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In 22 years of democracy, South Africa has had just three Ministers of International Relations – dozy Alfred Nzo; an ambitious former Mrs Jacob Zuma and, since 2009, a second Zuma fan, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. The person South Africa sends into the world to represent its diplomatic interests is somewhat under-baked. It shows in this squirmingly amateur display on global news channel AlJazeera. Instead of applying her mind to the issues, Nkoana-Mashabane comes across as an empty Zuma acolyte, treating interviewer Jane Dutton with the kind of disdain she would have endured during her time at the ANC-serving SABC. Instead of using the opportunity to counter global calls for the President’s resignation – which she would surely have read in the FT, Economist, New York Times and Bloomberg – Zuma’s imbongi re-inforces widely held perceptions that she is poorly qualified for this key post. Simply another member of an out-of-their-depth cabinet appointed for blind loyalty to a man who believes all the other continents fit into Africa which is absent the Nile River. In the interview,Nkoana-Mashabane is more interested in castigating Dutton because she grew up in a city (seriously). Because to be in touch with SA, the supposed diplomat tells us, one has to have shared her own water-can-on-head childhood in the village of Ga-Makanye in rural Limpopo. Maybe tall tales about these cans giving her a hole in her head, – and having to raise babies under her bed – go down well in uninformed circles. But appropriate when trying to defend the indefensible on a global news channel? The strangest thing about all this is she actually thanks Dutton for the interview. Oy vey. Watch the video. – Alec Hogg
JANE DUTTON: It is very good to see you here in Doha again. What we have seen several times happening in Parliament (an area that’s supposed to be sacrosanct) just recently – another pretty violent brawl. Can you tell me what’s happening there and what sort of message this is?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: There’s so much positive happening in your country, by the way. I thought you’d remember that.
JANE DUTTON: I never forget the positives in the country but unfortunately, these are the issue that are most relevant.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Let’s talk about the most relevant issues…that you and I are the same age group, but you have never carried a water can on your head. I did when I was ten years old and not because I chose to. I marvelled at flush toilets because that was a pipe dream for me, but not for you. Things that you and I might take for granted because we come from different worlds, although we come from the same country.
JANE DUTTON: Is it relevant to talk about our different worlds now when South Africa is supposed to be forging closer ties with everybody in the country? Are these distinctions still relevant?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Yes. They are relevant because people should not die for that. People can sit around the table and South African will remain a very important example that when I can sit and talk about these things. I will tell you that it was hurtful. I’ve got a hole on my head here because I was carrying a water can and you were not.
JANE DUTTON: Okay, but what does that have to do with the brawl that we saw in Parliament?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Can I finish? I’m a Member of Parliament. For that matter, not appointed but elected. I go door-to-door to campaign for elections. I have to be a Member of Parliament before I can become a Minister so I’ve gone through all that. I’ve been an activist at a very young age.
JANE DUTTON: I’m not doubting your credentials.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Fighting (not for Maite) but so that my children and grandchildren (and yours) should not see the colour of the skin, but see us as South Africans. At Parliament, we used to see it from the outside and we never thought we would ever be allowed to just go and sit in or at least, go to a bathroom. Today, we are members of it. That brawl…when it happens in other countries, it does not become a big hoo-ha. We did not and we do not have time for such a brawl over nothing in our Parliament.
JANE DUTTON: Don’t you think it’s relevant, considering what is happening in the country (in South Africa) at the moment? People say it’s going through a real crossroads.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Can I finish? The South Africans I represent – my generation who carried water cans… 80 percent of them today, no longer do that. The 20 percent don’t want us to do the brawl you’re referring to, but they want Parliament to remain sacrosanct and to remain dealing with the real issues so that we can be able to clean out the 20 percent remaining/less of provision of basic services to ordinary South Africans. Things that other people think ‘if we were to talk about it, we’d be crazy’ because they’ve never seen that.
JANE DUTTON: Can I tell you why I’m asking about the brawl in Parliament?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Yes.
JANE DUTTON: It’s because Julius Malema told Jonah Hull on this program that if his party were to face that sort of action again from Jacob Zuma… These are his words. He said he would take power…
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Are you referring to President Jacob Zuma?
JANE DUTTON: No. I’m talking about Julius Malema saying he would ‘take power by the barrel of the gun’. How frightened are you when you hear that sort of statement?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: I think Julius can better answer that question of what he means by ‘the barrel of a gun’. Some of us had to raise small babies under our beds, fearing the barrel of the gun. I didn’t read about it.
JANE DUTTON: So it frightens you to hear that sort of comment.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Before I can get frightened by Julius, I’m frightened by seeing an old woman carrying a water can in the streets of South Africa in 2016, and I want us to hurry up. Genuine Members of Parliament should be concerned about genuine problems of South Africans. As His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma… In my culture, Jacob Zuma, the President is not the same age as Julius so I can never address them the same way.
JANE DUTTON: You say that you want to see the woman who’s still carrying water on her head today, have a better life.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Yes.
JANE DUTTON: But how is what we’re seeing in South Africa at the moment…how is that going to help? I’m going to ask about several things. There was a seismic shift in the view of South Africa – the view of South Africa and relations in South Africa – when the respected former Finance Minister Nene was kicked out of his job. That had a dramatic impact on South Africa’s economic reputation and the Rand. That sort of action is not going to help the people that you’re talking about.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: By the way, my respected Nene (my comrade) is not the first Minister to be removed from a Seat of Cabinet. The Constitution of South Africa says so, that the President can strengthen his cabinet from time to time. It was for the first time ever. I’ve seen giants. I’ve seen leaders in South Africa and he truly, was the first black Minister of Finance…
JANE DUTTON: He was a highly respected Finance Minister. He was doing a good job.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: He was doing a good job but even ministers before him were doing good jobs and we work in South Africa: not as individuals but as a team. That is why we still respect collective representation. There is no single Minister like me… I can’t sit here and say, “Why is President Zuma thinking of removing me? I’m doing a good job.” No. We work as a collective and not as individuals in South Africa.
JANE DUTTON: Is that why Pravin Gordhan is now being targeted? There’s been news recently that he might be arrested by the Hawks. That’s obviously a special unit, which has Zuma’s influence. Is he the next man to go and if so…?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: I don’t know. I’ve never sat in an interview where I discuss speculation of who the President of country A or B wants to remove. The world is made up of more than 193…
JANE DUTTON: This is not speculation. These are direct accusations.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Direct accusations are in every democracy. It’s only in autocracies where you do not find people having to answer this or that question from agencies that have to deal with issues of law and order. It can be a Maite. It can be the President. It can be anyone. No one else in South Africa is above the law.
JANE DUTTON: Including the President.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Including the President. He stood patiently yesterday (I was there) answering questions from all Members of Parliament. Even when people were becoming impatient, he would say, “Take it easy” and answered all the questions. In fact, we finished much earlier than we thought because I thought there was still much more that people wanted to hear from him, and he answered all questions sincerely. He never, never…
JANE DUTTON: Okay. If you say…
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: I learned so much from that leader of mine that I respect so much. Not for anything, but because he fought for freedom. Secondly, he is a very patient man with the freedom that he fought for.
JANE DUTTON: Okay. Let me ask you this question. A President who has been found guilty of breaching the Constitution when he failed to repay Government funds used in the $23m upgrade to his private residence. He’s now facing the reopening of corruption charges somewhere in the region of 783. With respect, how can he carry on governing when he has these accusations against him, when many high-level players are saying to him, “Maybe it’s time to step down”?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: What does high-level mean? What does high-level mean? Make sense to me.
JANE DUTTON: Trevor Manuel is saying that maybe he should step down. Kathrada is saying he should go. Many of the youth are saying he should go. I’m just putting to you what we are seeing on the streets.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Let me tell you what I remember. When I was an ambassador, I sat with Comrade Trevor Manuel in Parliament for one year. I say ‘one year’ because Mandela gave me the honour to be an Ambassador for Malaysia for the first time – black – in Malaysia, in 1994. When he was appointed, because of the colour of his skin, he was called ‘a Minister of Common Sense’ but it was never an issue. We supported him. Later on, he became a highly respected (now former) Minister of Finance. I don’t know if there’s still (after Apartheid); categories of people in South Africa who’s opinions are valued more than the rest. I thought we had fought against that.
JANE DUTTON: Okay. Can I play something? This is from a little kid that we found in support of the ANC. I’d just like you to listen to what he says.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Okay.
“The legacy of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and all of those people back then: it has changed. Everything has changed in the ANC. Now, it’s all about corruption. Everyone wants to do things for themselves. The leaders have forgotten about the people. All they think about is them, their families, and their friends and they forget about the people that they are serving. The main thing is to take the Government out because these people are so loyal to the ANC, thinking that they owe ANC so much. I don’t know. Myself…I feel like if there’s nothing that is being done by the ANC, then they must just move out. I used to love ANC so much but now I… In fact, I love the political party, but I hate…I don’t hate, but I don’t like what the leaders of the political party are doing.”
JANE DUTTON: When you hear comments like that coming from the young who are feeling down about what’s happening in South Africa, how does that make you feel?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: This clip that you have just shown me unfortunately happens to sound like a clip of another very young person. This one…I don’t know if he’s 18, and if he’s qualified to vote as yet. It just so happens coincidentally, that I’m a mother of six children (me – Maite), raising five and I’m a grandmother of one.
JANE DUTTON: Congratulations.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Thank you very much. I’m a grandmother of a six-month-old girl. I want (and my children say this to me)… I walk into the house and I say, “You spoiled brats” and they’ll say to me, “What do you mean?” I say this to them, “ayisafani”. They say, “It sounds like a slogan of another party. Have you resigned from the ANC?” I laughed because I just wanted to test if indeed, this so-called ‘ayisafani’ is no longer…
JANE DUTTON: I want to refer to what this man is saying.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Can I finish?
JANE DUTTON: I want to hear what you have to say to me and to young guys who will be the next voters.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: I want to say to this young man, “I wish you could be like my children who say that South Africa is the one and only country in the world 300/350 years of Apartheid’s legacy has been demolished in less than 20 years.”
JANE DUTTON: Can I just ask you? Despite that, you’ve got parties like the EFF and the DA who are gaining in popularity and they tell us that they might form a coalition. Is the ANC concerned about their longevity or the elections coming up?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: No, we’re not concerned because there is no other political party in the world (that I know of) that has had a segregation/colonialism of a special type…
JANE DUTTON: Does that allow it to rest on its laurels?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: …that has managed to do as much as the ANC of Nelson Mandela, of Oliver Tambo, and of Jacob Zuma had managed to do as much as we had achieved in 20 years. Show me. Tell me of any other developing country that is not celebrating its 50th anniversary or 70th anniversary.
JANE DUTTON: Okay. I want to talk about
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: …that has not done as much… Marching forward, I can assure you…
JANE DUTTON: Is this why the ANC is taking the EFF playbook now when it comes to land reform? Are we going to see changes there?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: No. EFF is a party led by young people…
JANE DUTTON: Growing in popularity.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: …who got six percent in the vote and the little I know about arithmetic is 600 percent minus six percent doesn’t make you grow in popularity. There was once a party led by a former Minister of Defence of South Africa that got 30 seats. In the following National Elections, they got three seats. Luckily, it’s happening all in my lifetime. The ANC (African National Congress) is not a party of popularity. It is a political movement. The oldest political movement on African soil.
JANE DUTTON: For that, it will always be respected.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: It will always be respected and it’s always about the people, and that’s why it has managed to do so much in 20 years. I’ve asked you a question. Give me an example or mention one country, which has suffered an Apartheid of a special type and managed to do away with it.
JANE DUTTON: Now is the time not to rest on its laurels. Okay. Let me ask you now. The economic problems/travails that South Africa is going through at the moment and the political uncertainty: what sort of impact is this having on foreign policy? Where does this leave the country?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: I don’t know about political uncertainty because I don’t know of any gathering. South Africans like me, want to know about putting bread on the table. They want jobs. South Africa is one of the very few developing countries that are globally intertwined. I asked one young man from Moody, “How many countries get assessed by them from the continent of Africa?” He said, “We haven’t even started. We’ve started with you.” I asked him (as a black person), “You started…when?” He said, “In 1994.” I said, “Where were you in 1994 (I’m sure you remember this) when we had something called Operation Lifeboat – saving sinking 6/7 banks that had nothing to do with black people? Black people spent 45 percent of their savings…
JANE DUTTON: I’m talking about now where South Africa is…
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: I’m talking about South Africa of the now that started in 1994, which I went to Malaysia as a young woman, to represent.
JANE DUTTON: Let me ask you. Looking forward to the American elections… I know there’s been a shift in South African policy away from the U.S. South Africa’s not as intertwined as it used to be. How do you see the elections playing out? Do you a favoured Presidential nominee? What impact do you think it would have on South Africa?
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Maybe my granddaughter – who happened to be named after me – will have a favoured candidate of another country. As for my children, they’re still concerned about their own country. For your information (because you don’t stay at home), South Africa is still as intertwined globally as it was, and that’s why people want to know what’s happening on a daily basis. We answer all the questions. The day shall rise and the sun shall set and South Africa will remain a global player, a member of BRICS, a member of the G20, and a member of all other respected multilateral institutions. A country that ran a very successful UNFCCC climate-change negotiation and a country led by such solid leadership that the French people are thanking us up to today, that they’ve never seen G77 plus China speaking with one voice from the sustainable development goals to a climate-change conference. Speaking with one voice because South Africa was leading.
JANE DUTTON: That’s good to hear and thank you for answering my questions. We have run out of time.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: It was my pleasure.
JANE DUTTON: Thank you very much. Thank you for coming to talk to us.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Thank you.
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