Shope-Mafole is Cope-ing very well

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

With the care of mother hen, Lyndall Shope-Mafole pays for all four of our lunch plates and after ensuring she won't entice any of us to having dessert, she orders cappuccino, which arrives not topped with cream, as she had expressly asked for.

She speaks so softly the waiter doesn't take offence and readily owns up that it is his mistake.

She comes here often, that much is evident. The lady in charge of the eatery stops by to exchange pleasantries and some of the other guests either wave or linger to chat.

This is the clubhouse of the Centurion Golf Estate, where she co-owns a house with her mother, struggle veteran Gertrude Shope.

Before the interview, Shope-Mafole was telling Rizelle, her PA from her days as director-general of communications fresh from exile, how they earned a paltry R2000 and a (white) comrade bought herself a little jalopy when all she thought about was getting furniture for her Hillbrow flat.

She was only three when the family went into exile. Though she uses the fingers on both hands to count the number of countries she's lived in, it was in Cuba that she'd spend most of her struggle years. The topic moves to her personal assistant's unusual name. If she got naughty, Rizelle recalls, her grandmother would say that it is because, of all the children, she was the only one with no Christian name.

Lyndall is not common either and the owner says she doesn't know anyone else by that name. It was given to her after a democratic process - at which meeting Joe Slovo also sat. Shope-Mafole says the name comes from Olive Schreiner's book, The Story of an African Farm.

By the time the thought occurred to ask if she'd read the book, the conversation had moved to another name - Fanisa.

"That's what people call me," she says. "If you go to Cuba no one will know who Lyndall is."

She was born in the ANC, she admits. It was her love for the ideals of the former liberation movement that made her quit to join Cope, she says.

There are songs of liberation, she says, which one instinctively joins in singing even before hearing the words. Umshin' Wam is not one of these, she says.

She did not sell out on the party of her parents, says Shope-Mafole, whose role models are exclusively icons of the war of liberation as fought by the ANC.

"Sometimes I wonder if those who are betraying the struggle are not the ones left behind," she argues.

In the three agonising weeks it took her to draft her resignation letter, she sought no one's counsel, lest they dissuaded her from her resolve, she says.

While those Cope-ing and still in government's employ knew their stay would be invariably untenable, she says she got on like a house on fire with Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, her boss, her mentor.

"She has always been very helpful," she says of the minister, "even in exile".

She still texts and speaks on the phone with many former comrades at Luthuli House who have told her to stop giving interviews "about why I left the ANC".

She's at home in Cope, she says. This, she says, is a much better state of mind than the ANC which "has left me in a state of shock since Polokwane".

Such is their faith in her abilities that Cope has her name up for the premiership of Gauteng.

She thinks the world of Mvume Dandala, the party's candidate for president, who she finds "an easy person to talk to", whose whole life experiences "resonate very well with Cope".

A young lady joins us. She's introduced as "our Julius Malema in Gauteng". She too benefits as two crisp notes are fished out of Shope-Mafole's purse to pay for her lunch.

"My passion is youth," says Shope-Mafole, who entered the ANC NEC on the wings of the youth league.

She says she mentored Fikile Mbalula and asks rhetorically if we do not think Anele Mda has toned down her act somewhat. Mda, says the older woman, is in right hands.

At 51, she has a blemish-free skin that points to a life well-lived. That she sleeps a lot could be another plus factor.

She loves nothing more than driving around "seeing more of the country".

Her older son Khotso, whose name she had to get permission from her in-laws to spell with an H, was born in Egypt.

He has cerebral palsy and lives at Avril Elizabeth Home, says mom.