one helluva groot bek

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

A popular accusation in political circles is that Bantu Holomisa is arrogant, a loose cannon.

Inside the ANC, the party that gave him the boot in 1996, he's nothing more than a populist who confused the former liberation movement with a fan club.

But while it wouldn't be preposterous to hazard a guess that he has an axe to grind with the ruling party, what reason could there possibly be for his vicious tongue outside "the game of crooks" (politics)?

A current affairs anchor on Sesotho language radio station Lesedi FM woke up one morning with the former Transkei strongman on the other end of the line.

By the end of the programme, the hapless newsman had had his entire day ruined by Holomisa - an awkward interviewee throughout - whose parting shot was icy: "You must ask intelligent questions next time."


His detractors, especially those in the ANC, are not in two minds: Holomisa is a pain in the rear.

In a scathing document circulated just after he was fired "by a unanimous decision of the national executive committee", the ANC paints a damning picture of a man whose "rise and fall" was the inevitable result of his own "ego, arrogance and political immaturity".

You get the sense they rue the day they welcomed him into their fold in 1994 with his baggage as a former bantustan leader "with no struggle credentials".

He's never given them peace ...

In under two years of being an ANC member he'd gone before the TRC - against party orders.

The same ANC document that demonises him - in the final edition of the now-defunct New Nation on Friday, May 30 1997 - quotes Holomisa saying he gave evidence before the TRC "as a former Transkei head of state and not as an ANC member".

Fair point.

In no time he'd accuse the late Stella Sigcau, at the time of her death a public works minister in the new dispensation and, like Holomisa, a homeland leader in the old order, of taking a R50000 bribe from hotel magnate Sol Kerzner.

Before the NEC disciplinary hearing could articulate its verdict, he reportedly labelled it a kangaroo court and walked out.

Showing him the door had the efficacy of pissing against the wind.

The torrent of adjectives for his perceived effrontery has never stopped.

Stripped of membership of the ANC and the accompanying perks of a cabinet position - he was deputy minister of environmental affairs - the unfazed Holomisa went on to found his own party, the United Democratic Movement (UDM), which celebrated its 10th anniversary in September.

The party's membership stands at just under 200000.

As part of the opposition, he's been vocal in his countering certitude against the ANC, which predates his own by a whole 86 years.

Does he have anything against the ANC? "No," he says firmly, "of course not."

And as he is about to explain why he's "cool" with the ANC, in walks outgoing Mbeki-man in the party's presidency, Smuts Ngonyama.

They hug and talk like long-lost brothers, oblivious to everything else going on around them at Exclusive Books in Mandela Square.

"The ANC invites me to their golf days," Holomisa continues, "always".

These are invariably fund-raising drives in exclusive aid of ANC charities, he adds.

The ANC, it should be remembered, labelled Holomisa bigheaded, one who "felt himself to be a VIP, above the organisation".

But amid all this labelling, isn't the truth, the only truth, the fact that Holomisa is just playing the crucial role of opposition politics, aimed at keeping the ruling party on its toes and accountable?

In his own words on the morning of our Sandton meeting, Holomisa concurs that the UDM offers what political analyst Mohau Pheko calls "patriotic opposition", a phenomenon that allows parties in opposition the capacity to "sufficiently mobilise citizens to dissent when their rights are being infringed".

The ANC said at the time of his exit that Holomisa wouldn't be the first to leave "in pursuit of a demagogic project that is not sure if it is to the left or right of the ANC, only that it is anti-ANC".

But the UDM, which implores the electorate to "think" as it is "the right choice", is anything but this petty!

Or would the toe-the-party-line conformists in the ANC have preferred that he begged their mercy a la Mbulelo Goniwe, with cap in hand? And then kick him as soon as he's supplicated himself?

Sorry, but Holomisa isn't that kinda bloke!

Someone opined last week that the ANC cannot be faulted for the country's weak opposition.

True, but would the ANC rather have had carte blanche in designing the calibre of its own opposition?

In 1999, says the military man who still knows how to dress up in mufti, Thabo Mbeki dispatched Makhenkesi Stofile, then the late Steve Tshwete and Terror Lekota - to woo him back to the ANC.

In 2004 none less than Nelson Mandela himself asked him to "come back home".

Holomisa declined, preferring party-to-party samewerking , not rejoining the Congress, he says.

Who else but Holomisa would have had the temerity to speak out against floor-crossing and even take the matter to court?

"We won that," says the Mqanduli-born politician, "all parties now agree floor-crossing is wrong."

Currently, his is one of the loudest voices outside the ANC chorus pronouncing on the proposed incorporation of the Scorpions into the main national police service.

Says Holomisa: "The ANC's continued attacks on the Scorpions are a disgusting display of political expediency and a transparent abuse of power.

"It is clear with every statement they issue and decision they announce that they have no respect for democracy and that they see no limit to their power.

"Indeed, we should ask why they would place the government on a deadline to disband the unit.

"We shall never forget that the anti-Scorpions campaign was launched by people such as Brett Kebble and Schabir Shaik, both of whom actively went about buying influence in the ANC.

"We are not blind to the fact that a disturbing amount of people who now think they control the ANC, and indeed the entire country, have pending cases against them or had previous brushes with the law."

Only Holomisa is plucky enough to say: "The lynch-mob psychology that underpins the campaign against the Scorpions, which from the outset was orchestrated and funded by known criminals, is something the UDM can never support."

Jacob Zuma's party hopes to disband the elite unit by June, two months before his court appearance. But not on Holomisa's watch, it would seem!

"There are no justifiable reasons being advanced to disband the unit," Holomisa charges.

As in the floor-crossing row, he promises: "If needs be, the UDM will again, on behalf of the people, go to the courts; we are considering getting legal opinion on what judicial remedies can be sought to prevent the disbandment of the Scorpions."

A keen golfer who plays off a 14th handicap, Holomisa is an ardent Kaizer Chiefs supporter. His keyring is a Chiefs emblem.

He's married to Tunyelwa and they have two children.

A former pupil of Dumisa Ntsebeza at Jongilizwe College - the Eton of the sons of chiefs in the former homeland - there's no way young Harrington Bantubonke Holomisa could have turned out a yesman.

Whatever you think of the man, you've got to love him - or hate to love him, for his chutzpah.