‘Make it stop’
Disappointed stalwarts want to become the ANC’s ears to save the movement from further decline
Tiny black, green and gold flags of the onceglorious liberation movement dangle in her ears as Cheryl Carolus speaks with sadness and without pause about the need to save the crisis-stricken ANC. For the 57-year-old Cape Town-born struggle veteran, the ANC needs saving from the clutches of its failed leadership, who have watched the party under President Jacob Zuma limp from one crisis to the next.
It’s a difficult time for the governing party, which is now seen by its elders as a shadow of its former self. The party’s former deputy secretary-general is stepping up with other stalwarts as committed cadres to save it as it rapidly sinks into a pit.
For Carolus, it’s been an exhausting and emotionally taxing week after a string of meetings and public events, during which she followed the same line – voicing unhappiness about developments in the ANC she loves.
Zuma finds himself subject to an inquiry – that he has been ordered to set up – over his potential unethical conduct regarding his association with the Gupta family.
It is a day after the Public Protector’s State of Capture report was released, and Carolus is clear about what the ANC national working committee must do when it meets tomorrow: “They must avoid the mistake of Nkandla and subject the president to the integrity committee.”
This week’s launch of the Save SA campaign, which Carolus is part of, was no mini-reunion of old friends.
The petite Carolus looks far younger than her 57 years. Her gravelly and militant voice is not loud enough for some of the grey-haired ANC elders gathered at Thursday’s press conference at St George’s Anglican Church in Parktown to hear.
In the church’s lush green garden, Carolus asks: “Why don’t you speak to the others...” – as if begging for a reprieve. My insistence prompts a curious but humble “Why me?” before she gives in.
Carolus says they were there to express their disappointment at the direction the ANC was taking, a day after the release of Thuli Madonsela’s report, which has left Zuma’s future uncertain.
They want the party to give them a chance to start a listening campaign, similar to one she and other stalwarts undertook before 1994, when they sought views from people on what to negotiate for in the Constitution.
“With humility, the leadership travelled the length and breadth and listened with respect. The Constitution is a humble document that speaks to the needs of our people. Today, our leaders say we must discuss things behind closed doors. This is counter to what the ANC stood for,” she says.
Carolus and party elders – including Rivonia Trialists Ahmed Kathrada and Andrew Mlangeni, as well as Frank Chikane – want to take over the listening campaign because they don’t trust the ANC any more.
“Every time they go to our people, they don’t listen to the leadership, they scold them,” she says.
Carolus and the elders have endorsed the Save SA campaign, which staged a march in Pretoria, demanding an end to corruption under Zuma’s leadership.
“The national working committee must also subject Zuma to the integrity committee. We wait as members. This presents them with a real moment and an opportunity to act in accordance with the ANC’s own constitution and policies,” she says.
She laughs out loud after being asked what she does outside of the world of politics. She cooks, runs and goes out in the wild to relax in her limited free time.
“I read books, cook – oh I love cooking for family and friends, but I’m not the kind of person you should expect to cook for you each and every night,” she giggles.
“I love classical music and jazz, and I run. Oh, maybe a big thing I do – I love nature. I’m quite a green activist. I love spending time in natural beauty, so we do lots of hiking and walking in the mountains.”
Carolus is a committee member of the World Wildlife Fund.
She has a day job as an executive at a company, working with three other women she refers to as “fellow travellers”.
Two thirds of the money they make gets ring-fenced into a trust and invested in fixing public schools, working with government and districts – as part of an initiative in partnership with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Adopt-A-School Foundation.
The little good that does get done in the world is perhaps what encourages her to speak out and act against the wrongs in society.
Like many in the country, she and the more than 100 stalwarts who wrote an open letter asking for a meeting with Zuma, whom they accuse of bringing the party into disrepute, have had enough of the wrongs in the ANC and are ready for this important task.
Carolus says those who died in the struggle “must be turning in their graves” after the ANC lost key metros such as Nelson Mandela Bay in August’s local government elections due to the ANC’s arrogance.
“There are lots of us who are doing good and a few who are capturing our country. I owe it to the good men and women in the county to make it stop,” she says.
STEPPING UP Cheryl Carolus at the 101 stalwarts press conference at St George’s Anglican Church Sakumzi the clown
Jonas Mulamuleli holds an anti-Zuma poster