PROF PITYANA makes no bones about it

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

The meeting with Professor Barney Pityana takes place a month after the request to see him had been made.

It is also a day after the country had changed, with Thabo Mbeki publicly announcing his resignation from the highest office in the land.

It is perhaps understandable that Pityana's tenses had still not swung to present mode. He refers to the President - meaning Mbeki, with Kgalema Motlanthe a distant thought on the horizon.

That much is obvious that Pityana holds Mbeki in high esteem. He'd later say in the interview how Mbeki was the gentleman of politics, and how Govan and Epainette Mbeki's eldest son made politics worthwhile and gave those who followed it figureheads to aspire to.

He'd say how "aloof" was often used to describe the man who fell at Polokwane because people did not understand him.

"As head of state he gave aspiration to the people of this country. He's really a person who put the country on the map. We'll miss that character. No thuggery about him. He's quiet, he listens; he expresses himself very clearly. Outside of that, we'd be hard put to get people of that nature."

According to Pityana, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa would have presented something of this kind to the country. "Sadly, he chose not to."

When the coin spins for the other side, the attributes do not fly just as easily.

"You can't find young people aspiring to be like (Fikile) Mbalula or (Julius) Malema," says the professor.

It is this courage of his conviction that has landed Pityana in the bad books of the Zuma camp who, in the person of Zizi Kodwa, unleashed a torrent of venom against him when the academic, vice-chancellor and principal at Unisa penned an unflattering article about Msholozi in a Johannesburg newspaper.

His views about Zuma remain and would not necessarily earn him friends inside the Umshini Wam' brigade.

He says about the week of storms: "The week has seen a lot of anxiety about our political spaces. A lot of that was relieved somewhat by the president's masterly statement on TV.

"So many of us who were truly afraid would have been reassured by what he had to say. The concern I have has really got a lot to do with the nature, character and quality of our politics.

"I am not convinced that there's any serious allegation about Mbeki's role as head of state. Indeed the statement of the ANC says that much."

Removing Mbeki has been the prerogative of the ANC, "if there's anything about him that they didn't like, they have exercised that prerogative".

But Pityana, a trained lawyer, says it's very hard to understand what the real issues are after Polokwane, where Mbeki was unseated as party president.

He thinks it's all about a lack of judgment.

"It's quite clear that [Judge Chris] Nicholson's judgment is one that the ANC believes gives it space to bring an end to any further prosecution of Zuma.

"That is most unfortunate because the NPA and indeed Mbeki, who has been cited in the judgment, have the right, the same right Zuma has exercised so effectively, of testing the views of the courts up to the highest level.

"So it's frightening to me to be told that the Nicholson judgment was the trigger that caused the removal of Mbeki."

Pityana believes the evidence from Nicholson is, at best, very tendentious: "And the lawyers say it is obiter dictum - it is not of the essence of the decision that was made. And therefore it is correct that the NPA should seek the view of another court."

He returns to the thorny issue of "the culture of intolerance within the ANC these days".

There's this brutal use of power by those who can wield it since Polokwane, "removing others within local government that they didn't like, changing premiers midstream, and now ultimately changing even the president".

Polokwane returned a 60-40 split of votes between Zuma and Mbeki, he says.

"One had hoped that the new leadership of the ANC would have moved swiftly to embrace everybody. And show unity because the 40 percent that voted for Mbeki is not a minority that can just be discarded. It's a very important minority.

"But what we have seen is a relentless pursuit of the so-called dissenters or disloyal members. That is very worrying for our politics."

The ANC Youth League, he says, instead of being the learners and proteges of the party leadership, seem to be driving the agenda of the ANC.

"Frankly, neither Mbalula nor Malema know enough about politics to dictate terms to the likes of Zuma or Gwede Mantashe. They should express their views but they should be learning."

They seem to have a psychology of power that expresses itself in brutal terms - kill, eliminate. "That is anti-ANC."

Leadership is another pique for Pityana: "We all accept that Zuma is the elected leader of the ANC, but from what we can see he doesn't seem to be visible in the exercise of leadership.

"His recent statement assuring the country of respect for the judges was an important statement. But it was late. It should have been made when Mantashe was saying judges of the constitutional court were counter-revolutionaries.

"He waited six weeks to make that statement. The nature of the leadership is worrying."

His friend, the Black Consciousness (BC) philosophy guru Steve Biko, would have offered the country such pedigree of leadership had he lived, says Pityana.

Would it not have been better if we'd not touched Zuma, as in the calls for Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir to walk?

"The problem is that the rule of law must be observed by everybody, including the president of the ANC.

"Once a legal process has begun it is impossible to stop it without undermining the rule of law. In my judgment it is in the interest of the country that Zuma has his day in court.

"There are options within that (process) that can be taken; I don't think it is in anybody's interest for Zuma to go to jail, of course. But the law allows plea bargaining, and other issues of that nature that can be done.

"Assuming Zuma is found guilty somewhat, there is a possibility of executive prerogative to be offered. That is acceptable. What is not acceptable is for this process to proceed like this."

In his travels around the world, Pityana says, he tells his audiences that South Africa is a vibrant and dynamic democracy that gets tested from time to time. "So far it (democracy) has won."

In his own brand of leadership, Pityana, the former chair of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) is not averse to taking walks around the campus of the university he heads. "Visibility is very important."

Today, despite its transformational challenges, Unisa is a different place to what it was seven years ago when he came on board.

Outside his work at the university, Pityana, an ordained priest of the Anglican Church, who delivered the sermon at the funeral of Joe Slovo, loves nothing better than getting lost in biographies.

Two or three times a year, Pityana takes his wife Dimza to the Kruger Park.

Their only child, daughter Loyiso, was born in Umlazi, Durban, in the same house the Pityanas and Bikos shared as newlyweds.

It's a matter of pride to Nkosinathi Biko that he too was born in this house.

The son of a single parent from Port Elizabeth, Pityana is the eldest of three brothers, Lizo and Sipho. The latter famously argued that prosecuting Zuma would not make good business sense.