AN HON­OURABLE, GEN­TLE POLITI­CIAN

Zola Sk­weyiya cared deeply about the ANC and was pas­sion­ate about look­ing af­ter the vul­ner­a­ble

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - – Rapule Tabane

Zola Sk­weyiya might not have been as dra­matic as other out­spo­ken ANC party lead­ers, but he spoke his mind hon­estly, espe­cially about the is­sues he cared about. He cared deeply about the party and he was pas­sion­ate about the task the gov­ern­ment had given him to look af­ter the most vul­ner­a­ble in so­ci­ety who rely on grants.

I ac­com­pa­nied him in the early 2000s, with then deputy pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, to an im­bizo in the Free State.

In a town­ship out­side Man­gaung, while vis­it­ing house­holds door to door, Sk­weyiya walked into the home of a deaf-and-mute per­son whose dis­abil­ity grant had been stopped os­ten­si­bly be­cause the pro­vin­cial so­cial depart­ment wanted him to come and “prove” that he still qual­i­fied for the grant.

This out­raged Sk­weyiya who told gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials on the spot to make sure the man’s dis­abil­ity grant was re­stored. “What proof must this man pro­vide that he is dis­abled?” he asked in ex­as­per­a­tion. Of­fi­cials scram­bled im­me­di­ately to cor­rect the anom­aly.

When I met him for an in­ter­view in 2008 Sk­weyiya told me Zuma had as­sured him that Zuma would serve only one term as pres­i­dent and then al­low some­one else to take over. This was a year af­ter Zuma won the ANC pres­i­dency over Thabo Mbeki at the Polok­wane con­fer­ence.

But tellingly, Sk­weyiya was much more keen to talk about a sub­ject that was not part of the in­ter­view. He talked about how the so­cial grants were reach­ing more peo­ple than be­fore, mak­ing a dif­fer­ence so that not one fam­ily went to bed with noth­ing to eat.

But he also em­pha­sised it was not fair to ex­pect the gov­ern­ment to look af­ter ev­ery sin­gle in­di­vid­ual. He told me how he had been to his ru­ral home, only to be dis­ap­pointed that lots of land in the ru­ral areas was ly­ing fal­low and peo­ple were not tilling it.

“It breaks my heart to see peo­ple strug­gle so much. There are things that peo­ple can do for them­selves.”

Born in the East­ern Cape, Sk­weyiya joined the ANC in Lusaka in 1965 af­ter hav­ing been a stu­dent ac­tivist at the Uni­ver­sity of Fort Hare. He was sent to the Ger­man Demo­cratic Repub­lic to study law, where later he ob­tained an LLD (doc­tor of law) de­gree from the Uni­ver­sity of Leipzig.

On com­ple­tion he was em­ployed by the ANC in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties that re­quired his le­gal acu­men. Fours years af­ter his re­turn from ex­ile, he be­came an MP in 1994 and was ap­pointed min­is­ter of public ser­vice and ad­min­is­tra­tion from 1994 to 1999.

Af­ter that then pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki de­ployed him as min­is­ter of so­cial de­vel­op­ment for 10 years. He was re­spon­si­ble for grow­ing the num­bers of cit­i­zens the gov­ern­ment looks af­ter with so­cial grants.

Sk­weyiya was elected on to the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, but he never pro­jected him­self for any lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

Although he ini­tially got along with Zuma, he would later ex­press mis­giv­ings about the former pres­i­dent. In our in­ter­view, while I worked for the Mail & Guardian, he told me Zuma had as­sured him that he would make way for then deputy pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe af­ter serv­ing only one term as pres­i­dent. Mot­lanthe was re­moved as deputy pres­i­dent at the 2012 elec­tive con­fer­ence in Man­gaung.

Sk­weyiya said he had raised con­cerns with the ANC when Zuma first told him in 2006 that Zuma in­tended stand­ing for the party’s pres­i­dency.

“I said we must be care­ful that other eth­nic groups must also feel that they can pro­duce lead­ers. We should man­age our af­fairs to en­sure the Ngu­nis should not be the only ones lead­ing the ANC.

“I feel strongly that we have not solved the na­tional ques­tion – not just be­tween whites and blacks, but among our­selves as Africans. I know this is not a pop­u­lar view, but it’s a fact. So I pointed this out to JZ and he as­sured me; he said no prob­lem, he would run for only one term. He said he had spo­ken to Kgalema [Mot­lanthe] to take over af­ter him.”

But Zuma did have an­other term and flatly de­nied he had ever made such an as­sur­ance. In re­cent years Sk­weyiya was part of the ANC vet­er­ans who were quite crit­i­cal of Zuma’s style of lead­er­ship and the en­demic cor­rup­tion and wanted him to re­sign.

When he died, Sk­weyiya was no longer oc­cu­py­ing any po­si­tions in gov­ern­ment or in the party.

Sk­weyiya was born on April 14 1942. Yes­ter­day would have been his birth­day.

Then min­is­ter of so­cial de­vel­op­ment Zola Sk­weyiya al­ways had the in­ter­ests of those who looked up to gov­ern­ment to sur­vive at heart – and he wanted them to be taken care of

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