‘I had to step beyond my ethical bounds’
Former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool says the ANC needs a 10-year plan to win back the province
“I used that opportunity to create outpouring opportunities for people. We decided to place Mandela’s statue outside the embassy, where the first anti-apartheid civil rights activists were arrested.”
Rasool said Obama might have had unrealistic expectations of his presidency.
“If President Obama were to think back over his term as president of the US, he should not only have regrets about what he could have done, but he would realise the limitations of his powers.
“If Congress hates you because you are black, you will not get anything done. If you cannot manage the executive authority over how blacks are treated, or even issue a decree on a simple self-evident issue of gun violence, then what is your presidency about?”
Rasool said the world was becoming polarised between ultra-left and ultra-right.
“You can’t look at Donald Trump without looking at Bernie Sanders. On the one side there is this visceral racism and intolerance, the idea that a black president has taken our country away from us, and that we are being overrun by the other.
“Trump has been able to get away with pressing the hot buttons of bigotry and with the vague promise of making America great again, which could easily be making America white again.
“That is a global phenomenon, because we live in an era where money, goods, capital, technology flow in an instant, but the moment people display the same mobility, we don’t know what to do with them. But there are young people who are saying the world can be different, we can live inclusively and we can coexist.”
Rasool said his most difficult task in the US had been explaining the Marikana massacre.
“The coalition of black trade unions was horrified that in post-apartheid South Africa 35 people could be shot dead.
“They convened a meeting of Trans-Africa and all the greats of the anti-apartheid struggle and penned a devastating letter. If that letter ever saw the light of day, it would be the greatest vote of no-confidence in democratic South Africa from people who fought in the trenches for our freedom.
“Out of courtesy to me, they came to see me as a delegation. They said they wanted to read me a letter that they were going to send to President Jacob Zuma and then release to the media. I read that letter and I thought, whatever the aberrations in South Africa, we can’t afford this to be the epitaph to be written on our gravestone.
“I asked them not to send the letter and in return I would organise a memorial service in Washington for the victims of the Marikana massacre where they could say what they wanted to say. At the memorial, we mourned the loss of innocence in South Africa. But by that time, they had tempered their language.
“There are ways of representing your country in tragic moments.
“You can do the perfunctory thing, issue the statement, justifying it, swearing allegiance and make as if nothing has gone wrong, blame everything on the workers – or you can simply be honest.”
Rasool believes the ANC in the Western Cape is in a worse condition now than when he was its leader.
“In 2008 my approval rating as premier was at about 62 percent, and the ANC government’s approval rate in the Western Cape was at 53 percent.
“It is sad that the ANC could muster only 30 percent in the last election, below what we got in 1994. We are fighting for our life, we are caught up in the identity politics that I thought we had left behind in 1994. We are mired in controversy, allegations of corruption and of unethical behaviour.
“Whether I would have been able to make a difference is another matter.”
He believes the ANC would have to implement a 10-year programme to win back the Western Cape.
“We must set ourselves at least another 10-year time frame from this election and we must do the hard yards again, like we did between 1994 and 2004. You cannot get the confidence of the province if you cannot build unity in the ANC. You can’t project an image of non-racialism if you are fragmented racially within the ANC.”
Rasool said national politics were impacting on local government elections.
“If you are spending an election campaign defending, you are never getting the opportunity to advance.
“When I go to mosque, I have to spend the first 10 minutes explaining what went wrong. For activists who have to canvass door to door, it is fear-inspiring to meet only scepticism.”
Asked whether he would consider a comeback, he said he remained a “political animal” and an ANC member.
“There will always be something that I will have to be grateful for to the ANC, but because of all those experiences, I also have the obligation to say things in the gentlest, most intelligent ways when I see things are wrong.”
Former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool in front of his residence at Leeuwenhof in 2005.
Rasool greets then-deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.