles.

“There is no question of her integrity or ability and this time we will provide her with the wherewithal and support to turn education into the engine of South Africa.

“Her department will cover both basic and higher education and training and for this she will need a deputy. Higher education – universities and technical and other colleges – can largely look after themselves under supervision, after all they are loaded with well-educated academics. Schools, from primary up, require special attention especially as so many are in the remoter parts of the country where it is difficult to provide them with teachers and services.We want education to be accessible to every child even if their parents cannot afford it. For the time being we will leave her with the present educational deputies, Enver Surty and Mduduzi Manana

“Many of you will think we have overlooked one of the State’s most important services: health. Well we haven’t. With a few exceptions the nation’s health service is itself critically ill for a variety of reasons. With the exception of a few outstanding instances, the State’s hospitals have gone into such serious decline that it is said of some that patients are sicker when they are discharged than when they are admitted.

“There are many reasons for this including the emigration of many of our doctors, the fall in the standards of nurse training, poor hospital management and inadequate technology and maintenance. And also a drop in ethical standards, like people going into nursing not from goodwill but for the money.

“We will devote a great deal of capital to this service, probably more than to defence and education because it serves every one of our fifty five million people.

“The surprise for you is that we have again chosen from the Opposition. Our man is Jack Bloom, who has spoken out so  ferociously in the Gauteng legislature for improvement in health services there and against the lethal serious incompetence and corruption.

“This took a lot of persuasion, believe me, but as I said earlier, this government’s priority is South Africa, not party, and on that principle he agreed. He has been one of the most active and outspoken members of any legislature in the country.

“Now, for some others. Our new man for labour is the one who knows more about it than anyone else because his influence was the strongest in setting up the trade unions as a force in our lives. The Minister of Labour will be Zwelinzima Vavi. You all know him or about him so I don’t have to go into his background in detail. Let me simply say he was railroaded out of Cosatu for something for which far more senior people have received not even a slap on the wrist, not even our ex-president. The knowledge and leadership skills he brings us are profound.

“Our Foreign Affairs Minister is another ANC old guard, a party veteran well schooled with our ways who left us years ago in a dispute over a matter which in today’s light is trivial. He is Mosiuoa Lekota, a true gentleman liked by all. He formed COPE but it has never had real hope of being more than a political mosquito and we are praying that his followers will join him in our ranks.

“We have brought the fishing industry, the source of much conflict and confusion because so many fishermen and bureaucrats kept changing their minds, under the control of our Ministry of the Environment and Fisheries. That’s where it belongs if it is to survive. As you well know we have one of the richest fishing grounds in the world surrounding our country west, south and east and it is being raped by our own poachers and unscrupulous industrial fishermen from abroad.

“With the help of a revised navy that will have a coastguard role we will put a stop to that with heavy penalties. Factory ships operating in our territorial waters could be seized and sold.

“In charge of this ministry will be a woman … yes, another woman … who has kept a low profile, Ayanda Dlodlo. She has been a minister and a deputy minister in various departments and has formidable qualifications in management. Her work previously involved transport, harbours, and security here and in the UK and USA so this will be a complete change of scene and pace, which I’m sure she will find refreshing.

“Tourism will remain under Derek Hanekom. Evidence of his success at this is the enormous increase in our tourism industry in recent years and its continuing growth despite the violence blighting our image abroad.

“My last shock for you today is the Minister of Agriculture. For the same reasons Jack Bloom agreed to work with us, we have taken on board Pieter Mulder of the Freedom Front Plus. They are a right-wing, white and mainly Afrikaner party, but they are very much South Africans and Mulder can always pull out if he and his party so wish. I hope not because if anybody knows anything about profitable farming in South African conditions it is our Afrikaners and a large population of black people depend on them.

”This department’s first duty will be to establish ways and means to help teach our black farmers how to achieve the best results. Both white and black farmers will have to overcome all kinds of prejudices but if they do not succeed, they will die. It is as simple as that. Farmers who resist, or waste land by ill use, will be penalised. Land will be taken away from them.

Rather to Ramaphosa’s surprise, the announcement of Mulder does not cause the uproar he expected. Several people around the table are nodding approval, otherwise the gathering produces only a few murmurs of surprise. Though very small, the calm and practical contributions in Parliamentary debate by the FFPlus party had had significant influence although it was vilified by the majority of black people.

“Our new Minister of Social Welfare is a brilliant woman with a doctorate in administration who is now studying in London for a masters in finance. In her years in Parliament she has chaired two of our standing committees and we couldn’t find a better candidate for the post and to clean up the costly morass of SASSA. She is Dr. Makhosi Busisiwe Khoza, who has stuck to her guns despite threats against her and her family from the corrupted members of the ANC.

“Her addition raises the level of education, intelligence and experience in our new Cabinet far higher than it was in the old one and far better equipped to deal with our daunting problems.

“We still have to appoint a ministry of art and culture and will include sport in the portfolio, it being very much a part of our wealth of cultures.

“That, ladies and gentlemen, concludes this meeting. The information we have given you is being made public through all the media as we speak so you are free to discuss it in public as much as you wish.

“Having realised the extent of the corruption and mismanagement eroding our nation and begun rooting it out, we hope with our new Cabinet to make a fresh start towards a new South Africa that will strive for the highest standards of efficiency and accountability. I know those are just words, but we mean it. Without an integrated, inclusive South Africa where each helps the other and respects their special characteristics, we will not survive.

“God bless you all, and good luck.”




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THE FUTURE SA: where are we going?

The most overworked word in South Africa is “democracy”. We do not have a full democracy. We never have had. It was born a cripple in 1994, half strangled by the umbilical cord “proportional representation”.

For democracy to work it requires a fairly sophisticated, preferably homogeneous community aware of the alternatives such as dictatorship, sovereignity and oligarchy and who accept that democracy, while not perfect, is the best governing system available. And it demands a commitment by the great majority of that community to the basic tenets of democracy: government “of, by and for” all the people, without ethnic or class distinctions and with tolerance of minority views (according to the OED).

We have some trappings of democracy like baubles on a Christmas tree that might fool the casual observer into assuming it’s real. But the architects of our constitution did manage to instal, thank God, a few elements of democracy that have saved us so far from the rapid slide into dictatorship and chaos that has characterised almost all of Africa’s previous conversions from colonialism to independence.

One is a right which singularly distinguishes South Africa from all but two other countries in Africa: freedom of speech. Though how long that may last is open to question; more about it later. For now it is this freedom above all which has kept us out of the clutches of dictatorship or oligarchy and just above the level of Zimbabwe.

Another, of course, is the system of local government elections which we have just seen in action – the only level at which a voter may vote directly for an individual as his choice of ward councillor, and even so each ward has to have a proportional councillor as well. National and provincial elections both give proportional representation, enabling the winning party to appoint whoever the hell it wants to any constituency it pleases. Voters may never have seen or heard of their rep, and often never do again.

The Public Protector is a post our ANC constitutional designers must deeply regret creating – just as they must regret appointing Thuli Madonsela to the job because it is her personal integrity, energy and intelligence that have made it so powerful a force. Seldom have so many owed so much to one person. It is chiefly the combination of her work and freedom of speech that have saved our bacon up to now.

The judiciary must be as great a disappointment to them. The justice bureacracy is crumbling at almost every level from the police and prisons and the lowliest prosecutors up to magistrates courts, many of which are ill-equipped for their work, all bogged in backlogs.

The high courts, however, have applied the law with honesty and few aberrations. And contrary to ANC expectations the highest, the Constitutional Court, has set its independence and its impartiality firmly in concrete. Judges go by the book, not politics.

These three things, more than any other, have saved South Africa from “Africanisation”.

Without full freedom of speech Thuli Madonsela’s findings on Nkhandla might never have seen the light of day. In just about every other African state her report would have been suppressed – referred to endless committees, heavily edited, or simply shelved. The Mail and Guardian may never have been able to publish the exposure of Nkhandla which led to the Public Protector’s investigation.

The Opposition in Parliament would have been futile, emasculated, unreported, just part of the rubber stamp. The government could have to violently stamped out public protest, and killed any reports. Elections would have been a joke.

The mass of corruption and mismanagement that free speech has revealed here is overwhelming, hundreds of cases from rapacious mayors of villages to the gigantic US$4.8 billion arms deal and the current row over Eskom’s alleged purchase of inferior coal from the Guptas.

So pervasive has it become that it is the biggest growth industry in South Africa and getting bigger as the hyaenas target the Treasury and the State-owned enterprises. We have become so accustomed to it we take it for granted. It is simply too much for the average individual to absorb.

In every respect the country is decaying`. Violent crime is so commonplace most of it goes unreported by the media. Murder, rape, cash-in-transit robbery, hijacking, gang warfare, drug trading – everything has increased frighteningly since our “independence”. People have to look after themselves. Our police force is a joke; at least the apartheid police were efficient albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Our once extensive and well-run infrastructure of First World standards is falling apart: Eskom, the SAA, the Land Bank, Transnet, every day some new disaster in the media – usually accompanied by a flood of government lies, excuses and pure arrogance.

But all that is well known.

The most alarming feature of our national life now does not get the attention it deserves. It is the incredible impunity with which the perpetrators, including Cabinet ministers and top officials, simply flout the law. They blandly ignore judgements or bog them down in endless court actions (at taxpayers’ expense), divert legal process with “investigations” and commissions, tangle it in specious charges, find scapegoats or swing political axes.

This is the great weakness of our “democracy”: it has no bite. It has teeth but getting the authorities to use them is like asking the sheep to bite the jackal. Examples: the dropping of 783 criminal charges against Zuma, the clumsy attempts by the Hawks to politically discredit Gordhan, the reinstatement of Dudu Myeni as SAA board chair, the re-appointment of the disgraced Hlaudi Motsoeneng as COO of the SABC.

A benign dictatorship or an oligarchy are arguably better forms of government than a democracy powerless to enforce its own rules. Our continent, however, is crammed with examples of how one-man or clique-rule does not work.

In more than forty years of reporting from the time of the first “dompas” burnings in Pretoria in 1950 I have watched black African countries emerge from colonialism like crocodiles from a swamp, starting with Ghana on March 6, 1957, and culminating with South Africa in 1994.

Britain, France, Belgium and Spain (which held a tiny mainland territory plus an island now known jointly as Equatorial Guinea) dished out independence as hurriedly as they could, like school certificates.

Only two original democracies have survived, those of Botswana and Namibia although, ironically, in Ghana it is showing signs of revival almost fifty years after the depredations of the tyrannical Kwame Nkrumah.

Africa’s new leaders twisted democracy into dictatorship by bending the rules of trust and consensus that make it what it is. Or they simply seized power with panga and gun. All still claim to be democracies. In the two Congos this is a sick joke – neither is a country but an unrealistic, random aggregation of disparate ethnic groups barely advanced from their condition of five centuries ago, beset by war, starvation and disease.

Some can make claim to benign dictatorship, like Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni who gained power through rebellion and has survived three dubious elections to hold it for thirty years. His country remains plagued by internal strife, spills of warfare from neighbours and dismal development.

A better example is Senegal’s Leopold Senghor, who became president with independence in 1960 (the same year as the Belgian Congo, which immediately sank into anarchy). He ruled firmly and fairly and its 13 million citizens have enjoyed free elections though without much improvement in their quality of life.

At a third extreme are those leaders who rule with an iron fist while they bleed their countries dry. Topping the list is Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who seized power then won a dubious election this year by an impossible margin. His mini-country is one of Africa’s largest oil producers.

This gives it the biggest per capita income in Africa yet its three quarters of a million people live in appalling poverty. An estimated one in five of the children die before the age of five. The country is strongly suspected of involvement in human trafficking.The president has been accused of cannibalism for ritual purposes.

He pockets virtually all the oil income. His son periodically comes to Cape Town to splurge on new cars and other luxuries.

Another dictator is Angola’s João dos Santos who diverted its huge oil revenues into his daughter’s foreign bank accounts. The quality of life of Angolans has not improved since the civil war ended there. Now with oil prices down he pleads for international aid.

The world knows all this but shrugs it off … “That’s Africa”. Almost no news emerges from Angola or Equatorial Guinea because media cannot survive there. There is no free speech.

At another extreme are Botswana, much lauded as Africa’s most democratic state, and Namibia.

Botswana is wealthy thanks to diamonds, large scale cattle ranching, tourism and minerals. Gaborone, the capital, buzzes with business. Outside the cities and towns there are still pockets of poverty and there is controversy over treatment of ethnic minorities but the overall quality of life is reasonably good.

Wealth is in the hands of an elite, some in government. A few cattle barons dominate ranching. The diamond industry is controlled by companies like Debswana owned half-and-half by De Beers and the government. Tourism is largely controlled by a clique of operators.

Democracy works, thanks to the firm foundations laid by first president Sir Seretse Khama and his successor Quett Masire, and is internationally rated as the most vigorous in Africa. Seretse’s son Ian now rules.

Even there the media, most State-owned, must tread warily. They are vigorous and sometimes outspoken but the government heavily favours its own publications. Privately-owned media have to be circumspect or suffer withdrawal of official advertising, loss of access to information, harrassment and pressure.

Namibia is  similar though not as wealthy and there, too, media must be circumspect. At 19 on the international rankings list of press freedom it ranks higher than Botswana –– which in turn ranks higher than South Africa.

Why all this background, you may ask at this point? We all know South Africa is rotting and the rest of Africa is a mess.

The reason is to confront you with a question most South Africans seem reluctant to think of: where are we heading?

One thing is absolutely certain: we are never going back to the heady days when whites were pampered and non-whites were oppressed but the country worked, trains ran on time, potholes were filled, SAA made money, our road network was one of the best in the world and the economy ran smooth and strong.

So where will we be in the African spectrum by the end of next year? I set that date because I don’t agree with the perennial optimists and professional soothsayers who say everything will be okay, will come right, it will just take a few years for the new rulers to settle down, stop the rot and learn to run the country.

I give us one year, give or take a few months, because of the rate at which pressure is building between multiple economic and political forces.

I doubt it will be later than the end of 2017 before South Africa’s future direction becomes clearer. I don’t think we will ever go the extreme of Equatorial Guinea but Zuma’s money-grabbing patronomy is so rapidly dragging us into the pit of darkness that we could be committed to the Zimbabwe or Angola route by then.

And there is the possibility, faint but too ghastly not to contemplate, of national civil strife: mob violence swelling into anarchy, police and armed forces ill-equipped (and too unreliable) to cope, a mass flight of capital and maybe people.

The scenario for the very near future seems fairly clear though nothing is ever certain in politics. It is a major internal split in the African National Congress with the slowly expanding body of pragmatists – those who recognise the sterility of the party’s moribund socialism –  forming a power group of their own in opposition to the anachronistic old guard. The split may be internal, which is the most likely with the ANC congress coming up next year and a general election in 2019, or it could be messily external.

A clear, irreversible internal division would spell major ideological and economic change of direction for the ANC should the pragmatists take the lead. It would enable the ANC to stand ostensibly united to win the 2019 general election even if the pragmatists manage to oust Zuma as summarily as his supporters ousted Thabo Mbeki in mid-presidential stream.

Such change would carry the ANC and country in safety through my 2017 deadline and point us towards what I regard as the middle range of Africa’s present governments, something akin to those of Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Ghana, Malawi and Morocco. All are oligarchies which go through the motions of democracy yet deviously cling to power – except Morocco, which is ruled by a powerful monarch with an elected parliament.

What they have in common is relatively benign rule although they are autocratic and tend to come down harshly on outspoken individuals and media. The ANC is already trying to go this way: note its Internal Censorship Bill aka “Film and Publications Amendment Bill”, and the comments of Lumko Mtimde, chief executive officer of the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA, at a conference on print media held, ironically, at the Voortrekker monument:

Of the self-regulation system that exists now, he said the time for talking about media transformation was over.

“We cannot continue talking. The current system, led by respected former judges, cannot be fair as the judges are funded and housed by the media industry. It still does not have teeth,” he said, adding that the worst sanction for newspapers under the current “pseudo-coregulation” was an apology.

Muzzling free speech will be Priority Number One for an internally revised ANC. It is only free speech, specifically the media, which has exposed the depth and breadth of corruption in the government despite their desperate ducking and diving and even extra-legal attempts to avoid it.

This is not to detract one whit from the principles and bravery of those many individuals who knew what was happening and spoke up, even if they did so anonymously because there are elements in the ANC who unhesitatingly resort to violence to shut up their opponents.

None of those would have been heard for long, or been heard at all, had it not been for a dwindling handful of professional journalists (I use that title advisedly these days) and media like the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Business Day, Noseweek, BizNews, Politicsweb, the Daily Maverick, GroundUp, News24 and some others who published what they said. And who also dug at some risk into the polluted landfill that government has become to see what has been buried.

In this respect South Africa has proved itself to have freedom of speech more solidly than even vaunted Namibia and Botswana.

Do not delude yourself (should there be a shake-up inside the ANC) that everything will come right overnignt, or within a month, or even a year. The ramifications of a new, pragmatic ANC will be extensive.

It will take months for the pragmatists to identify the huge army of Zuma’s beneficiaries from the Cabinet down to the lowliest in the civil service. Then more months to expunge the useless and replace them with loyal and above all competent people.

That approach, already being strongly hinted at, involves an almost 180-degree turn towards capitalism and away from the dead end of old Marxist-style socialism. ANC realists both inside government and outside have accepted that socialism brings no investment and that it is far easier to make lots of money from capitalism, even honestly, without stripping the Treasury. That’s how the world works and there are no better examples than Russia and China.

It won’t be easy. How do you continue to pay welfare to some 16 million people every month and save money? Take it away and you will lose votes. But if they win the 2019 election the new boys will have five years in which to start compensating for big welfare cuts, including the creation of jobs through foreign investment. Paying single mothers R150 a month per child is possibly a bigger cause of pregnancies than (as our sage Minister of Health says) unprotected sex.

Undoubtedly there will be deafening protest from many quarters like the ANC Women’s League, its Youth League, the free educationists, the communists (though they are a spent force), most trade unions, the incomprehensible Dr Lwazi Siyabonga Lushaba of UCT and other leftist academics, and a flock of people and organisations that have flourished on the government’s largesse.

I think that in a short time they will be outshouted by the difficult to measure but patently very large body of South Africans who are thoroughly fed up with what is happening now. As the benefits of pragmatism begin to show protest will diminish but never vanish. Even communists like money.

The protest will very likely involve violence by people such as those trying to destroy the universities they need. This will be a crucial crunch point for the new boys in power. How do they stop or control protest? How much can they rely on the police?

It will be difficult. Violent protest is so commonplace many people believe it is acceptable. It isn’t, of course; our constitution does not permit to people to assert their rights by disrupting the rights of other people. They can’t afford another Marikana.

Assuming a reformed and still unified ANC can retain control during the rocky transition from today’s near-anarchy to rational rule, the role of the media will become more important than ever. Unlike the rest of crippled Africa, they have the backing of an entrenched and enforceable constitution.

Pragmatists they might be but the new leaders cannot change their morals like they change shirts and the scourge of corruption will continue. So will the competition between the greedy and the media.

If division in the ANC goes external, we will see a new party on the political battlefield, the New African National Congress or Azanians or something like that. It would open up a whole new kaleidoscope of possibilities: coalitions, election alliances, floor crossings galore, much anguish within a DA trying to adapt, the death of some of the fringe parties like Cope, and (unless they can adapt) the disappearance into limbo at last of some stubborn old guards like Mantashe and Nzimande. Both are already anti-Zuma but they may not be able to stomach so drastic a change in ANC policy.

It could be a healthy evolution, opening the way for some rational administration to dismantle such prime obstacles to foreign investment as BEE, threats of nationalisation and State ownership of enterprises. If it achieves a measure of stability with able, respected people in charge, we can expect a flood of foreign investment.

On the other hand it could trigger serious conflicts between the diehards of the traditional ANC, the new progressives, the rampant youth with no respect for law, loyalist elements within the police and defence force, our giant criminal element … and tribes.

Civil war? No. I do not foresee the kind of massive tribal and ideological conflict that tore apart countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the old Belgian Congo), the Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Nigeria and Biafra, Somalia and Rwanda and Burundi among others.

By a lucky twist of colonial history we have a fairly balanced mix of peoples and policies with no single group dominating the rest or in a geographical or political position to do so. Ten million Zulus, the biggest and most militant group, are mostly in one region (and seem to be increasingly disenchanted with their Zulu president).

The politically vigorous Xhosas are in no position physically or otherwise to dominate. Sotho/Tswana people are not aggressive. None of the others – Shangaan, Pedi, Khoi, San, Coloured, European, Indian, Venda, Swazi, Ndebele, etc – have either the ability or the inclination to try for power.

But some violence will be inevitable in the event of external division. The question is how much, how widespread and how containable. There will likely be uprisings for a variety of reasons, many generated or aggravated by the present regime trying desperately to hang on.    The accumulation of explosive grievances is very large.

Among them are the terrible frustrations of the huge number of jobless, one of the highest in the world, which forces many to turn to crime; the lack of services as more and more cram into urban areas; the soaring cost of basic foodstuffs; the chaotic education and health systems, spilling more youth on the streets; the crumbling public transport; the expanding gulf between haves and have-nots.

The general frustration over the long list of unfulfilled promises, rising costs and crumbling services affects everybody. Protests over all sorts of complaints are spreading daily, beginning to seriously disrupt the lives of folk trying to go about their normal lives and could be the genesis of nationwide upheaval. They expose a remarkable reluctance or inability of the athorities to curb what is becoming near-anarchy, maybe a fear caused by what happened at Marikana.

The turmoil a major split of the ANC into two or more factions coule trigger is not possible to gauge. The only certainty is that it could do serious damage to the entire nation and therefore should be avoided. This is not to suggest the ANC should be supported, more practically that the pressure of public persuasion, which seems to be having some effect already, should be increased, the screws turned harder.

My view of the likeliest scenario is that the ANC leadership will metamorphose within the next year or so from a guerilla movement into a political party. Thereafter we will begin moving roughly in the direction of Kenya or Ghana and possibly (if we can retain our constitution with a few modifications, like ditching proportional representation and curbing presidential powers) we could surpass Namibia and Botswana.

It won’t be anything like the Nationalists’ “good old South Africa” but it will be prosperous, peaceful and perfectly liveable. Then perhaps one day we will be able to travel without fear of potholes or hijackers, see fewer desperate people begging for jobs and handouts at stoplights, go to sleep knowing the police will react fast if called, and see in action a Parliament which does not make South Africans cringe with embarrassment.

That is provided the media maintain and raise their pressure against corruption, for competence and above all for constant accountability. The politicians’ determination to conceal their actions won’t just go away – it will probably increase.

That’s one hell of a load to place on the shoulders of a media family struggling to survive financially and to find real journalists, not activists and semi-literates. They cannot avoid it, however. Free speech is the foundation of democracy.


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Iconoclasts. From BizNews.

I’ll say it again: I am not an Afrikaner. I am not a European. I am not an Englishman. Nor am I a Zulu, Koi, Venda, Xhosa, Tswana or any other insular racial group. Yet all of those are part of me and I am part of them because I too am African.
I am a South African, white because of genes, history and geography. I am exceedingly proud of all those things that comprise the ephemeral though very real South African character: its entrancing peoples, its superb environment, its tangled history. Together they make a unique nation rich with diversity, creativity, cultures and achievements.
But with dwindling hope. Our national body is being ravaged by a lethal resurgence of the cancer we hoped we had killed or at least sent into remission with the 1994 general election. It is racism, ironically now being deliberately resuscitated by some of the very people who were its target during the 42 wasted years of apartheid – those whose skins are not white, among them some of today’s most influential and powerful leaders.
I have been watching with growing dismay for months as these fellow countrymen I depend upon, instead of celebrating and promoting all of our society, are systematically trying to destroy vital elements of it purely for political power and the financial gains they get with it.
They attack anything to do with our past and present that is not specifically black. Shaka murdered many thousands but he is great. Helen Suzman murdered nobody and fought for the lives of millions but she is scorned, both as white and Jewish. Nor are brown and coloured people spared from this racist tirade.
In short if it’s black it’s good; if it’s not, it’s bad. It is a crude, blind, self-destructive election ploy devised by our so-called “national” leaders suddenly panicked by the prospect of losing votes in the coming local government elections.
The first real manifestation of this insanity was in March last year when a 30-year-old township fanatic named Chimani Maxwele threw excrement over the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, asserting that a monument to the sometimes ruthless coloniser was an insult to blacks. Maxwele was not a total nonentity: five years earlier he gave the finger to a Zuma blue-light motorcade, was arrested then exonerated when he exercised his right to free speech.
Granted, Rhodes was a greedy, ruthlessly ambitious, unconscionable capitalist but he is ineradicably a part of our history, no less than the equally ambitious and ruthless Dingiswayo and Shaka.
Granted also that the statue of him at the University of Cape Town was perchance sited where it could offend black students. But to express disapproval by drenching it in human faeces is an exercise in disgust which should rightly earn its practitioners expulsion from the civilised community.
That was only a beginning. It spread rapidly to other universities: Wits, Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Western Cape, University of the North, Rhodes. It grew excrementa1ly, at some the ordure orgy was repeated.
The trend raises the question whether such people are psychologically equipped to fit into ordinary society. It is not merely pointless but profoundly stupid, the actions of youths whose immaturity makes them unfit for university and to become politicians who would be disastrous in the seats of power.
It expanded into the ridiculous demands for all Rhodes links to be eradicated at Oriel college, Oxford, then Cambridge and then, weirdly, the universities of Edinburgh and California – all sensibly rejected. This was followed by some lunatic and rightly ignored extremes such as removing Jan van Riebeeck’s statue.
Next will come a campaign for the destruction of the Rhodes Memorial and a name changes for Rhodes University and Rhodes scholarships (although the source of the funds will not be questioned).
Nobody – not even university heads like Max Price – appears to have made the point that without our historical giants there would be no South Africa. And without Rhodes scholars the world would be a worse place.
Like it or not, it was largely Rhodes’ manipulations which led via the Boer War to the birth of South Africa. Taking his excision from our past to an illogical conclusion would see the fanatics destroying the Voortrekker Monument and statues of Jan Smuts, Louis Botha and other notables right back to those of Jan van Riebeeck. Plus what the fanatics make full use of today, from the Union Buildings, Durban docks and the wheatlands to the railroads and highways linking everything.
Britain is full of statues of past figures who would have been jailed today for what they did, among them such notables as Henry VIII, Cromwell and Richard 111. Nobody wants to knock them down or hide them, they are part of life. The same goes for many other countries.
The entire wreck-and-ruin campaign may have been engineered in the hidden chambers of ANC power. But it seems more likely to have been the brainwave of a handful of student activists seeking infamy and fortune and then seized upon by politicians like Tony Ehrenreich and Marius Fransman who were fast losing influence in the DA-dominated Western Cape.
Most distressing is the ferocious attack on all things Afrikaans, most conspicuously the University of Stellenbosch. Now the ANC Youth League – not a body noted for its rationality or objectivity – is trying to make the university ungovernable to shake up what it says is embedded Afrikaner culture.
It accuses the university of “anti-transformation” practices and incidents of racism. If so there are more positive ways of correction than deliberately wrecking the stability of a renowned high-class pillar of education.
And why should Afrikaner culture not be embedded there? It is, after all, an Afrikaner institution initially created to raise the calibre of Afrikaner society up to international levels and preserve Afrikaner culture, and now it serves everybody. A model perhaps for others to follow.
Every modern democracy has institutions specifically serving the interests of specific cultural, ethnic, religious and other groups and they respect each others’ right to exist.
The university’s right to be a fundamentally Afrikaans institution is no different to that many Cabinet ministers claim while demanding protection and advancement for their own home languages and cultures. If our our youthful bigots dislike the environment there, they have a broad choice of other universities.
This ISIS-like form of iconoclasm is breeding precisely what icons like Mandela and Tutu set out to crush in our newly free nation: racism. It is diametrically contrary to the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is an extremist tactic by a menacingly growing group driven by the ANC to gain political popularity and power regardless of the damage they do in the process, supported by self-seeking non-entities like Ehrenreich and Fransman
They cannot wipe out history but in trying they can cause gulfs of estrangement and enmity that will bedevil our society for generations.
In their obsessive drive to impose their control the destroyers of the past forget that during the 42 years of apartheid Afrikaners were among its strongest opponents. Most of our leading minds were Afrikaners: Louis Botha, Jan Smuts, Jannie Hofmeyr, Beyers Naude, Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, Sol Plaatjies … the list is very long.
Our rebellious students need mental disciplining, to be taught that the way to earn a respected place in society and history is by treating their fellow countrymen with respect, not by hurling ordure.
In our so-called democracy (it has not yet earned that status and risks losing it altogether) the government is supposed to be protecting the majority against minorities. To win its democratic spurs it should put a stop to this nonsense and reverse the trend before its momentum becomes too strong to stop.


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Kill poaching


It beggars belief that a government which has wasted billions on pointless weaponry, a grossly inflated bureaucracy, an obscene volume of graft, and excessive perks for its politicians, is unable to stop a handful of poachers from wiping out its small population of rhinos.
Yes, it has beefed up the National Parks Board with more rangers, a couple of helicopters and drone spotter aircraft commanded by an experienced ex-army general. But this is spitting into the wind.
It has a large, inexperienced, not very well trained and mostly idle army sitting on its backside except for a few shunted north allegedly to help bring peace in a couple of African states nobody cares about because they will go on tearing themselves to pieces regardless. Even them it cannot equip properly, although the army does thoughtfully provide camouflaged condoms.
The government can take several actions immediately which will not instantly stop but will dramatically reduce the level of poaching.
One is to redeploy its armed forces along the borders the poachers cross, from Mozambique into the Kruger Park and Northern Natal. They should be instructed to treat poachers as they would terrorists and use lethal force against them, including hot pursuit across the border if necessary.
Anti-poaching forces in the Kruger Park should operate freely on the Mozambique side – to hell with territorial protocols. This IS, after all, a single “transfrontier” park and in principle its wildlife belongs to both nations, therefore its rangers must have the right to function freely on both sides.
The Mozambique authorities do nothing. There is not a single live rhino on their side. Their Frelimo troops sit on their butts. The poachers live in high style in villages around the park fringes, their new 4X4s parked outside their huts. They are tough men, excellent in the bush, and they know the risks in poaching.
They should be chased out of their villages, their vehicles and guns impounded, and arrested if found in possession of wildlife products.
Conservationists say the kill rate of over two each day is fast approaching the point where it will overtake the birth rate. We have little more than 20000 white and just over 5000 black rhino left in South Africa, which has about 85 per cent of Africa’s rhinos.
Tests have been made by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife with injecting poisonous, easily seen dyes into live rhinos’ horns which would make anyone using the end product – powdered horn sniffed up like snuff or tasted or taken in food – “extremely sick”.
Why not make the poison lethal? Vietnam and China and those other countries which use rhino horn in some ridiculous, meaningless “tradition” have huge populations and can afford to spare a few to make the point. No matter how many treaties South Africa and Vietnam make against the use of rhino horn, they will have no effect. Suicide by rhino, however, is unlikely to become a popular new tradition.
I bet that if poachers started taking some of the highly valued nguni cattle from the million-rand kraal at Nkandla the entire South African Defence Force would be there within a week, blasting away.


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Fracking facts

November, 2012
Debate in the media about the issue of fracking for natural gas in the Karoo has waned considerably since the Cabinet lifted the moratorium on September 7, giving the impression that its opponents may have lost steam. This would be a great pity because the environmental threat is larger than most people realise. The Mineral Resources Minister, Susan Shabangu, has said that if fracking harms water sources it will be stopped, and if it endangers the Square Kilometre Array project, it might be stopped, but given the government’s record of intransigence once the ANC sets its mind on a profitable venture, she leaves small reason for hope.

Trying to learn more about fracking and its effects, I met a professional based in Britain who has a lifetime of experience in energy exploration and described in greater detail than I have seen before the severity of the damage it does to the environment, especially one as delicate as the Karoo’s. Because of his sensitive position in the energy industry I cannot give his name but I can vouch for him and the detail he describes is sufficient confirmation of his authority. The most chilling fact to emerge is that the exploration for gas will do more damage than its actual extraction.This is an old driller’s perspective of shale gas drilling operations there:

“At the time of writing there are no active land rigs exploring for oil and gas in South Africa, but this is about to change, attendees were informed at the late October 2012 IADC (International Association of Drilling Contractors) Drilling Africa Conference, held in Lisbon, Portugal.

“They were also told that shale exploration in the Karoo and surrounding regions is anticipated to drive a demand for up to sixty land drilling rigs in South Africa by 2016, making South Africa one of the epicentres of land drilling activity on the African continent. Neither PetroSA nor Sasol owns land rigs capable of drilling to the required depths. So this represents a great opportunity for US and European rig contractors, manufacturers and oil service companies. It has also attracted a growing interest from the Chinese who want to have a presence and participate in the Karoo shale gas bonanza.

“Pre-drilling – Rig site construction:
Before the drilling of a single well can start a ‘rig site pad’ has to be constructed. The pad consists of an area of approximately 100 meters x 150 meters which is cleared, levelled and compacted to take the load and mass of the rig’s sub structure, derrick, mud pump, mud tanks, engines, generator hoses, fuel tanks, water tanks, drill pipe, well casing and the chemicals used to mix the drilling mud. When the rig is operating, despite the rig crew’s best intentions, spills of fuel and chemicals will occur and these could leach into the ground and can reach the water table.

“Workers’ accommodation:
Portable camps will be required to house each rig’s 30-40 workers. The construction of each of these camps involves the levelling of an area of land approximately 100 meter x 100 meter area to house the portable accommodation units. The camp also requires a water source for cooking, shower and and toilet facilities, and a refuse disposal site, which is typically a pit dug away from the camp, where refuse can be burned and buried.

“Water requirements:
Unlocking the hydrocarbons in just one shale gas well requires three million to five million gallons of water to drill from spud to fracture. (equivalent to the contents of 4.5 to 7.5 Olympic size swimming pools). It is anticipated the prohibitive cost and logistics involved in transporting such large volumes of water to the Karoo will result in the Shale Exploration Licence Operator (Shell and other companies), requiring their rig contractors to drill water wells into Karoo aquifer close to their rig sites.

“Following the initial exploration drilling phase, should the commerciality of shale gas concept be proven, as many as 1,000 wells could be drilled to exploit the gas . The drilling and completion of this amount of wells will require 3 billion to 4.5 billion gallons of water (equal to 4,500 to 7,500 Olympic size swimming pools).

“There are different types of hydraulic fracturing treatments, each involving different chemicals and acids and all will have to be treated.  Likewise all of the water used in the drilling and fracking operations can (at a cost) be treated for re-use.  Therefore when it comes to water treatment, it makes perfect environmental sense to use the three R’s (reclaim, recycle and reuse). Water treatment is primarily the removal of suspended solids and saline treatment. Saline, a product of old sea water embedded in the shale, can no longer be said to be untreatable, as there are now existing methods to treat saline flow back water and saline tolerant additives are available.

“Sadly, history shows that oil companies and their drilling contractors do not always prioritise protecting the environment ahead of economics, so it is important that water treatment is addressed in the exploration and development licensing.

“Drilled formation cuttings:
Approximately 350 cubic meters (350 tonnes) of drilled formation cuttings are generated during the drilling phases of a single (3000 meter deep) shale gas well.

“The responsible disposal of drilled cuttings has been an ongoing drilling industry challenge since its inception in the late 1800’s. In countries with poor environmental governance, drilled cuttings are routinely left dumped in open ‘mud and cuttings pits’ where they blight the local landscape.
More responsible Governments require an environmentally responsible approach to the disposal of cuttings.

“Two such methods are:
1. The slurryfication and re-injection of cuttings into dedicated cuttings injection disposal wells. However this is not considered to be a suitable option for the Karoo region as it requires a permeable, usually shallow formation.
2. Land farming the cuttings. This process first involves heat treating the cuttings to sanitise them. The cuttings are then spread to create thick ‘fields of cuttings’. These fields are routinely turned over and treated with chemicals, until over a period of years they degrade to produce ‘soil’ capable of being planted.

“Imagine, if you will, the 350,000 cubic meters of cuttings generated from the drilling of 1,000 commercial gas wells and the mammoth task involved in their safe and environmentally friendly disposal, to avoid creating a very negative impact on the Karoo landscape.

“Exploration drilling risks to the Karoo aquifer:
This is considered by the writer to be more serious than poor fracking practises or leaking casing cement jobs.

“During the drilling of each well’s open hole section and prior to setting the steel casing that will eventually line the well, drilling mud is in constant contact with the formation. And because it is necessary for the safety of the well to maintain a hydrostatic mud column overbalance pressure greater than the formation pressure by using a weighted drilling mud, seepage losses occur into open porous formations (such as the Karoo aquifer) as each is penetrated. These seepage losses (containing chemicals in the mud) continue and only stop only after the open hole section is successfully cased off.

“Equally, but perhaps more dangerous than chemicals seeping into the formation and Karoo aquifer, is the potential transfer into the Karoo aquifer of bacteria colonies known to flourish in every type of drilling mud. This is something that will only become evident years after drilling has stopped.

“For example: the unintentional introduction of bacteria into wells in the Red Sea in Egypt, resulted in later years in wells producing high concentrations of H2S (hydrogen sulphide) where none had existed in the early drilling phase. Hydrogen sulphide is a very corrosive compound potentially fatal to livestock and humans in concentrations above 25 ppm in air.

“Post drilling:
After a well has been completed and the rig is removed from the site, it would be logical to believe the rig site will be returned to it’s original pre-drill state. However, many rig site pads will remain un-rehabilitated, primarily because the Operator presents a convincing argument that the existing rig site may be required for future well work-overs. A work- over is a process involving the re-establishment of a rig over an old, no longer productive or a problem well to recover and replace defective down hole equipment such as leaking packers, gravel packs and corroded tubing strings, and possibly re-fracking the well if this is considered necessary to return it to a producing state.”

This depressing prospect by the British professional is aggravated by other factors in addition to the primary threat of damage to underground water resources.

One is the extent of the problem. The full licences and ancillary licences, if granted, will cover most of the Karoo, a huge area extending from the Southern Cape almost to the Botswana border.

Off the main arterial routes it is sparsely served by secondary tarred roads, most of the network being
gravel roads. These are not designed to cope with the many thousands of journeys heavy, 24-wheel trucks will have to make to carry equipment and materials into the remoter parts of the Karoo and continuously serve the operations. The licensed exploration and exploitation companies will not foot the huge cost of building or maintaining roads, which will fall on our small and already over-burdened body of taxpayers.

Picture the daily flow of traffic for just one exploration well and multiply that by one thousand then imagine the impact this will have on roads, villages, farmers and livelihoods.  The Daily Telegraph reports that in DeWitt County in the US, currently hosting 21 of the rigs in operation at Eagle Ford, the county judge says he is facing a $432m (R3.5 billion) bill for road repairs and upkeep. DeWitt is home to just 20,000 people.

The entire fracking project is motivated by one thing: profit. Not national need, not service to the public, not security … just profit, which the government has already demonstrated it places above all else. If the money that goes into this could be used to develop other energy sources like the sun and the sea, gas would become irrelevant and the Karoo left intact. And we could possibly do without more coal and nuclear power stations.

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The One Week War

  • From the blogsite“Murder Is Everywhere”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

As editor of the Argus Group’s Africa News Service, I and my crew were right in the heart of the One Week War in Mozambique. Here is an eye-witness account of a brief episode in Africa’s murky past

The One Week Wara piece of forgotten history

Covering conflicts in Africa is usually a grubby business in broiling desert or sodden bush trailing after a bunch of disorganised, unruly soldiery along a vague and fluid front line with the distinct possibility of getting one’s head shot off. By either side. Unless one is a member of that fraternity of pseudo-hacks who write their reports from the gossip gleaned in the hotel bar.

Sometimes we got lucky. As in the One Week War in Mozambique. Not a war, really, but a localised rebellion. But no less vicious and bloody than the big ones. And, unusually, it was urban.

In April, 1974, when a group of thoroughly fed up Portuguese officers toppled their dictatorship the shock was felt in several parts of the world but mostly in Southern Africa, where it precipitated massive change.

Right after their coup the junta of Portuguese generals grandly promised “democratic self-determination through negotiation and consultation” with all in their former colonies.

There followed a long hiatus. Internecine fighting erupted in Angola. In Mozambique nothing happened. Everybody waited tensely.

Then five months later, out of the blue, the generals unilaterally announced the Frelimo movement – their former enemies – were the rightful rulers of Mozambique. In five days’ time, at midnight on September 7, they would hand over to a transitional Frelimo government and grant full independence on June 25 the next year.

The turnabout triggered Mozambique’s sad and futile One Week War.

In Lourenço Marques and Beira the reaction by both pro-Frelimo and anti-Frelimo was immediate and dramatic. The pros were mostly blacks with a fair number of whites, mainly students, and the antis were mostly whites with a sprinkling of conservative blacks.

I and my Argus Africa News Service crew were in the perfect position to watch the drama unfold. We had an office with a telex in Lourenço Marques and I always had at least one journalist there, just in case.

Conflict began in September, 1974. It was the strangest I have experienced: drive a few kilometres to watch confrontation, bloodshed and destruction; drive back into the lap of five-star luxury with cocktails, fine wines, gourmet food and rest. Then out again, and so on, and on.

A big Frelimo rally was scheduled for Friday, September 6, and I smelt trouble. I flew to join my staffer, Tom, taking with me Ruphin, a long-haired, bearded Belgian hippy photographer with a flared Edwardian jacket and a pipe exuding smoke so foul it could drop a fly at forty paces. We checked into the Polana hotel, the unofficial contact venue for media and politicians.

Frelimo supporters going to the the big Machava stadium on the outskirts of LM were in no mood to brook interference: a white man with more bravura than brains got himself beaten to death by blacks when he tried to stop them.

By mid-afternoon more than 30 000 people were crammed into it celebrating their imminent independence. They were in a state of high political intoxication. They sang “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika” and other anthems, waved flags and banners and displayed huge posters of Samora Machel.

As an exercise in ideological rhetoric at maximum volume it was peaceful enough: lengthy, boring speeches bellowed through deafening amplifiers.

We headed back to town and then the trouble began.

It is startling yet stimulating to be in at the birth of a revolution, to see it bud as a small incident and flower into full-blown mayhem, like the South American peasant who saw smoke a puff from the earth he was ploughing swell into a towering volcano.

In downtown LM the late afternoon atmosphere was trigger taut. Hardly anybody was working. The sidewalk cafes, restaurants and bars were filled with Portuguese. The subject on every tongue was the Frelimo takeover.

We sat at the Continental sidewalk cafe on the Avenida Republica over tiny cups of strong black coffee and Constantino brandy. All around us locals were drinking and jabbering, most of them men. The air was vibrant with anger.

Streams of cars and trucks passed back and forth, some filled with people flying Frelimo flags. A small saloon car came slowly past full of noisy white students exuberantly waving large Frelimo banners from all the windows and shouting slogans.

It was too much for one young soldier. He pulled off his belt, charged the car and swung the buckle to shatter the windscreen.

The car jerked to a stop. In seconds a wave of shirt-sleeved men rose from sidewalk tables and ran to it, all restraint snapped by the spark of violence. More rushed from the other side of the street. The car and students were surrounded by a bloodthirsty mob seeking outlet for their rage.

They smashed the windows and toppled the car on its side with the terrified students still inside. I was right there next to it shooting with my Leica.

A passing patrol of military policemen stopped and rescued the students. Civil police arrived and tried to control the growing crowd. An officer, Commissioner Fernando Segurado, raised his splayed hand to try to block my lens so I photographed him too. It made the front page.

The mob ignored the police, who gave up and left. Now grown to several hundred, they swirled along the avenida to a building housing two newspapers.

We tried to follow but they became aggressive so we chose discretion over stupidity and went to the fourth-floor rooftop of the Tivoli hotel where we could look right down on them.

They rolled a delivery van on to its roof and overturned two cars. They smashed the newspaper building’s windows and kicked in the glass double door.

Mob violence

As we watched our tame Belgian, Ruphin, casually strolled along the street below us towards the angry citizens, smoking his pipe and taking photos. They began yelling and pointing. A bunch ran up and grabbed him.

Oh God, I thought, Ruphin’s had it, the bloody novice, he’s dead meat. And then, astonishingly, they let him go, brushed him off and waved him on his way. He waved back and ambled on, leaving a trail of tobacco smoke that must have been as bad as teargas.

A few minutes later he arrived on our rooftop. They thought he was a newspaperman, he said, until he explained in French that he was an innocent tourist accidentally caught up in all this fascinating activity. Tourist was a buzzword in LM. They apologised and let him go.

Elsewhere in the city rioters smashed windows and threw petrol bombs into the offices of a magazine and a liberal politician who had already survived an assassination attempt.

That night the tensions exploded into widespread violence. Exuberant mobs of Frelimo supporters roamed the black bairros (suburbs) which almost surrounded the city’s landward side, stoning cars and traders’ shops.

Mobs of hysterical anti-Frelimo protesters plunged other city suburbs into chaos. About a hundred people raided a hostel and offices near the university, whose students were prominent in pro-Frelimo demonstrations. They methodically smashed plate glass windows while soldiers and police watched, then went inside. When everything was wrecked the police and made them leave. There was no doubt whose side they were on.

A dim-witted student shouted “Long live Frelimo!” The mob descended on him with chairs from a nearby sidewalk cafe and would have killed him had a passing army patrol not rescued him.

Some of the mob grabbed the barrels of their automatic rifles and tried to wrest them away. They stopped when the soldiers cocked their guns with ominous clicks.

The most bizarre part of the scene was the spectators: people eating and drinking at cafes and restaurants while they leisurely enjoyed the mayhem. This became characteristic of the rebellion.

When it was over we retired to the exuberant décor of the Polana, sipped salted dogs at its comfortable bar and enjoyed a sumptuous dinner. War was a zillion miles away. It was a tough life.

In the dead of that night some clever rebels managed to elude troops guarding an ammunition dump outside LM and set it on fire. It blew up with a thump felt all over the city.

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on the Polana verandah, we went downtown to watch as noisy cavalcades of cars filled with yelling young right-wingers waving Portuguese flags, led by motorcycles and buzzbikes with horns blaring.

Truckloads of blacks flaunting Frelimo banners passed them going to the Machava stadium for another mass gathering. White men leaped from their cars and tried to rip away the Frelimo flags. The confrontation was about to erupt into violence when traffic police, of all people, stopped it by moving the vehicles on.

The city was grinding to a halt. Water and electricity stopped when gangs stoned city vehicles in the bairros. A general strike by black workers shut down the remaining services and shops. Most whites stayed at home or settled down in a few cafes open for business to watch the fun, but tempers were fraying.

Our newspapers splashed the story all over their front pages, running fresh editions throughout the day. The rebellion struck a powerful chord: thousands of South Africans had holidayed in LM, everybody knew somebody who had been there, Mozambique was right next door to Natal and the Transvaal.


“20 000 Back Frelimo at Giant Rally in LM”


“LM stops work as Frelimo hailed”

“Mobs run amok in LM”


“LM on brink of anarchy”


The handover was due at midnight, September 7, technically ending four centuries of Lisbon rule.

It had no visible effect. After dark trouble spread. In Beira a grenade was tossed into a bank and angry crowds roamed the streets.

In LM a large crowd smashed into the civil prison in the Polana suburb to free about 200 members of the former Portuguese political police who were arrested after the coup. They also released one of South Africa’s most wanted men, the notorious criminal Carlos Rocha.

The prison was not far from the Polana hotel but could have been on another continent as far as the guests were concerned.

It was a strange sight. About a thousand spectators – men, women and children – watched in the pleasant, leafy suburb as the mob leaders tried to talk soldiers into releasing the men. While they talked Rocha somehow tipped off mob leaders from a window that the weakest point was a wooden door near the main door.

To distract the guards the crowd battered and overturned the prison commissioner’s car parked outside and threatened to set the whole prison alight. To back their threat they drove up a large truck and aimed it at the main door.

Others from the crowd went to the door marked by Rocha and rocked it until the lock snapped. They threw it wide and burst into the prison.

Confronting them were rows of soldiers armed with automatic weapons. Here was the recipe for a massacre.

It did not happen because people in the mob happily hugged the soldiers and told them “You can’t shoot us, we are also Portuguese.”

The security policemen fled, most to South Africa where many were taken into our Security Police and various Defence Force units.

By this time we were being run off our feet, trying to follow incidents all over the city almost around the clock. We were living on adrenalin supplemented by Laurentina beer, still in copious supply, thank God.

So I borrowed a reporter and a photographer from The Star and sent them to Beira, the new hotspot.

News of the upheaval brought a flock of foreign correspondents. The locals did not like it. A TV cameraman was punched. A photographer was threatened by angry whites, who backed off they learned he was South African – the Portuguese right-wingers all assumed South Africa was backing them.

Most came by air or road and one by train from the border. He complained that when the train broke down he had to help push it, a first for a British hack going to war.

Those coming by road had to run a gauntlet of blacks enraged by the actions of the whites in LM. Some were stopped by mobs armed with clubs and pangas who banged on the roofs of their cars and made them get out, stole their cigarettes and whisky and let them go reluctantly when they identified themselves as British.

At a road block one watched a black man beside the car sharpening the blade of a large panga on the tarmac. The man glanced up and grinned evilly at him as if he was next on the menu. They saw shops being plundered and fired and a burning car with two dead people in it, presumably whites.

Taxis ceased to run in LM and we needed a car. The Star sent me a Peugeot driven by Deon, a bright young reporter who brought with him a photographer and a couple of other journalists. Approaching LM they were brought to a stop by blacks manning crude road blocks.

Any attempt to barge through would bring certain death. Deon summoned all his persuasive talents and they let him through.

The consumption of liquor in the Polana soared that evening.

Sunday, September 8, saw the haphazard rebellion begin to jell. A collection of right-wingers formed the Movement of Free Mozambique (MFM) and produced their own flag, a concoction of Mozambican and Portuguese symbols.

They seized the large Radio Clube de Moçambique building in the city centre and made it their headquarters, broadcasting a stream of appeals in Portuguese, English and African languages for support. Volunteers armed with a motley assortment of guns self-importantly stood sentry at doors and windows and on the roof.

It was another day of noisy parades and motorcades. Samora Machel warned that if the Portuguese did not squash the MFM Frelimo would resume the guerilla war.

The Portuguese took the threat seriously. They sent heavily armed military police into Beira to disperse 2 000 mainly white demonstrators with teargas. A black policeman was seriously hurt when a grenade exploded on his chest.

In LM happy crowds celebrated outside the Radio Clube. I went in and found a bedlam of waving arms and loud voices as dozens of politicians fought, pleaded and argued for places in power. Taking pictures was banned – nobody wanted to be identified later.

Rebels celebrate

In the tin shanties and grass huts of the bairros on the city outskirts the black population were ominously quiet early on Sunday. We tried to go in but, perhaps fortunately, it was not possible because the Portuguese police and troops were not cooperative.

The airport route was passable, however. Travellers had been driving the few kilometres between airport and city through the Xipamanine/Lagoa area, known as “Grasstown”. We had trekked back and forth several times to send film to Johannesburg.

Tom and I hired one of the few taxis still doing business and asked the driver to go by a familiar back route through a small industrial area parallel to the main airport road. He was a fat, phlegmatic middle-aged Portuguese wearing the usual floppy peaked cap.

The back route was strangely still. Not a soul in sight. All the warehouses and workshops were closed. Half a dozen overturned trucks and cars lay beside the street, some burned out. It looked abandoned, quieter than it should be even on a Sunday. Our driver became nervous and heaved a sigh of relief when we reached the airport, which was busy with activity because a plane was about to leave.

In the parking area a convoy was forming up, a motley collection of cars, bakkies and trucks. Civilians armed with an assortment of firearms from pistols to rifles and shotguns rode on the truck platforms.

Nobody could tell me what was going on, only that the convoy was heading for the city.

Why now, suddenly?


Our cabbie was getting more nervous and Tom was looking anxious. He had not yet experienced much urban violence and the atmosphere was ominous.

There was nothing we could do. The choice was to stay at the airport for God knows how long or join the convoy into town. We tagged on with one or two cars behind us. Just in front of us was a large truck with high side walls. A dozen or more men stood there.

We moved off at the slow pace set by the lead vehicle, forcing our driver to travel in second or third gear. Outside the car park the tarred road narrowed and the reed-and-thatch huts and palms of Grasstown jostled close.

At first there were few signs of life but as we moved deeper into Grasstown more and more black people began to appear on both sides twenty to thirty metres away – men, women and children, all shouting and waving fists at the convoy. Men on the trucks waved flags and shouted insults back.

A few stones sailed through the air towards us.

The men on the lorry ahead reacted instantly. Long barrels suddenly appeared above the side walls. We heard the sharp crackle of rifle fire and the deep thuds of shotgun blasts. The blacks melted away into the long grass and narrow gaps between their huts.

Our cabbie went into panic mode. He began yelling and gesticulating in anger. He glared back at us accusingly, face pale with fear. He pounded the steering wheel but there was not a thing he could do. He dared not leave the convoy, which was occupying the centre of the road. Tom, too, looked as if he wanted to get the hell out of there right now. I saw his eyes widen like saucers at something ahead and looked up.

A couple of corpses lay at the roadside, one a man lying flat on his back, the toes of his shoes pointing skywards, arms at his sides, his head pulped to mush by chunks of concrete lying beside him, blood spreading in a large pool. The other was equally battered.

As we slowly passed about two metres away I ignored the driver screaming Portuguese imprecations and photographed the bodies.

The journey could not have lasted more than ten to 15 minutes. With the adrenalin rush it seemed to zoom by in seconds. When we reached the end, a small police post where the Grasstown ended and the city began, our cab jerked to a stop. The cabbie flung open the rear doors and shouted “Go! Go!”

He did not wait for his money. The old taxi clattered away probably faster than it had ever travelled before.

The convoy was of over-exuberant rebels driving celebratory cavalcades between airport and city and picking off blacks like shooting pigeons. It was like poking a stick into a hornets’ nest.

Blacks erupted from the huts and shanties and fell upon one passing parade. They pelted the vehicles with a hail of stones, dragged out some drivers and beat them up, killing three, including those I saw.

Back at the Polana it was so peaceful it felt surreal writing about the day’s happenings. Next day, Monday, September 9, the airport route was made safe by soldiers.

At that point it was anybody’s guess how long this uprising would last although it was patently doomed to fail. Frelimo was hugely supported in the LM region although it did not yet have military muscle there.

In South Africa hard-core Nationalists were urging the government to support the rebels and so fulfil the old Transvaal Republic’s ambition of controlling LM. Rumours were widespread that Defence Minister P W Botha had moved army units close to the border.

After another day at the frontline we trekked back through time to sup on grilled prawns in hot piri-piri sauce, crayfish and superb steaks washed down with fine Portuguese wines. With all tourists gone the service was overwhelming.

Tuesday, September 10: the Radio Club had become the main gathering place for rebel supporters. The street outside was filled by up to 10 000 cheering men, women and children.

Rumours were flying around that the air force would send Fiat jets to rocket the building.

A Colonel Tavares, commander of the uniformed civil police, drove up to the Radio Clube. The crowd welcomed him, assuming he was coming to support them.

Then came the crunch: a broadcast by the MFM announcing they were handing over the Radio Clube to the civil police.

As the stunning news poured from radios the mood outside changed to anger. When Tavares emerged they focused on him. They rocked his car and he had to put his foot down hard to escape.

Minutes later paratroops backed by armoured vehicles moved slowly up the street. They were stopped by a mob of people yelling insults and calls of “Traitor!” A sky-shouter plane circled low telling people to go home.

Tom and I were watching when suddenly several thunderous blasts shook the air, almost deafening us. They were percussion bombs – thunderflashes – dropped by paratroops from the building to scare away the crowd.

It worked. Most fled like water downhill, urged on by a flurry of shots fired into the air from automatic weapons.

They almost bowled us over and we fled too, just around the corner.

The MFM began leaving the building. Women wept. Most went unobtrusively through a back door. They abandoned an assortment of hastily acquired weapons from shotguns to heavy machine-guns and grenades.

“This is not the end, my friend, it is only the beginning,” an MFM chief told me as he departed.

He was half right. The violence was spreading.

The tension was almost tangible and the danger of a backlash very real. Luckily the army kept their cool. Had just one shot been fired then, by troops or the MFM, the scene could have turned into a bloodbath.

Because it was impossible to get into the black areas without the probability of getting killed we could not personally check conditions there. But there was action aplenty.

Portuguese Air Force men under a Colonel Cardoso led a charge by 300 men from their base on the other side of the airport runway to recapture the terminal and control tower. There was some gunfire in which an MFM man was hit and an unfortunate passenger was shot accidentally as he arrived from Beira. He died in hospital.

All commercial flights to and from South Africa were stopped. Blacks in the bairros blocked the airport road with tree trunks and stones but let African buses through.

Word trickled in about vigilantes hunting blacks in the bairros.

Crazily, in much of downtown LM life began to look almost normal. Some shops, sidewalk cafes and restaurants had reopened.

But then it was a crazy week. We rushed around gathering information, getting near to hotspots, interviewing rebels and Frelimos. After the rush we relaxed at a sidewalk cafe with coffee and with brandy. Some evenings we dined in the Polana, others at a tiny restaurant which served a delicious dish of prawns piri-piri on yellow rice.

It was a comfortable little war.

It peaked on the Tuesday night and early Wednesday amid a flurry of alarms, the beginnings of a panicky flight of civilians from the city and the first grim tally of casualties.

An official announcement said about a hundred people had been killed or wounded. The total was certainly higher: more than a hundred wounded had been treated at the city hospital alone.

Soldiers chased us away when we tried to get into the hospital, where wounded were lying on the floor because all beds were occupied. A doctor said the hospital morgue was crammed.

Troops were struggling to contain mobs of Africans rampaging through the outer suburbs and threatening to spill into the city centre. The city shut up shop again when rumours spread that blacks were planning a mass march of about 2 500 into the centre. White anxiety ran high. Strong forces of police and army backed by armoured cars sealed off the entrances to shanty towns.

Sporadic rifle fire, machine-gun bursts and heavy explosions came from inside the townships but there was still no way we could go in.

Escaping traders said all the schools and shops had been ransacked and destroyed and houses and vehicles burned. Some had lost all they owned. Troops had fired shots in the air to scare off looters. Debris and the hulks of cars and trucks littered the roads.

An army major said the violence was not political: “They are just in a wild mood and completely out of hand.”

I wondered what made the borderline between “wild” and “political” in Africa.

A band of black people marched towards the posh Polana suburb after a vigilante shot dead a black woman. Police and troops supported by an armoured car blocked the road. They warned white onlookers to go away or risk being shot.

I sent Deon in our Peugeot to check. He took with him an Associated Press reporter and a photographer.

They found the marchers and security forces gone. The road blocks of heavy stones had been dismantled. Deon drove on. A little further a crowd of blacks materialised from nowhere. Deon stopped.

A young black offered to escort them in exchange for cigarettes. He warned: “If you see a crowd, give the one-finger Frelimo salute. A two-fingered salute will mean trouble.”

One finger meant one government for Mozambique: Frelimo. Two meant you supported two governments, Frelimo and the rebels, and invited death.

A little further a much larger crowd barred the road. One man brandished an axe. They milled around the car as it was searched. Their leader warned them not to go on, they would be dead already had they been Portuguese, he said.

They turned around in a hurry and then came the shock: all the dismantled roadblocks had been rebuilt. If they had been forced to flee they would have been trapped.

Not a soul was in sight, no troops, no blacks.

Deon, a strong man, hastily got out of the car and heaved aside enough boulders for them to drive through. Nobody appeared, nobody tried to stop them. They could feel the hair rising on the backs of their necks.

That night Joaquim Chissano, deputy to Machel, broadcast an appeal for calm, aimed especially at blacks. He added a warning to Portuguese hotheads that they were outnumbered.

Next day, September 11, the violence continued. A senior police officer emerged from the townships, still shaking from shock and fatigue, to announce that the toll of killed, stabbed and beaten had risen to two hundred.

Three other events marked that day. One was the arrival of the first Portuguese High Commissioner, Rear Admiral Victor Crespo. Few diplomats have begun their assignments in more difficult circumstances.

The second was the arrival in two frigates and by plane of Portuguese troops. By now the army was pretty much in control of most of the city. Casualty figures fluctuated wildly. No-one will ever know how many bodies were left in unmarked graves in the urban jungle.

The third event was a trick borrowed by the authorities from the old guard dictators: censorship. They cut all telecommunication links from LM to the world. Phones were dead. Telexes could not link with any others. The city became an information island.

It sent the large force of foreign correspondents into a major flap. How could they justify their existence, and their expenses, if they could not feed the hungry readers? They debated all sorts of plans and in the end several decided that one of them would carry all their copy to South Africa and there file it to the various destinations. It was a long and dangerous trip followed by the tedious business of dictating copy by phone or laboriously punching it on to telex.

We too went into shock when we found ourselves with deaf and dumb telex machines. Hoping the blackout was temporary we punched up our copy on telex tapes to run them through the moment the lines opened. We waited and waited, becoming more agitated with each minute.

And then the inimitable staffer running the Salisbury bureau, John, came to the rescue. Our telex suddenly clattered into life with a message from him. We could file our copy via a link he had set up with the post office in Beira.

The link, I learned later, was a girl in the post office there, one of his amorous conquests. When he heard of the blackout he contacted her by phone because Beira had not been cut off entirely. Never have so many owed so much to one screw.

We fed our tapes into our machine and the copy was relayed straight through Beira to Salisbury to our South African papers in time for deadlines.

It was something of a scoop and they emblazoned our reports on the front pages. We were way ahead of everybody; our opposition carried hardly a word.

It was a tough day. We slaved to meet edition after edition. After sunset we prowled the murky Indian market to exchange our rands for six to eight times more than the official rate to keep our operation going.

It was dark when Tom, Deon and I drove back to the Polana thirsting for a beer or three and supper. As we walked through the foyer past the porter’s desk and into the huge main lounge, several score frustrated newsmen rose to their feet and descended on us. They had heard our reports being quoted by South African radio, how did we get the news out?

Deon and Tom on either side of me looked at each other and grinned. They broke into a soft-shoe shuffle, side to side, arms akimbo, and burst into song.

“We are the boys of the ANS,

“The ANS boys are we,

“We are the boys of the ANS,

“We all work for Wilf Nussey!”

The news mob dissolved in laughter. It as a great moment for me.

The next day tension began to ease as both sides ran out of steam. Hunger and the Portuguese forces tightened their grip. The authorities lifted the censorship and our phone and direct telex lines came back to life.

By Friday, September 13, the One Week War was all over bar the shouting. Remonstration replaced demonstration. To put the final nail in the coffin of rebel hopes an East African Airways plane arrived from Nairobi with 70 Frelimo troops – the first tangible, visible mark of the Frelimo takeover. Soon after them came another Portuguese frigate loaded this time with Frelimos, making 200 in all. They carried well-worn AK-47s.

Here was the nightmare of most Mozambican whites come to life: the hated, despised and feared Frelimo guerillas, the perpetrators of atrocities, the vanguard of black nationalism, taking over their country and property.

The guerillas obviously were under strict orders to behave and not to provoke. They appeared in the streets, diplomatically outside the city centre used mostly by whites, followed by small bands of hero-worshipping black children.

Admiral Crespo held his first news conference. There would be no reprisals, he promised. Combined Frelimo and Portuguese patrols were keeping the peace.

But the mass exodus of whites had begun. It was led by seven leading former secret police officers and their families who were flown back to Portugal from Beira in an air force transport. At least one never made it: Francisco “Frank the Ugly” Langa, “The Butcher of Machava” and one of the most feared interrogators, was caught and killed by rioters.

There were some quirky final touches. Daniel Roxo, the militant spokesman for the MFM, died two years later in Namibia helping the South African forces, Carlos “Ginger Joe” Rocha, the criminal who escaped break, gave himself up. Life on the run in the new Mozambique was not quite as nice as in prison, he said.

Thereafter it was just bits and pieces for us. A last feature summed it up: “One young soldier angrily swinging the buckle on the end of his army belt has triggered an explosion of violence, hate and fear that has changed Mozambique forever and drawn open the curtains on a blindingly uncertain future.

“The old, easy-going Mozambique of wine and sun and prawns piri-piri in an antiquated Portuguese colonial atmosphere has been eradicated by a dramatic week.”

Nothing had changed at the Polana hotel yet, except its guests. Seated at the next table at our last lunch were a large, fat, dark-complexioned man in a badly cut, three-piece black suit that looked bullet-proof, a large, fat, dark-complexioned woman in a similar suit and a six o-clock shadow matching her husband’s, and two children who could have been cloned from them. They said little and we could not understand a word.

They were Bulgarians. The Soviet bloc had sent him to teach the Mozambicans how to grow, of all things, mealies.

© Wilf Nussey


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