The joke’s on us af­ter Zuma ap­points a yes man

CityPress - - Voice & Ca­reers - Ra­pule Ta­bane voices@city­press.co.za

In 1986, a young hot­head re­turned to Khut­song near Car­letonville on the West Rand af­ter he was ex­pelled from Bethel High School near Ven­ters­dorp for po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. He may have been a short, skinny youth, but he made a big im­pact on his re­turn home.

He was en­rolled at the lo­cal Badirile High School and im­me­di­ately set about spread­ing the mes­sage of lib­er­a­tion pol­i­tics.

He also con­vened night meet­ings at which um­rab­ulo (po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions) took place.

Over time, the school drew the at­ten­tion of the SA De­fence Force and po­lice as they rou­tinely sur­rounded it, closed off all en­trances and ex­its and went from class to class search­ing for “trou­ble­mak­ers” like Des van Rooyen.

Frus­trated at not find­ing their tar­gets, they re­sorted to beat­ing up, ar­rest­ing and tor­tur­ing any sus­pi­cious-look­ing pupils.

Van Rooyen played a role in turn­ing the town­ship from one dom­i­nated by the Aza­nian Stu­dent Move­ment to grad­ual con­trol by the United Demo­cratic Front. He was un­doubt­edly a leader and there were fears that po­lice would kill him if they found him.

There were many ur­ban leg­ends about him. One was that apartheid troops would swarm into his fam­ily home look­ing for him. On their way into the yard, they would meet a skinny boy on his way out and ask him about Des’ where­abouts.

Aware that they did not know what he looked like, he would tell them Des was in­side the house and would es­cape.

Van Rooyen was a Scar­let Pim­per­nel, ad­mired by com­rades and face­less to the po­lice. But af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of the state of emer­gency in 1986, he was even­tu­ally found and de­tained with­out trial for a year. He went into ex­ile in the 1980s, re­turned as an Umkhonto weSizwe sol­dier and joined the in­te­grated SA Na­tional De­fence Force in the early 1990s.

After a few years he re­signed and be­came ac­tive in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, serv­ing as a ward coun­cil­lor. After serv­ing in sev­eral port­fo­lios, which in­cluded be­ing a fi­nance mem­ber of the may­oral com­mit­tee, he be­came mayor af­ter the ANC got rid of the in­cum­bent, Ellen Ma­bile, in 2003.

In the build-up to the 2006 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, na­tional gov­ern­ment de­cided to change lo­cal gov­ern­ment bound­aries and re­move the Mer­a­fong mu­nic­i­pal­ity from Gaut­eng and in­cor­po­rate it into North West.

The de­ci­sion was im­ple­mented by gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Syd­ney Mufamadi, but re­quired the buy-in of the lo­cal lead­er­ship.

Van Rooyen later in­sisted he had op­posed the de­ci­sion, but his ac­tions sug­gested he sup­ported the move to North West. He tried to ra­tio­nalise the move with the com­mu­nity, but res­i­dents turned against him and other ANC lead­ers who were seen as sell­outs.

He was chased out of the town­ship, his fam­ily home was burnt and dis­man­tled. Now there is an empty stand where the house once stood.

When na­tional gov­ern­ment, sup­ported by the lo­cal ANC, stood firm and re­fused to re­verse the de­ci­sion, res­i­dents be­came more vi­o­lent, burn­ing more homes and gov­ern­ment struc­tures such as the lo­cal li­brary and mu­nic­i­pal of­fices.

My younger sis­ter, then a novice in pol­i­tics, was close to Van Rooyen. She was caught up in the furore and our fam­ily home was set on fire.

Halfway through his term in 2009, the ANC re­de­ployed Van Rooyen to Par­lia­ment be­cause he had lost cred­i­bil­ity in Mer­a­fong.

The ANC also felt he had paid the price in de­fence of the party and de­served sup­port.

My con­cern about Van Rooyen is that be­cause he was able to turn against his own peo­ple to en­force an un­pop­u­lar ANC de­ci­sion, we have rea­son to worry about his in­de­pen­dence and his mal­leabil­ity. Can we trust him with our fi­nances? He al­lowed the town­ship to burn and peo­ple’s lives to be de­stroyed as he re­mained loyal to the party cause.

He placed his ca­reer in the ANC ahead of the peo­ple he was sup­posed to serve.

For the few months that Mer­a­fong fell un­der North West, he was re­warded with a po­si­tion as chair­per­son of the SA Lo­cal Govern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion in North West.

He went on to be­come an MP and has now landed the plum post of fi­nance min­is­ter.

I go along with the the­ory that the only rea­son Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma over­looked all 80 mem­bers of the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee and the serv­ing deputy fi­nance min­is­ter, and went for an ob­scure MP for such a cru­cial po­si­tion, was to ex­er­cise con­trol over him. With no po­lit­i­cal clout and back­ing of key al­liance struc­tures, ex­cept the Umkhonto weSizwe Veter­ans’ As­so­ci­a­tion, our new fi­nance min­is­ter is un­likely to stand his ground and will re­main eter­nally grate­ful to Zuma.

Will he have the gump­tion to say no to busi­ness­peo­ple who have close links to the pres­i­dent? Not if it will cost him his job.

Van Rooyen ex­udes con­fi­dence and will grow into the job, but with no back­bone and few prin­ci­ples, he could harm the coun­try with de­ci­sions that are meant to ap­pease Zuma.

Through­out this week I have sensed peo­ple’s pal­pa­ble anger, dis­ap­point­ment and deep con­cern that the pres­i­dent could dis­re­spect us in this way with this ap­point­ment.

Van Rooyen has joined the pres­i­dent in laugh­ing at us.

Des van Rooyen

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