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
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