For the first time since his in­el­e­gant fall from grace, the dis­tin­guished Pallo Jor­dan tells Terry Bell what made him live a lie

CityPress - - Front Page - TERRY BELL news@city­

Pallo Jor­dan is con­sid­er­ing a lengthy re­treat from public life fol­low­ing the furore trig­gered by the rev­e­la­tion that he pos­sesses nei­ther a doc­tor­ate nor a univer­sity de­gree. This week the for­mer Cabi­net min­is­ter told City Press: “Now, maybe, I should re­tire from public life and sit it out.”

In the exclusive in­ter­view, Jor­dan spoke mat­ter-of-factly of the tragic cir­cum­stances in which he was first re­ferred to as Dr Jor­dan.

That was in 1982, in a re­port about the let­ter bomb that killed the aca­demic and jour­nal­ist Ruth First in Ma­puto. It ap­peared in the au­thor­i­ta­tive news­let­ter Africa Con­fi­den­tial and noted that “so­cial sci­en­tist Dr Pallo Jor­dan” was also in­jured in the blast.

“I didn’t dis­pute it,” Jor­dan said this week. And the be­lief that he had a doc­tor­ate “de­vel­oped a mo­men­tum of its own”.

Jor­dan ad­mit­ted he was only ever reg­is­tered at one univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin (UW) in the US.

But he at­tended lec­tures at three oth­ers, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT).

While there is no record of him at UCT, he in ef­fect stud­ied there for two years. His fa­ther, AC Jor­dan, was UCT’s first black pro­fes­sor.

Pro­fes­sor Michael Sav­age, re­tired for­mer pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy, con­firmed: “He couldn’t reg­is­ter be­cause of the apartheid reg­u­la­tions, but as stu­dents we used to at­tend some of the same lec­tures.”

Jor­dan said: “I at­tended lec­tures in English, his­tory, com­par­a­tive law and African gov­ern­ment, as well as my fa­ther’s isiXhosa classes.”

In 1963, when his fa­ther took up a post at UW, his fam­ily fol­lowed and Jor­dan reg­is­tered there for a de­gree in his­tory.

How­ever, the au­thor­i­ties in the US re­fused to re­new his stu­dent visa be­cause of his in­volve­ment in anti-Viet­nam War protests and af­ter three years there, and with­out a de­gree, he left for Lon­don in April 1967.

“I ap­plied to Sus­sex Univer­sity and a few oth­ers, but didn’t get ac­cepted,” he said. How­ever, ex­iles in Lon­don were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal fer­ment and, like many young rad­i­cals, Jor­dan would “dropin” over the years on spe­cific lec­tures and sem­i­nars at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics (LSE) and Lon­don’s School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies (Soas).

It was much the same as he had done in Cape Town. “If you sit down in a lec­ture, no­body’s go­ing to ques­tion you or throw you out,” he said.

Jor­dan and a num­ber of other young mem­bers of the newly formed ANC Youth were in­flu­enced by the ideas of Mao Ze­dong and saw them­selves as “ac­tivists among the masses” who dis­par­aged “ivory tow­ers”.

“I wouldn’t say we were anti-aca­demic, but we saw our­selves as be­ing part of, and serv­ing, the peo­ple,” Jor­dan said this week. Prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence “with the peo­ple” was what mat­tered, which was per­haps part of the rea­son he did not re­turn to univer­sity.

Jor­dan worked as a clerk for the Abbey Life in­sur­ance com­pany es­tab­lished by ex­iled South African lawyer Joel Joffe (now a Bri­tish peer, Baron Joffe). His com­pany pro­vided work for South African ex­iles.

Jor­dan also “did odd jobs” in Lon­don un­til the 1976 stu­dent up­ris­ing in South Africa boosted the for­tunes of the ANC. He then be­gan work­ing full time for the move­ment and, the fol­low­ing year, was sent to An­gola to head Ra­dio Free­dom.

“We trans­formed it from be­ing some­thing like the BBC into a vir­tual public meet­ing,” he said.

In­ter­nal ANC pol­i­tics saw him re­moved from Ra­dio Free­dom and trans­ferred first to Lusaka and then Ma­puto as head of re­search. He held this post from 1979 to 1988, build­ing up the ANC ref­er­ence li­brary and work­ing with Ruth First in the Cen­tre for South­ern African Stud­ies at Ed­uardo Mond­lane Univer­sity.

He was across the desk from First when she opened a let­ter bomb on Au­gust 17 1982. She died in­stantly. Jor­dan suf­fered per­ma­nent deaf­ness in one ear, his eye­sight saved only by the wrap­around dark glasses he ha­bit­u­ally wore.

Af­ter this “near-death ex­pe­ri­ence” he was trans­ferred to Lusaka where, less than a year later, he fell foul of the ANC’s se­cu­rity agency, Mbokodo. He was ar­rested, held in what he de­scribes as a “hokkie, a sort of chicken run out­side Lusaka” and in­ter­ro­gated for six weeks.

“I had crit­i­cised the meth­ods they used and they came to get me.”

He was re­leased only af­ter sev­eral se­nior ANC mem­bers heard of his in­car­cer­a­tion and pe­ti­tioned party pres­i­dent OR Tambo.

“The near-death ex­pe­ri­ence in Ma­puto [fol­lowed by] this near-obliv­ion shook me a great deal,” he said. “It showed how frag­ile life is.”

Aware not only of the fragility of life but also of the “reefs and shoals that can cause you to run aground”, he “made a pact with my con­science” that in­cluded the ac­cep­tance of the ti­tle Doc­tor.

“It opens var­i­ous doors, not in terms of mak­ing money, but in terms of your opin­ions be­ing weighed and con­sid­ered worth­while,” he said.

It also gave ac­cess to peo­ple “one did not nor­mally have ac­cess to”. And “Dr Jor­dan” was rarely ques­tioned about where his doc­tor­ate came from. He re­calls only one oc­ca­sion, in 1986, when Amer­i­can aca­demic Thomas Karis posed the ques­tion.

With a grin, Jor­dan said: “Africa Con­fi­den­tial be­stowed it on me.” It was seen as a joke and never fol­lowed up. But the ba­sis of his “Faus­tian pact” — the idea of sell­ing his soul to the devil for the prom­ise of hap­pi­ness — was that he would work where he found him­self in the hope of achiev­ing “free­dom”.

“That was my first ob­jec­tive. If I could at least get there, I could be happy.”

He saw — and still sees — the ANC as the only way to achieve free­dom. It is “a fool’s er­rand” to act out­side of the party and in op­po­si­tion to it.

“We have had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence of eru­dite rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies in search of a move­ment. What­ever its faults, [the ANC] was the only in­stru­ment to make it as far as we did.”

Jor­dan was crit­i­cised for “go­ing public” in sup­port of me­dia free­dom and his op­po­si­tion to the Pro­tec­tion of State In­for­ma­tion Bill. “But [the crit­i­cism] was through an ANC jour­nal and to re­mind the ANC of its own her­itage.”

Though crit­i­cal of many ANC prac­tices, Jor­dan main­tains the party’s poli­cies should not be re­pu­di­ated. He said he re­mained a loyal mem­ber and ten­dered his res­ig­na­tion from Par­lia­ment and party struc­tures when his doc­tor­ate was shown to be nonex­is­tent.

“I tried to save the move­ment em­bar­rass­ment.” He said he felt “ob­vi­ous re­gret at having mis­led a lot of peo­ple: col­leagues, co-work­ers and the public”.

How­ever, “on bal­ance”, he still felt what he did was worth­while: “I have fought for the ob­jec­tive of free­dom and worked for re­con­struc­tion.”

Now, he said, Mephistophe­les (the devil) had come for his soul. He had hoped that a bi­og­ra­pher might one day play that role. But it had come “sooner than I had hoped”, forced by a jour­nal­ist who dis­cov­ered the anom­alies in his CV.

Pallo Jor­dan


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.