Commanding presence: Although he has retired from public life after being discredited for not having a doctorate as he claimed, Pallo Jordan is still respected by many in the ANC leadership. Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA
Commanding presence: Although he has retired from public life after being discredited for not having a doctorate as he claimed, Pallo Jordan is still respected by many in the ANC leadership. Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA

LETTERS TO MY COMRADES – Interventions & Excursions

Z Pallo Jordaan

Jacana

I recently saw former public service and administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi at Exclusive Books, frantically looking for former ANC leader Pallo Jordan’s book Letters to My Comrades. Unfortunately, it was sold out and she would not be consoled with another book.

This encounter was instructive about how Jordan is still highly regarded within the ANC after his retirement from public life.

In 2015, Jordan resigned from Parliament and other leadership positions in the ANC, including the national executive committee (NEC), after it emerged that he did not have the doctorate that he had claimed to have.

He has since been out of politics, living a quiet life in Cape Town, his home city.

A person in his position would have to work extremely hard to restore public confidence in him as an intellectual and a man of principle. But he seems not to have had to go that extra mile. In Letters to My Comrades, he does not bother to explain why he faked a degree.

Most of the more than 170 documents had been published before in a wide range of newspapers, scholarly journals, and ANC and South African Communist Party publications.

There are also papers he presented at seminars and public lectures in SA and around the world, dating from the 1960s until 2014.

Letters to My Comrades touches on a wide range of issues in a deeply incisive manner — politics, history, sociology, culture, economics, international relations, and traditional African leadership and its relevance in a modern democracy. Issues that defined the internal politics and character of the ANC in exile and back home in democratic SA did not escape his meticulous scrutiny.

His book gives those outside the ANC the clearest picture of who among those in exile from 1960 when the party was banned, until 1990 when the banning order was lifted, were the strategists behind its policies. He was a member of the inner circle that the ANC relied on to draft documents that guided the organisation’s policies in response to developments within apartheid SA. There are many instances where he prevailed, which are recorded in his book.

For example, in 1985, then ANC president Oliver Tambo needed the NEC to come up with a plan following the end of John Vorster’s stint as prime minister and speculation that there were going to be dramatic changes that the ANC could take advantage of to benefit its cause. There was talk of SA becoming a federal state.

"I have asked Comrade Jordan to circulate to NEC members a paper on constitutional models he has been working on in The New Face of Counter Revolution," Tambo informed the NEC.

In the widely researched paper, Jordan was dismissive of the viability of a federal state.

"Consociationism, confederalism and federalism are devices being proffered by the liberal wing of the Afrikaner academia. The theory that informs the strategic thinking of the Afrikaner of the South African ruling class came from Samuel P Huntingdon of Harvard University in the USA, a professor of political science who achieved international notoriety at the height of the Vietnam War," Jordan warned.

The articles, curated by Keorapetse William Kgositsile, SA’s national poet laureate in 2006, and writer and publisher Mothobi Mutloatse, also reflect Jordan’s thinking about postapartheid SA.

To a large extent, Jordan is critical of a democratic SA — judging its crass materialism; the careerism in the ANC aimed at grabbing state resources; the corruption by ANC deployees, especially at local government level; and those who benefit from black economic empowerment (BEE) and become "passive earners of dividends" who fail to "tackle the challenges facing our democracy".

Recently in Johannesburg to promote his book, Jordan explained that it was a good thing that black people were taking opportunities in industry as well as BEE, but once there, they had to plough back into society at large.

"That is not happening at a scale one would expect from black capitalists who once suffered discrimination and understand the scourge of poverty among black people," he said. Successful black business leaders such as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and others needed to intervene.

"In 2012 when Ramaphosa was elected deputy president of the ANC in Bloemfontein, I wrote an article on how he could help some of the BEE beneficiaries learn about what is the best thing to do for society once they are up there. I am not sure if he read [it]."

In the article, Jordan asks whether the election of Ramaphosa as deputy president of the ANC signals the arrival of the post-1994 African capitalist classes. "Ramaphosa brings talents and skills acquired in a working life that includes legal practice, leadership of a union, negotiating our democratic constitution and being a business leader," he writes.

"Having seized opportunities that came with democracy, we expect Ramaphosa to lead the charge in defining a more positive role for black capitalists instead of being passive earners of dividends.

"The emergent African capitalists should address the social deficits inherited from the past. Is it asking too much to hope that having been afforded this opportunity, Ramaphosa will make yet another sterling contribution to the development of SA by leading them in making such a commitment?" 

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