Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils says he asked former president Thabo Mbeki to contest for the role of African National Congress (ANC) president in the lead up to the party’s Polokwane conference in an attempt to stop President Jacob Zuma from taking over the position.
He made the comments last night at metalworkers’ union Numsa’s Vincent Mabuyakhulu conference centre during the launch of his book, A Simple Man – which focused on his relationship with Zuma during the 80s while in exile.
"It’s not that I went out [to] proclaim Mbeki a saviour, but it was certainly to oppose Zuma," Kasrils told the audience.
He said there was nothing wrong with asking Mbeki to run for a third term in the party as nothing in the ANC’s constitution barred him from such, while he could only serve as leader of the country for two terms.
He explained the reason behind his decision to write a book about Zuma and said that he had tried to warn South Africa’s first democratic president Nelson Mandela about the leader after noticing several worrying traits.
"I was still feeling worried about this guy and [had] seen other faults in Zuma in exile and I warned Madiba about this.
"Those faults are quite a range in terms of the tribal aspect, the conservatism which he tries to hide when it comes out, in terms of attitudes on gender, women, homosexuality and tremendous social backwardness, [and] secret in terms of he was always setting up secret structures," said Kasrils.
The former Umkhonto weSizwe leader also tried to warn his comrades about Zuma in the lead-up to the Polokwane conference, in the hope of turning them against supporting the current president’s bid to become leader of the liberation movement.
"I challenged, before the rape charge which came in 2005, after Mbeki dismissed Zuma for the corruption issue related to Schabir Shaik’s corruption charges, as I could see Cosatu and the party [SACP] were getting behind Zuma," recalled Kasrils.
"I said: 'Comrades, Jacob Zuma is not a working class hero, Jacob Zuma does not have revolutionary morality, Jacob Zuma is backward, ethnic and tribal'. I explained it all on the basis [of experience] from exile and from what we started seeing of his behaviour in South Africa."
But Kasrils said his warnings fell on deaf ears as his comrades "despised" Mbeki.
"In the end Blade (Nzimande) said to me: 'Comrade Khumalo (Kasrils’ MK name) we hear what you say but we see in Zuma the best opening for the left, for the party, for socialism in our country'.
"Then I said to him: 'Comrade Blade, you are making a major mistake, you are going to live to regret it'," said the former minister.
Nzimande, the general secretary of the SACP, was sacked as higher education minister by Zuma in October’s Cabinet reshuffle.
Kasrils, in responding to a question from the floor, said the media in the country was accused of furthering a foreign agenda not only by Zuma, but those around him.
"In terms of where we are as a country, it’s been creeping up on us. Whatever we think of the Mbeki period there were no threats at that point, and up to that point, against the media… though Mbeki at times made it clear that he was not too excited about the critique," remarked Kasrils.
He said this has been increasing under Zuma’s administration.
"The impatience with the media started growing, a move to curtail the media started growing."
He said it’s been a process and a struggle as some turned on the media.
"At every point, intelligence ministers [and] security ministers immediately defend themselves on the basis of [claims that] the media is following a foreign agenda and are representatives of [an] international, Western chapters cause," he said.
Kasrils also said that often the criticism of media was done in a way of seeking sympathy from the working class in the country. He warned that they should be careful of this trend.
He also reminded the crowd of Nzimande’s comments – when he had a close relationship with Zuma – seeking to have a media tribunal established and punish anyone who criticised the president.
Kasrils however praised journalists who continued to do their job under the current conditions.
"I believe sections of the media are really standing up in a correct and defiant manner and a very helpful manner to expose the misdeeds of government," said Kasrils.
He also praised SACP first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila who recently stood up for The President’s Keepers author Jacques Pauw, who has been receiving death threats and was slapped with a cease and desist letter over the book by the state security department.