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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

Jet Airplane Landing at Sunset[Source: by Mark Schulz.]

“Get out of South Africa!”

“Go back to Germany, that’s where you belong!”

“Your grandparents were looters, rapists and plunderers!”

“You have been ‘out-strategized’ and defeated, Mlungu!


As I crossed the threshold of the Students’ Union building that day some twelve years ago, they were waiting for me. The entire executives of the ANC Youth League and SASCO had turned out to hurl racist abuse at me from outside their office as I walked, and later ran, to my office on the second floor. Their harsh, raucous laughter echoed up the staircase behind me. I was almost in tears. It was their victory parade; they were the triumphant ‘Mandelas’ and I guess I must have been their vanquished ‘Botha’. How had it come to this? This was late 2003, and I was being subjected to some of the worst minutes of my life, purely because of my race. Well, my race and my principles. Maybe I deserved it.

In the weeks and months before, I had been appointed to the Elections Committee at a then prestigious South African university. For obvious reasons, I am not free to name the institution, nor am I able to mention the names of those involved. I was threatened with legal action at the time, should I dare to share the details with the public. It was the capstone of my betrayal at the hands of an administration I had served with both dignity and integrity.

My appointment, as a white election official came about due to a split in the ANCYL. There had been, to put it lightly, some scandals involved in ANCYL run Students Representative Council. Among the more notable ones was how a member of the executive had been ‘robbed’ of R20,000 of the SRC’s money, in cash, on his way to a university funded function. The SRC was constantly over budget, due to the normal suspects; fast food and telephone bills. The cars set aside for the use of the clubs and societies were used as the ANC-led SRC executives’ personal vehicles. If one were to book the car, the keys would be ‘missing’, even when the vehicle was actually on campus. Something that irked a rising young, female leader in the ANCYL was how these individuals were trashing the reputation of the Mass Democratic Movement in the eyes of the student body. She, and others, realized that a return to constitutional principles would be needed to remove the corrupt leaders from office. At this particular university, the Elections Committee was made up of two students and three staff members. In the interests of neutrality, I was elected alongside a foreign, black African student. I was filled with hope at the start of my commission, and I thought that the fair and successful completion of this election would look really good on my resume. I could not have been more mistaken.

The problems started almost immediately. The SRC executive was opposing the holding of elections, as the university was set to merge with other, formerly ‘non-white institutions.’ What they demanded was the unilateral, unconstitutional extension of their term until the SRC was dissolved and reconstituted by members from all the campuses. Of course, it was presented as ‘expedient’, ‘convenient’ and ‘cheaper’ for the university administration to grant this extension. However, with the literally hundreds of thousands of rand’s worth of corruption and multiple other scandals hanging over the head of the current executive, the administration initially rejected this demand. There was a core gang of about five to six individuals, variously from SASCO and the ANCYL who then made it their personal mission to derail the elections and make the Election Committee’s job untenable, and our private lives hell.

The first thing they had to do was quell the ‘liberal faction’ within their own ranks. The faction of the ANCYL that had pushed for my appointment, and argued for elections, was quite swiftly dealt with by an ANC bigwig that flew in from Luthuli House. This was the first time I got a glimpse of the ruthlessness of these people. The leader of this faction was taken into a private meeting by this top ANC cadre, and to this day I do not know what was said. I do know, however that the result was that she no longer communicated with me. From that time on, all our dealings with the MDM parties were handled through what I like to remember as the ‘Gang of Six.’

After all the ANC members had fallen in line, the official position of the ANCYL, SASCO, the ANC Women’s League and all the associated front parties was that there should be no election. The budget set aside for election supplies was denied to us, but the university did allocate a fraction of the funds needed. The SRC refused to allow us the use of motor vehicles to collect the supplies we had ordered. This was done by ‘losing’ the keys or taking the vehicles off campus. Eventually, one of the staff had to supply their own sedan to collect the ballot boxes and voting booths, generously supplied by the IEC. It was a tight fit! As much as these people were determined to sabotage our efforts, all of us were equally resolved to fulfil our duty to the university and its student body. When it was clear that the election was going ahead the ANCYL attempted three final, extremely corrupt acts to make the election ‘unconstitutional’.

At the time, the election needed a certain number of candidates to be held. The ANCYL initially refused to register any candidates, waiting until the last minute and hoping that, without them, there wouldn’t be enough people in the running. As the final day approached, it was brought to the Election Committee’s attention that some rank and file ANC members had threatened sexual violence against some of the female candidates that lived in the university-supplied dormitories, should they refuse to withdraw their nominations. Two or three candidates quit because of these threats, but when it became clear that the election would go ahead, the ANCYL, SASCO and a few other MDM parties hastily submitted their candidates’ lists. This, in itself was unconstitutional, as the election regulations called for individuals to register, and not political parties. However, the individuals filled out the relevant forms, and so were accepted at the eleventh hour.

Forty-eight hours before the election stations opened we received a letter signed by the main players in the Gang of Six demanding that all candidates be withdrawn from the election. It was a strategic move designed to throw the whole process into absolute chaos. Initially, we rejected the letter, as the constitution said that only individuals could withdraw their candidacy by filling out a form declaring their intent to that affect. There was a scramble to contact the MDM candidates, but they were actually in hiding and refused to communicate, or meet, with us. The Gang of Six railed against their candidates’ inclusion (none of them were running because they didn’t want to give legitimacy to the election in the first place), saying that ‘traditionally the elections were run along party lines’ (a complete lie). After many discussions with the Dean of Students and the staff members on the Elections Committee, the letter was accepted and the elections went ahead without the MDM candidates.

The elections got a predictably low, although viable, turnout and the new SRC executive was duly announced. The elections were also declared to be free and fair by the entire Elections Committee. The next morning we were in for an absolute shock. The Gang of Six absolutely refused to accept the outcome and refused to vacate their positions, they issued a letter using the titles they had no longer had any right to use. They threatened court action based on an unfair election that had deliberately excluded the ANC, and hinted at violence, later staging a march on campus to show that they weren’t joking. No disciplinary action was ever taken against the marchers. The leadership of the ANCYL repeatedly asked, ‘How can we have an election in South Africa without the ANC?’ To which I replied that no party was exempt from following the proper procedures. I wrote a five page response, that the university adopted as their official response to the letter and ensuing chaos. That’s when all hell broke loose for me. Suddenly, there was an affidavit from the ANC candidates claiming that I was a ‘racist’ and had ‘intimidated candidates’ to withdraw their nominations. The facts couldn’t be further from the truth I was a 60kg, 173cm weakling at university! Furthermore, I did not even meet the candidates, since they were in hiding, as I mentioned above. I was summoned, along with the other student representative on the election committee to a meeting with the legal representatives of the university. In that meeting, I argued my case, but was actually overruled by the legal representative in which I know was an unfair way. The ANCYL had changed their tune, claiming that since the elections were run on an individual basis, I had acted unconstitutionally by accepting their very own letter. Surprise, surprise this legal representative was a well-known ANC member. The election outcome was canceled and we, the Elections Committee were on our own.

It was at a final meeting that with the Dean of Students where he told me the final decision of university. The Gang of Six was to keep their positions and the top six candidates of our most recent election were to be added. The ANCYL had obviously been aware of both the decision and the meeting beforehand, and hence were waiting for me at the Students’ Union building.

“Get out of South Africa!”

Upon reflection, something died in me that day. I had done my best to be fair from the start, but I had to wonder if I was not just a white pawn in the ANCYL’s grand scheme to hold onto power unconstitutionally. I had glimpsed the future leadership and the ugly culture of paybacks, intimidation and threats, as well as a perverted way of interpreting laws and words to suit their own purposes that is rife in the ANC today. I wanted to write this letter to the papers immediately after this happened. However, I was threatened with legal action if I brought the university into disrepute, as if I had done something wrong. As a final insult, when I graduated Cum Laude the next year, that part was not read out at the graduation ceremony; just my name was called. Maybe my story is insignificant, and maybe I have bored you with the details of something that happened long ago. It is not insignificant to me though, as I sit thousands of kilometers away from the place of my birth.



South Africa at a Glance
58 780 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.5% y/y in June 2019 (CPI) & +5.8 y/y in June 2019 (PPI)
-3.2% q/q (1st quarter of 2019)
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