A conversation with Thami Mseleku: High Commissioner, Tanzania
Music has always been close to your heart, tell me more about your music heritage?
Many people always associate my music inclination with famous musicians with the Mseleku surname. So, I hear people asking me; “Are you related to Bheki Mseleku? Do you know Wendy Mseleku? Etc. I gladly say; “Indeed Bheki is my brother, and Wendy my Niece!”):
On a serious note though, the Music in me comes from my mother. She was a brilliant lyrical soprano soloist, if I may say so myself. She also could play piano, and she taught many people to play, who later became great piano players, such as one Themba Msimang, one of the best piano players in KwaZulu-Natal, and perhaps in the whole of South Africa. Music was therefore part of my upbringing. I learnt to play guitar at a very early age, started accompanying her when she sang her solo pieces, supported by pianists like Rev Father Cletus Mvemve, a priest who helped me develop my guitar playing skills.
One thing I can say about my music heritage is that I regret not having kept recordings, in whatever form, of my mother’s performances in various platforms, and in church. I have been trying to get into the archives of the Ukhozi FM to find a recording she did for a programme with Mr Guy-born Mpanza, where she gave an hour of beautiful solo pieces. This is because I think my children, who have taken to music even more than myself, do not have the opportunity of really experiencing what people are talking about when they tell them about their grandmother’s music talent, and her beautiful angelic voice.
Because my mother expressed much of her musicality within the context on the church, and spent many years as the main organist at the local Edendale Methodist Church, before joining the St Augustine’s Catholic Church, where she was the main choir conductor until her passing on, I also inherited from her that expression of music within the church environment, though in the later years that became part of my political activism.
Who were your earliest influences in your young life and what have these imprinted in you?
I have many influences that impacted on different aspects of my life. First and foremost, my main influence comes from my parents. My father was an ordinary man, who had worked for all his life as a driver for different companies. In his younger days he was known as one of the best goal keepers, having played for a team called Lions. His involvement in football had made him meet and work with many different people from different walks of life. I think this had shaped him into the kind of man he was, a man of the people, a friendly man, who accepted everybody and treated every person with respect. The neighbours would always come to consult him if they had any problems in their families, and he would always be willing to assist in whatever manner he could. My mother was a primary school teacher. In those days teachers were respected people in the community. She had been teaching in that community for more than 30 years. She was therefore respected by all in the community. Both my parents therefore had a tremendous influence on my outlook in relation to other people. They were welcoming to all, never discriminating against anyone, and ready to give assistance to anyone who needed their assistance.
I think such influence was also extended by my involvement in church in my early life. As a young boy, from about 10 years I spent most of my time in church, as an altar boy. Different Nuns and Priests I worked with helped me develop a sense of charity towards the community, especially the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable in society. We used to visit the elderly, the sick, the dying, and the destitute almost every week, and this open my eyes to human suffering, and made me develop a sense of duty to make some contribution to bettering the lives of the vulnerable in our society. It was in this context also that I developed my leadership skills. I found myself being pushed into leadership in various aspects of church life, including Youth Groups, Altar Boys, and other church activities. Therefore, I can safely say that the Church made me who I am as a person.
My political consciousness though was influenced mainly by my Secondary School Principal, who was also my history teacher, Dr C. J Buthelezi, and my High School English Teacher Mrs Gqubule. Dr Buthelezi was an interesting, complicated man. His approach to history teaching was very Afro-centric. He put more emphasis on making us understand African History, and reading more about African Leaders, as early as Standard Eight. He therefore shared with us books on leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Azikiwe, Kwame Nkrumah and others. He would then make us lead discussions in class on any of these leaders. But at the same time, he was very much into self-development, and using one’s hands to better one’s self. He would sometimes get the whole school out of classrooms to do manual labour like cleaning the premises, painting walls, and even construction. For example, the school I attended was by and large built by the hands of students and teachers, with the professional builders only providing supervision and direction. Mrs Gqubule complemented this by inculcating a love for English Literature, especially African Writers like Achebe, Soyinka, and others.
If I can summarise what these influences imprinted in me I can say a sense of responsibility to make a difference in the community.
Do you remember where you were when Mandela was released and when you first hosted him in the Natal region with Harry Gwala “ Umdala”. What were your impressions of him and that visit during those difficult times?
My God!! Who does not remember that day! First let me take you back to the day when the organisations of the people were unbanned. Personally, I had been living under restrictions imposed on me by the regime, which involved reporting to the police station every day, and being restricted to my home between 6 pm and 6 am, among others. As a result, I had to continue my political activities clandestinely, although by the end of 1989, after the release of Comrade Harry Gwala, we had decided to defy these restrictions openly. So, when De Klerk came to his senses and unbanned organisations and lifted restrictions on individuals, I felt a sense of personal victory, even as I celebrated the victory of the struggles of our people.
Then came the day of the release of Mandela. I was driving from my home to join the celebrations at Comrade Harry Gwala’s House, as well as discuss how we would use this moment to the benefit of our people, who were engulfed by violence in KwaZulu-Natal, when the actual moment of Madiba leaving Victor Vester prison took place. My car was immediately surrounded by hundreds of people, singing, ululating and celebrating. At some point they even attempted to lift it up, I suppose to carry it shoulder high. Some sat on the boot, and some on the Bonnet! It took me two hours to reach Comrade Gwala’s house, which was 10 minutes away.
You were a young activist in the Natal Midlands during the difficult times of violence in the 1980’s, how did those struggles shape you as a person?
His first visit to the Midlands was a very difficult occasion. When he visited us, we were in the midst of war. Pietermaritzburg in particular was engulfed in serious low intensity warfare, and we were doing everything in our power to defend the people. Therefore, our MK cadres were on full alert, worried that Madiba could be assassinated on our doorsteps. We could not rely on the police to work with our structures to protect him. They were the ones killing our people. Therefore, there was no cooperation with them on our part. I remember driving the roving car, that was going ahead of the convoy, stopping cars and directing people on the roads without any blue lights or such resources. The security personnel around Madiba was in my view never as challenged in their work as they were during that visit. At one point they had to run up a hill for almost ten kilometres, in suits and formal shoes, on a very hot summer day, while protecting the car Madiba was in from crowds that wanted to torch it, and therefore him. In some instances, the car would disappear in the sea of scores of people. What became worse was Madiba’s own insistence to go to the people and shake their hands, when he arrived at the hot spot we took him to see for himself the devastation of the violent attacks on the people of Ashdown Township by people from Mpumuza, a neighbouring village. But the climax of that visit was when we visited a house in iMbali Township, which had been attacked the previous night, and burnt down to ashes, with people inside. I could see the pain and anger in his face when the local people showed him what were the remains of a 90-year-old Gogo (Grand Mother), which looked more like a body of a small baby. That anger was carried into his press conference that day, and I believe that image stayed in his mind all through the time he tried to address the violence in KwaZulu-Natal. I say so because that image lives with me even to this day.
If you were not asked to join Minster Bengu’s Office in 1994, what were you planning to do with your life?
My plan in 1994
If I was not asked to join Minister Bengu’s office in 1994, I was planning to continue lecturing at the University of Natal (as it was known at the time), and to finish my PHD research on the challenges facing students from disadvantaged backgrounds at Universities such as UNP. I was also planning to continue working on building Civil Society Organisations in the Midlands, including a strong ANC. But more importantly I was very much concerned about the devastation of war and violence, especially on young people. I had watched young children, from the age of 15 to 25 being swallowed into a way of life, which emphasised a kill-or-be-killed approach to problems. These young people had become jurors and executioners at the same time. They only knew one thing, violence. Their communities were devastated by war. Many people had been displaced and were living in bad conditions. I felt I owed it to the community to find ways to reconstruct these people’s lives.
When you hear people talk of violence, war and conflict, as someone who has first-hand experience of the negative impact of these on families and communities, what would you say to them in the context of a democracy?
Violence, War and Conflict
It really pains me when I hear people talk of violence, war and conflict so easily as if they are talking about going to buy sweets from the nearby corner shop. I know how violence dehumanises people and robs them of their dignity. I know how the most vulnerable people in our communities become victims of a war they have had no role in starting and have no power to stop. Children, Women, the elderly suffer the most in such situations. I have seen communities torn apart and destroyed, houses burn down, and infrastructure completely destroyed. I have been in the middle of it. I have seen even families being torn apart, children turning against and killing their own parents or siblings, long-time friends and neighbours becoming sworn enemies overnight.
But even through my travel around, especially in the African continent, I have seen countries annihilated by ravages of war. I have seen the hopelessness in the citizens of those countries. Just look around us. Look at what war has done in countries such as Syria, Libya, Yemen. Look at the Eastern DRC. Just remember the Genocide in Rwanda, and the devastating effects of the conflict in Burundi. I can go on and on. War breeds hatred, vengeance, and more violence.
Those who talk about violence so readily have absolutely no interest in development. They have no regard for human life. They should be isolated and regarded as enemies of progress. Let us learn from our leaders. It took them many years for them to call for the people to take up arms against the regime. Even their execution of that armed struggle was always guided by values that put the protection of innocent lives above all. They were always ready to take the earliest opportunity available to negotiate a peaceful resolution to our conflict against the regime. This they did because they knew that should our country be immersed in a serious war, the only victor would be destruction of life and property, and our country would sink into a failed state.
You then took over as Director General of Education. Reflecting back on your time in this role, what were the key highlights and achievements during this period and what were the low points or things you could have done better?
My spell as Director General of Education was helped by the fact that a good foundation had been laid by the team that worked in education in the first 5 years of our democracy. The more difficult issues of integrating disparate Education Departments had been achieved, the framing legislation and policies had been passed, and the infrastructure for the coordination of education provision in the country was already in place. Since I had been part of all that effort during those years, it became easy for me to get into that office and carry out its responsibilities. I also had a wonderful group of comrades supporting me as my deputies, people who had both the skills and the commitment to transform our education system. These were men and women who had dedicated their lives to the struggle for a better education system, and who took their responsibility to make that a reality serious. I also had the advantage of working with Minister Kader Asmal, who had his own way of getting people excited about what he was doing, no matter how small. He therefore created an environment where we could focus more on our work, and engage the challenges much more positively, because he had a special relationship with the media, which made them more critical, and less hostile.
I think this is the reason why we were able to turn around the hostile environment that had begun to develop around the introduction of the new Curriculum, Curriculum 2005, which was based on an out-comes driven approach to education. The implementation of the curriculum faced many challenges, leading to a negative discourse in the country. Minister Asmal immediately set up a review committee, which came up with some recommendations, which he sought to implement immediately, but initially he faced a challenge both within the ANC and in Cabinet. I had to provide leadership in managing the process to make sure that eventually he could get his way in the ANC and in Cabinet. My colleagues and myself used both our understanding of the issues involved, and our standing among key stakeholders to ensure that the changes were presented in such a way that everyone would own them, which was the problem with the Minister’s own approach to simply take singular responsibility for effecting those changes.
A similar situation arose with the reconfiguration of our higher education landscape. Again, Minister Asmal appointed a committee, which made recommendations that sparked such furious debates in the country. I will never forget the experience during one of those debates within the social sector committee of the ANC to which we had been summoned to explain why we wanted to destroy the legacy of certain institutions like Fort Hare and continue advantaging historically advantaged institutions like Wits and UCT. My revolutionary discipline does not allow me to get into details of what transpired there, save to say that we as officials were now taking direct criticism for that report, which was actually a set of proposal from a committee led by Saki Macozoma. The bad part of that criticism is that it began to take racial undertones.
I am proud to say that under my leadership, and the skilful, and professional work of my colleagues, we managed to get the transformation of the landscape of Higher Education in our country adopted by the ANC NEC, and by Cabinet unanimously, after we had canvassed the view of the SACP and COSATU, as well as other key stakeholders within the democratic movement. The country as a whole embraced the changes fully, with just a few criticisms here and there. Again, we had averted a situation where the Minister could not get the support of Cabinet as a result of the negative responses to the initial proposals by the Macozoma Committee. When I look at success stories like the University of Johannesburg, the University of KwaZulu Natal, University of Northwest, and the Nelson Mandela University, I am filled with pride and gratefulness to my country and to the ANC, that I was entrusted with the responsibility to bring about these changes, and at least I can point to some successes.
What would I do differently? There has never been a time in my life that I have not asked myself whether I could have found a more effective way to ensure effective coordination of education as a single, entity where all provinces would implement National policy in a uniform manner, without creating an impression that we have Nine Education Departments that are independent of one another, and a National Department that is unable to lead and monitor education due to the current framework. During the 5 years I was DG of education, the department always got a qualified audit, or some matters of emphasis. None of these had to do with how we managed the funds allocated to the Department. This was always about the management of conditional grants. I don’t want to get into details here, save to say that even Scopa ended up acknowledging that this situation was very difficult, as we were supposed to be accountable for how provinces spent the conditional grants, without the ability to go into their accounts to verify the information they were giving us in their reports.
One day when I am retired and have time to write about this, I will hopefully be able to argue both that the biggest challenge in taking our country forward is the semi-federal (even more federal than semi) arrangements in our constitution. In the process I hope to have found a better way of interpreting the concept of cooperative governance in a manner that does not render National Departments like Health and Education accountable without power.
You were then appointed as the DG: Health Department at a very critical time. Much has been written about this time and the policy battles that ensued, particularly about HIV/AIDS Treatment. What do you see as highlights during this period and what are the lowlights and things you feel you could have done differently during this time?
When Former President Thabo Mbeki told me that he had decided to move me from education to health, I said to him I did not know anything about Health. I still remember his response. This was on the phone. He first laughed, and then said to me, “Chief, you know everything you need to know about Health. I am not asking you to go and run a hospital unit. I am asking you to go and manage the Health System of the country”. When I reported this conversation to Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, she also reassured me that I would be up to the challenge.
As you have said this was a time where there were serious battles around the management of HIV and Aids. I therefore arrived within a context where the relationship between the Ministry and major stakeholders in Health was adversarial at best, and at worst non-existent. I had come from an environment where the relationship was very robust, but not adversarial.
Ironically some of the Highlights of the period relate to HIV and Aids. The consolidation and acceleration of processes around both prevention and treatment took place even alongside controversies around treatment. The courts had ruled on the matter of treatment, and then we saw it take off across the country.
Another highlight for me was the manner in which South Africa provided leadership and direction at international conferences such as the UN General Assembly special session on HIV and AIDS, the World Health Organisation, and the World Convention on Tobacco Control. I chaired the latter for two years, and therefore oversaw the passing of critical tobacco control measures.
Your career took you to Malaysia as High Commissioner, what lessons can we, as Africans learn from Malaysia and the Eastern countries?
Malaysia was a fascinating experience. Before I went there I had this romanticised view about Eastern Tigers and their rapid development. I knew that many of our policies, such as the policy on affirmative action, were influenced by Malaysian experiences.
When I got there, I found discovered a few things about its development, and the development of Eastern countries like Singapore, South Korea, etc. Firstly, I discovered that in almost all the cases there was a strong leader at the helm, who basically ran the show, and allowed very little descent, if at all. In the case of Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahatir is accredited for the development of Malaysia. He led the country and made strategic decisions to get it on the path to development, while developing the Malay majority educationally to ensure that they took their rightful place in the countries leadership.
What I am trying to say is that by understanding the history of Malaysia’s development, I began to understand better, why our country, while it could learn a few things from that,
What unique cultural memories do you still have about Malaysia?
Makan! Makan! When people greet you, Makan is in the greeting; when they meet you in the street, Makan is likely to arise, even when they are trying to break the ice, Makan is an Ice breaker! Makan! Makan!
Eating and food! It was first strange for me to be asked by a stranger whether I had eaten or not. But I discovered sooner than later that that was part of the culture of Malaysians. Food starts the conversation, just like the weather starts one in the UK. So, when someone asks you that you don’t respond by saying, “That’s none of your business!”
And food is indeed part of life in Malaysia. People spend most of their time outdoors eating. One is spoiled for choice when it comes to what to eat, Chinese, Indian or Malay food, and of course European dishes. The streets are full of food stalls.
Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country. And so, during Ramadan you are always invited to one place or the other to break the fast with the Muslim families or groups every evening when the fast is broken, what is referred to as Buka Puasa! Then comes Eid, oh my God! We as Diplomats start by honouring an invitation from the King. Thousands of people come in busses to celebrate with the King. Then the Prime Minister, then different Ministers, etc, etc. It is claimed that more food is consumed during Ramadan than any other time in Malaysia.
Then there is the Chinese New Year. Whereas during Eid most Muslims travel to their “Kampungs”, villages, much like our people do during Christmas, Chinese New Year sees the Cities coming to a stand-still, as shops become completely closed. You struggle to find a place to buy bread and milk. But the same thing happens, i.e., invitations for Makan! One is spoiled for choice, and sometimes one can disappoint friends by not honouring their invitation, just because one has one stomach!
Then there are those cultural performances during official functions. I was fortunate to have been there for the retirement of one King and the coronation of the other. Kingship is rotational in Malaysia among the different Sultans, I think there are nine of them. One becomes King for 5 Years, and then a different one takes over. The ceremonies are colourful, and the dances are superb!
Most young people would like to find out more about the role of a diplomat, what does the role of a High Commissioner entail?
Role of High Commissioner
An Ambassador, or a High Commissioner (in the case of countries of the Commonwealth) is primarily a representative of the Head of State from the sending country, in the receiving country. S/he is therefore there to enhance and improve relations between the two countries, in the case of bilateral relations, or to articulate and canvas for support for the policies and views of the country in multilateral bodies such as the United Nations.
Relations between countries take the form of political relations, where countries develop closer ties on political matters, including exchanging political views and ideas, through political delegations, establishment of platforms for political exchanges such as Joint Commissions, and bilateral agreements. There are also economic relations, where countries engage in economic activities that are mutually beneficial, such as Bilateral Trade, Trade Missions, and Investment initiatives. Countries may sign trade agreements on a number of matters related to bilateral and multilateral trade. Then there are people to people relations, where countries encourage people to people exchanges, such as cultural, educational and sports exchanges etc. In the context of multilateral relations, countries sign international treaties, and embark on a number of International Diplomatic Missions, such as Peace Missions, Election Monitoring Missions, etc.
Ambassadors and High Commissioners are therefore responsible for initiating, coordinating, and managing all the above. It is through them that countries communicate with each other around all these relationships. Their role entails investigating, and initiating opportunities for political, economic, and cultural engagement between the two countries. They are also supposed to represent the country in meetings where principals such as the President, Deputy President or Ministers, are unable to attend. They also provided support to citizens of their countries in the receiving states, be it visitors, or business people and expatriates.
What advice would you give to South African companies which have operations in Tanzania?
Tanzania Investment Opportunities
Tanzania offers big investor opportunities for South Africa and other African countries. Its location in the East African region is very strategic for an investor who is looking at access to the larger East African Markets. It provides access to land locked countries like DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, right through to Zambia. The Dar Port is the main access port for these countries, and many companies have therefore begun to open their offices here in Dar, just to service this market.
Tanzania itself is just taking off, and it has been developing a 7% per annum for a number of years now. There is a growing demand for goods and services. The potential is huge. Then there are rich minerals in this country. Tanzania boasts of a variety of minerals under its soil, including Tanzanite, which can only be found here. Gas deposits have also been discovered in large quantities! Therefore, there is a lot of potential for investors here.
What are the key industries and areas for growth in the Tanzania economy?
Tanzania Key Industries
As has already been suggested above, Tanzania is still in the process of industrialisation. The government has prioritised agriculture and building industries for local manufacturing and beneficiation of Tanzanian Goods. Therefore, there are opportunities in the Energy, Mining, Infrastructure, Agriculture, and housing development sectors, among others.
What does Tanzania offer to discerning investors from South Africa and other African countries?
SA Companies in Tanzania
We always advise companies that operate on the African continent to behave in the same manner as they would behave in South Africa. That means that they should be responsible corporate citizens, abide by the laws of these countries, pay their taxes, and ensure corporate responsibility to develop the communities they serve. On top of that, we also advise companies here to always work to contribute to the development of this country. We remind them of the sacrifices this country made in support of our liberation struggle and emphasise therefore that they are our vehicle to plough back to Tanzania.
There is a lot of Investment in Tanzania and to other African countries by China, how do you see China’s role in Africa?
China in Africa
This is difficult question for two reasons. Firstly, our country can stand its ground in its relations with China. Therefore, we are capable of managing that relationship to our benefit, and to reject Chinese practices that do not appear useful to our needs. Many African countries are not in the same position. But then they are also not in the same position to do that with the donor countries of the West. Therefore, a focus discussion on the dangers of Chinese expansion must be juxtaposed to the same challenges of Western countries that continue to hold African countries at ransom through their donations and loans etc.
Secondly, many African leaders see China providing the infrastructure they need for their countries. Therefore, they see an easy and faster way to live a legacy by allowing the Chinese to come in and build this infrastructure. For a country like ours, which is seen to already have such infrastructure, it is difficult to suggest to them that they should be rather careful, because we are then seen to be wanting to remain the only country with modern infrastructure.
What is even more challenging for us is that we find ourselves competing with the Chinese in trying to increase trade in goods and services in these countries. Our companies have experienced the difficulties of competing with the Chinese, not from a quality point of view, because ours can compete with the best in the world, but on financing packages. The Chinese bring finance with them, when they come with proposal to construct roads, bridges, airports, industrial centres, ports, etc. I have heard it said many times in Tanzania, for example, by government officials, that they would have preferred South African supplies, or products, because of their quality and durability, but because of lack of funds, they had to go with Chinese products, which they know are of inferior quality.
The Chinese have positioned themselves well in Africa. What Africa needs, is a strategy to engage the Chinese in such a way that indeed their presence in Africa is not a new Colonisation. This is possible, but it requires strategic leadership in Africa both in individual countries, and collectively.
You have been away from South Africa for close to 10 years now, what do you miss the most, involvement in the ruling party; local music, visiting relatives, walking in the countryside or being part of the policy debates shaping the country?
Missing South Africa
All of the above. Being away from the country for such a long time may lead to an idealised sense of where the country is and where it is going. Yes, you get an opportunity to be briefed from time to time on major developments, major debates, etc. But nothing can replace “being on the ground”. Political involvement is only through limited platforms, and one can no longer engage in debates, in developing strategies to take certain issues forward, developing new policy responses to new problems and challenges, listening to and engaging with other people’s take on the issues of the day, even those that engage you robustly and even insultingly, nothing makes you feel you are on the pulse of the nation like those things.
Of course, one misses being able to go to the villages from time to time, to join people in mundane things such as weddings, Imicimbi, etc. I also miss my community, even though I am always in tears when I visit and see how the people I used to grow up with and know, were all torn apart by conflict and violence; when I see the hopelessness in young people, who are devastated by unemployment. I must say this in a way inspires me to know that even as I am here, I am still doing what I am doing to contribute to making their lives better, but pushing for more trade and investment, the only way we can provide the jobs they require so much.
What are the next steps for you when your term ends, is there a book on the horizon?
You know me better. You know I am a servant of the people, and a loyal and disciplined member of my organisation, and my government. I will first await discussion and decisions on my next step, and then decide what else to do when that has been done. A book? Maybe one day I will write about our experiences as young people that were entrusted with such an honour to lead the transformation of our country into a new democratic state, and to be part of creating the legal and policy frameworks for such a new order, an experience I will always cherish in my life. Or perhaps who knows: my children are into music! One is a DJ, and has already made a name for himself, the other is about to go and go Music at Maastrich Conservatory in the Netherlands. Maybe I will open a Music Centre and Academy, and pull them into it, in honour of my mother!
What advice would you give a young civil servant surrounded by colleagues with a poor work ethic, of who are involved in corrupt activities? How does she or he stay true to the ethos of the public service?
Advice to Young Activist
Firstly, I would say to the young leader or activist, you are following in the footsteps of many great men and women, who worked tirelessly and dedicated their lives fully to the cause of bettering the lives of our people. Their activism was not base on any notions of glory or distinction, nor were they involved in the struggle for any personal gains. What underpinned their leadership and activism were values of selflessness, service to the people, with integrity and high discipline. Their activism and leadership were embedded in the aspirations of the people. They knew that the people came first, and that they were leaders because of the people, and not in spite of them.
I would therefore urge them to always remember that what they have inherited is a tradition of honourable leadership, always drawing its inspiration from the collective wisdom of others, and the centrality of bettering the lives of the people as a vision. To preserve and protect this heritage, they have to first appreciate its value. Then they have to always remind themselves that they are its current custodians and strive not to be the generation that destroys that tradition. Central to achieving this is the need for them to educate themselves. By this I do not only mean to receive qualifications, which is very important in its own right, but to continue to learn from others, to read, to reflect and never to take rushed decisions. They should learn to listen to the people, to listen to one another, and to be able to take advice, even from people they otherwise would regard to be ignorant of the issues they are dealing with. One thing I admired from our leaders, the Mandela’s, Mbekis, Sisulus, Mhlabas, Mlangenis, Kathradas, and the Harry Gwalas, was their ability to listen, first to one another, and then to the very people they were leading, big and small.
If you look back at your life, what would you say to your 18-year-old self?
My 18-year-old self
What would I say to my 18-year-old self? Thank you. You did well in the choices you made in life! You did well in committing yourself to the struggle for the liberation of our people. You may have not followed what would be regarded as the path of normal 18-year olds in a normal society, but you are richer as a result. Well done. Do it again, if faced by the same challenges. Something else though? Treat the women in your life better, and with much more respect. It is the right thing to do!
How have you managed to keep your marriage intact and your children close in spite of the challenges of distance and sometimes being in different countries
Keeping my marriage
I am forever thankful to God Almighty for the wife and life partner He gave me. She is the one who has been the pillar of our marriage. From the days when I was a young activist, involved in all kinds of struggle activities, disappearing for days, and not having time to behave like normal young couples behave, she stood by me. She stood by me even during the dangerous times of violence and attempted assassinations and attacks on our homes. She kept the home warm when I spent more time moving up and down between Cape Town and Pretoria, working long hours as we did, and sometimes being away from home for days. Sometimes I say to myself, if I was her I would have long kicked me out of her life.
I suppose what keeps marriage going is the friendship that two people develop. Yes, people have to love each other, as my wife and I do, but beyond that love is a friendship and partnership that is deep, that allows us to face the challenges of life together. Then there are the children that God has blessed us with. You don’t know how much the children cement a relationship in marriage. Let’s just say I am blessed!
As more companies invest on the continent, what should be the role of the private sector in society beyond just making profits?
Africa has a young population- If the increase in the number of working age individuals can be fully employed in productive activities, other things being equal, the level of average income per capita should increase as a result. The youth bulge will become a demographic dividend. However, in a number of countries, a large cohort of young people cannot find employment and earn satisfactory income, the youth bulge is starting to become a demographic bomb, because a large mass of frustrated youth is likely to become a potential source of social and political instability. How can countries harness this demographic dividend and avoid a demographic bomb?
A number of liberation movements are currently in trouble; ruling parties are losing support- how can these parties retain the support of the people?
When we were younger, we used to discuss at length about the mistakes of other liberation movements and the scourge of corruption and social distance between leaders and those that are being led. How could we have all missed the capacity of cadres and leaders being involved in the highest levels of corruption, bribery and fraud?
Thank you so much High Commissioner, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.