For­mer spy boss spills the beans

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By CAIPHUS KGOSANA

● Jazz has been the con­stant sound­track to Vusi Mav­im­bela’s revo­lu­tion.

Miles Davis, Fred­die Hub­bard, Di­nah Wash­ing­ton, John Coltrane, Brook Ben­ton, Win­ston Mankunku Ngozi and Miriam Makeba all ac­com­pa­nied him through var­i­ous stages of his life — high school, univer­sity (al­beit briefly) and ex­ile; as a free­dom fighter, spy, po­lit­i­cal ad­viser and diplo­mat.

His first en­counter with jazz was in 1970 as a fresh­man at Vry­heid High School in north­ern KwaZulu-Natal. The school had a large num­ber of stu­dents from Jo­han­nes­burg and Mav­im­bela, a young lad from Bhekuzulu town­ship, just out­side the small town of Vry­heid, was “smacked be­tween the eyes by a cul­ture I had not ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore”.

In his mem­oir, Time is Not The Mea­sure, Mav­im­bela de­scribes how the big-city boys were some­thing of an enigma.

“They were able to dis­cuss in­tel­li­gently a wide range of top­ics that those of us from small towns and ru­ral back­grounds could not,” he writes.

“They had seen movies we had not seen. They had seen stage plays we had only read about. They were en­light­ened and po­lit­i­cally con­sci­en­tised. They had been to Or­lando Sta­dium and watched Or­lando Pi­rates, Kaizer Chiefs and Moroka Swal­lows.”

The two presidents

Jazz and pol­i­tics be­came his first loves.

He im­mersed him­self in mu­sic, read­ing ex­ten­sively about the lives of jazz mu­si­cians, about their con­nec­tion to slav­ery and the civil rights move­ment; and com­par­ing that to his own ex­pe­ri­ence in apartheid SA. The mu­sic would have a ma­jor im­pact on his fu­ture choices.

Mav­im­bela, known in ANC and govern­ment cir­cles by his nom de guerre, Klaus Maphepha, is some­thing of a closed book to most South Africans.

But this is a man who has had front-row seats to two pres­i­den­cies which de­fined much of our postapartheid po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

From 1994 to 1999, he was the po­lit­i­cal ad­viser in the of­fice of deputy pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki.

From Oc­to­ber 1999 to November 2004, he was di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Agency (NIA). Fol­low­ing a brief spell work­ing in the pri­vate sec­tor for Tokyo Sexwale’s Mve­laphanda Group as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Mav­im­bela re­turned to high of­fice in 2009 as di­rec­tor-gen­eral in the first pres­i­dency of Ja­cob Zuma.

Now SA’s am­bas­sador to Egypt, he tells the Sun­day Times from the foyer of the Gar­den Court ho­tel in Hat­field, Tsh­wane, that the book had long been in the back of his mind. His erst­while col­leagues and com­rades at the NIA were the first to plant the seed when he left the spy agency in 2004.

“They gave me a replica of a book with NIA colours, and they said, ‘We are giv­ing you this book but it’s blank in­side. We want you to fill up the pages. That’s the big­gest gift you can give to us af­ter de­part­ing, to write your story.’ The ti­tle of the empty book is Klaus Maphepha: The Jour­ney of a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary by Vusi Mav­im­bela.”

It would take an­other 12 years be­fore he could sit down and start writ­ing — just af­ter he left Zim­babwe, where he had been am­bas­sador since 2011, for Egypt — but the end prod­uct is a thrill a minute. Apart from track­ing his fas­ci­nat­ing life jour­ney, the book is thor­oughly hon­est in its crit­i­cal re­flec­tion of what went wrong, first un­der Mbeki and then un­der Zuma, and how the ANC lost its way.

The first re­sis­tance

In the open­ing chap­ter of Time is Not The Mea­sure, Mav­im­bela re­counts an en­counter with his mother, which per­haps was the be­gin­ning of his po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing.

It was a Sun­day morn­ing and, as usual, the fam­ily was pre­par­ing to start their day wor­ship­ping at the lo­cal NG Kerk. But the thought of go­ing to the im­pos­ing red struc­ture, which Mav­im­bela de­scribes as “a gar­gan­tuan bird keeping watch over the sprawl­ing town­ship”, gave him sleep­less nights.

When his mother no­ticed that he was not in his Sun­day best, she seethed with anger. Real­is­ing that he was risk­ing a se­vere scold­ing, even a pos­si­ble hid­ing, he none­the­less plucked up the courage to rebel against the church and its di­vided setup.

“That white Afrikaner min­is­ter stays in town with his white fam­ily, where you and your black chil­dren are not al­lowed to get a house.

“We’re con­fined against our will to this ac­cursed town­ship, with no de­cent liveli­hood. Per­haps the only de­cent thing white peo­ple have given us is that church build­ing. Should we not ask our­selves the ques­tion: why is it so im­por­tant for the white man that this black town­ship has a de­cent Dutch Re­formed Church build­ing and noth­ing else? Be­sides, Mama, why are we pro­hib­ited from wor­ship­ping in the white church in town?”

Things were never the same af­ter that con­ver­sa­tion. He never set foot again in that church, and the sub­ject was never raised in his home again.

Fol­low­ing a brief spell at the Univer­sity of Zu­l­u­land, Mav­im­bela skipped the coun­try in 1976, de­spon­dent at the con­di­tions and treat­ment re­ceived at the On­goye cam­pus. He boarded a train to Swazi­land and snuck across the bor­der, then made his way to Mozam­bique to join the ANC in ex­ile. Among the group that fi­nally ar­rived at an ANC camp af­ter the June 16 up­ris­ings was struggle icon Solomon Mahlangu, who would be sen­tenced to death and ex­e­cuted by the govern­ment in 1979.

Young and po­lit­i­cally naïve, the group en­vis­aged re­ceiv­ing quick mil­i­tary train­ing be­fore be­ing sent back to SA to fight “the Bo­ers”.

Why is it so im­por­tant for the white man that this black town­ship has a de­cent church and noth­ing else?

“When we got there we were very im­pa­tient with the lead­er­ship.

“‘Why are you peo­ple sit­ting here? Man­dela is rot­ting in jail. We want guns, we want to go back’,” he says they told the en­voy whom the ANC had dis­patched to meet and de­brief them — one Ja­cob Zuma.

His po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary train­ing in An­gola, the for­mer Soviet Union and Ger­man So­cial­ist Re­pub­lic (East Ger­many) were in­stru­men­tal in re­shap­ing the young man’s view of the armed struggle and why it was not prac­ti­cal to just pick up au­to­matic ri­fles and head back to South Africa to con­front “the Bo­ers”.

Sto­ries from the in­side

This re­al­ity be­came im­por­tant to­wards the lat­ter days of apartheid, when the ANC was hold­ing se­cret talks with en­voys of the apartheid regime. Mav­im­bela, by then an ANC in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive ac­tive in Swazi­land, was con­vinced that a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment was bet­ter than star­ing down the bar­rel of the en­emy’s gun.

There were two schools of thought within the lib­er­a­tion move­ment. One wanted to give ne­go­ti­a­tions a chance; the other felt the apartheid regime could not be trusted and that the armed struggle had to con­tinue.

In an­other chap­ter, Mav­im­bela re­counts a meet­ing in Lusaka, Zam­bia, of the po­lit­i­cal mil­i­tary coun­cil (PMC) — a struc­ture of the ANC re­spon­si­ble for car­ry­ing out po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary war­fare.

It took place on the day for­mer pres­i­dent FW de Klerk gave his fa­mous speech un­ban­ning the ANC and other lib­er­a­tion move­ments, and an­nounc­ing his in­ten­tion to free Man­dela from prison.

Mav­im­bela pro­vided ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port to the PMC, and when word of De Klerk’s wa­ter­shed ad­dress ar­rived, he re­mem­bers how Chris Hani was adamant that the an­nounce­ment was not go­ing to change their strat­egy to­wards the apartheid govern­ment.

This led to an ex­change with an­other se­nior party fig­ure, Josiah Jele, who felt De Klerk was in­tro­duc­ing a dynamic that ne­ces­si­tated a com­plete change in ap­proach by the ex­iled lib­er­a­tion move­ment.

In the end, it took a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment to end apartheid. But did the ANC com­pro­mise too much?

“No,” he says. What the ANC failed to do was use the ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity it had in par­lia­ment, es­pe­cially af­ter the 1999 and 2004 elec­tions, to ef­fect the rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion it sud­denly claims to cham­pion now that its ma­jor­ity is wan­ing.

“At one point we had an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment and we sat on it and didn’t do any­thing. Now that we are tee­ter­ing [on the brink], we want to do what we could have done back in the day.”

Mav­im­bela was Mbeki’s eyes and ears in power, both as ad­viser and, later, spy chief.

But were they afraid to tell him he was wrong on Aids, on Zim­babwe? Couldn’t they have reined him in much ear­lier?

It was dif­fi­cult, Mav­im­bela sighs, be­cause once Mbeki was set on a spe­cific view it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to ad­vise him other­wise.

“When he de­cides some­thing is right, it’s very dif­fi­cult to move him … He’s got this ten­dency to push his po­si­tion to the bit­ter end if he be­lieves that’s the cor­rect way. Whereas, as a leader, in as much as you need to be de­ci­sive, you must al­ways try to ac­com­mo­date other views or even try to find a com­pro­mise to take things for­ward, rather than ‘It’s my way or the high­way’ .”

Mbeki was also con­vinced that Zuma was not the right per­son to suc­ceed him and tried to pre­vent his as­cen­dancy.

Mav­im­bela says Mbeki told him just be­fore his own in­au­gu­ra­tion in 1999 that he was un­com­fort­able hav­ing Zuma as his deputy.

“He felt Zuma lacked ca­pac­ity. But he needed a good rea­son not to ap­point Zuma. Mbeki said to me that un­der Zuma's lead­er­ship, cor­rup­tion would be in­sti­tu­tion­alised and be­come nor­mal in govern­ment and the ANC.”

Dis­ap­point­ments and des­tiny

And how did they re­spond to Mbeki’s no­tion that he should anoint his own suc­ces­sor, know­ing the dan­ger it posed to the ANC?

“What we said to him was, ‘What­ever you do or say it must never be in­ter­preted that you are try­ing to in­flu­ence the out­come. If there is an in­di­ca­tion of that, that is go­ing to cre­ate prob­lems within the ANC.’ Zuma was pop­u­lar and that was go­ing to di­vide the move­ment.”

In the end, Zuma’s pres­i­dency turned out as pre­dicted. Cor­rup­tion was in­sti­tu­tion­alised, state in­sti­tu­tions were dec­i­mated and the rul­ing al­liance brought to the brink.

How dis­ap­pointed is he in both men, and how much did their po­lit­i­cal brinkman­ship cost the ANC?

“We were a dif­fer­ent ANC when we fought. We de­liv­ered po­lit­i­cal lib­er­a­tion. What hap­pened sub­se­quently is not what we wanted to see hap­pen­ing. In a way, we are all hurt about it and we have been dis­ap­pointed by some of the lead­ers and what they have done,” Mav­im­bela re­flects.

For now, he will go back to serv­ing his coun­try as a diplo­mat, but wants to be ac­tively in­volved in the mod­erni­sa­tion of the ANC, which he ad­mits never fully tran­si­tioned from a lib­er­a­tion move­ment to a gov­ern­ing party.

“The ANC will have to change, it will have to mod­ernise, it can’t con­tinue as a na­tional lib­er­a­tion move­ment. We can’t con­tinue with demo­cratic cen­tral­ism when we are a par­lia­men­tary party.”

But what­ever hap­pens be­tween diplo­macy and pol­i­tics, jazz will for­ever re­main a wel­come es­cape.

The ANC de­liv­ered lib­er­a­tion. What hap­pened sub­se­quently is not what we wanted to see hap­pen­ing

Pic­tures: Alon Skuy

Vusi Mav­im­bela de­vel­oped a love of jazz in high school, and took it with him through his long in­volve­ment in the lib­er­a­tion move­ment and beyond.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.