See­ing through the van­ity of life

Let us for­give Pallo Jor­dan and hope­fully in­te­grate him back into our lives one day, but his years of lies and con­ceit will not be for­got­ten, writes Mondli Makhanya

CityPress - - Careers & Voices -

Ev­ery­body has a Pallo Jor­dan mo­ment. And in the past two weeks, they have been re­liv­ing them. Lis­ten­ing to con­ver­sa­tions about the ANC vet­eran, you could have sworn the man was no more and it was now time to rem­i­nisce about the won­der­ful times spent to­gether and the im­pact he had on our lives.

It is not sur­pris­ing. Jor­dan af­fected many lives. In his decades in ANC lead­er­ship, he has never wielded much power. He did not com­mand any de­tach­ments. He was never tipped for top-drawer po­si­tions. The only time he had the au­thor­ity to order peo­ple around was dur­ing his stint in Cabi­net, first as telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter un­der Nel­son Man­dela and then as arts and cul­ture min­is­ter un­der Thabo Mbeki.

Jor­dan’s power resided in his in­tel­lect. It is this that made him un­touch­able and en­abled him to speak his mind on is­sues that his com­rades dared not raise their voices about, like op­pos­ing the SA Com­mu­nist Party’s slav­ish at­tach­ment to the Soviet Union and its dis­pro­por­tion­ate power in the ANC.

He is one of those rare in­di­vid­u­als who can au­thor­i­ta­tively hold his own on any sub­ject – be it his­tory, science, pol­i­tics and even the evo­lu­tion of eat­ing habits of dif­fer­ent na­tions.

Which begs the ques­tion: why did he do it? Why, with that brain power in­side his skull, did he not just get his de­grees in­stead of pre­tend­ing to have them? Why, if he is re­ally so in­tel­li­gent, did it not oc­cur to him that he would get caught even­tu­ally? Why, with all his knowl­edge about the ways of academia, did he in­sist on the high­est ac­co­lade in the world of the ed­u­cated? Why, be­ing a vo­ra­cious con­sumer of me­dia and ad­vo­cate of press free­dom, did he be­lieve he could sup­press the truth when he was even­tu­ally caught out?

Only one man will ever be able to an­swer these ques­tions. In his own time. In the mean­time, we will have to be con­tent with wild spec­u­la­tion. The most con­vinc­ing the­ory, sim­plis­tic as it may seem, points in the di­rec­tion of a child who did not want to dis­ap­point his over­achiev­ing par­ents. Jor­dan is the scion of AC Jor­dan and Phyl­lis Ntan­tala, for­mi­da­ble in­tel­lec­tu­als of the past cen­tury. Pi­o­neer­ing schol­ars and ac­tivists, Jor­dan’s par­ents were forced into exile in the US with a one-way exit visa is­sued by the apartheid govern­ment.

Grow­ing up in exile in the US and the UK, Jor­dan spent a lot of time at uni­ver­si­ties that he claimed he grad­u­ated from, but it is un­clear why he never ob­tained his qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

His in­tel­lect saw him be­come a ris­ing star in the ANC and was given im­por­tant as­sign­ments in Lon­don, Luanda and Lusaka. These were merely around the ar­eas of re­search, writ­ing and pro­pa­ganda. His en­cy­clopaedic knowl­edge en­sured that the ti­tle “Dr” sat well in front of his name. In the world of exile where peo­ple criss-crossed con­ti­nents and dis­ap­peared from each other’s lives for years, no­body would have been able to au­thor­i­ta­tively track each and ev­ery step of a com­rade’s life, so it was easy for him to get away with the de­ceit.

By the time the ANC was un­banned in 1990, Jor­dan had been a mem­ber of the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee for five years. The in­ci­sive dis­cus­sion pa­pers he had au­thored and co-au­thored were es­sen­tial read­ing in exile, the in­ter­nal un­der­ground and in the ranks of the Mass Demo­cratic Move­ment.

Dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tion pe­riod, he was one of the ANC’s most vis­i­ble spokesper­sons and many had or­gasms lis­ten­ing to him ex­plain com­plex con­cepts and out­class­ing Na­tional Party foes.

Although he was widely seen as an in­ef­fec­tive and lazy min­is­ter in the port­fo­lios he served in, he re­mained one of the ANC’s lead­ing in­tel­lec­tual lights and was one of those seen as re­tain­ing the val­ues and prin­ci­ples in his sys­tem.

Hence the pall hang­ing over the na­tion at the fall of the only ANC leader to openly take on Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma on the Nkandla mat­ter and his re­la­tion­ship with the Gupta fam­ily.

Jor­dan’s fall has re­moved from pub­lic life an in­di­vid­ual who “rep­re­sented the high-minded pos­ture of the ANC”.

“We all know what drives the danc­ing man [Zuma]. We all know what drove Mbeki, that false no­tion of be­ing the philoso­pher king who knew ev­ery­thing.

“Pallo rep­re­sented self­less­ness. He had no de­sire for power. Here was a paragon of in­tegrity,” an ANC vet­eran said this week.

In South Africa’s con­spir­acy-ob­sessed dis­course, ques­tions have been asked about who stood to gain from the ex­po­sure of Jor­dan’s de­ceit. Fin­gers have been pointed at Zuma sup­port­ers who have sup­pos­edly been ir­ri­tated by Jor­dan’s out­spo­ken­ness.

In all fair­ness to the mas­ter op­er­a­tor, Zuma could have dealt with Jor­dan a long time ago if he wanted to. But even he would have met fierce op­po­si­tion if he had tried to knife one of the party’s best brains.

Rather than dwell on con­spir­a­cies, South Africans should rather see it for what it is. Even the best among us have clay feet. Jor­dan’s weak­ness was ar­ro­gance and van­ity. He could not see him­self not match­ing up to his par­ents and even be­ing over­taken aca­dem­i­cally by his peers. So he told a huge lie. In this re­spect, he is no dif­fer­ent from Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng, Zandile Tsha­bal­ala and Tem­bakazi Mnyaka, all of whom lied about their qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

We should shy away from mak­ing ex­cuses for him and say­ing that the fact that he did not ben­e­fit ma­te­ri­ally from his lie makes it a bet­ter lie.

As an ANC leader who is sym­pa­thetic to Jor­dan said: “We should not en­cour­age medi­ocrity by say­ing what he did is okay.

“It will af­fect our chil­dren. It will af­fect fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Our kids must not think that get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion is not im­por­tant.”

So yes, let us for­give him and hope­fully one day in­te­grate him back into our lives. But the years of lies and con­ceit can­not be for­got­ten.


CAUGHT Pallo Jor­dan re­signed this week from Par­lia­ment

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