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Der Mut von Terror Lekota

In ihrem Artikel ueber den Fuehrer der neuen Opositionspartei in Suedafrika hat Fiona Forde ein sehr detailiertes Bild des Mannes gezeichnet, der die politische Landschaft Suedafrikas auf den Kopf gestellt hat. Es gibt uns einen intimen Einblick in den persoenlichen Werdegang und erklaert nicht nur, wie er zu seinem Markennamen ‚Terror‘ als junger Fussballspieler gekommen ist, sondern laesst uns auch aneinem Ueberblick zu seiner politischen Laufbahn teilhaben.

Dezember 2008

Autor: denis2010

'The bravery of Terror Lekota'

It was 1965 and Mosiuoa Lekota was earning a solid reputation on the soccer pitch at the Mariazell High School in Matatiele, a small town in the foothills of the western Drakensberg. The 18-year-old student from the Free State was an excellent striker, a skillful player who could attack as well as score. To his sports master, a Mr Mtshizana, he was terror incarnate. The name has stuck to this day.

And it is a fitting name for the hotheaded politico whose anger appears to be forever bubbling under the surface.

He claims, though, that his bark is far worse than his bite.
From Matatiele, Lekota moved to Marianhill to complete his secondary education at St Francis College, a Catholic school that had churned out Robert Mugabe and Steve Biko before him.

And by the time he matriculated in 1969, he was well aware of the injustices that characterised black South African life.

No sooner was he through the gates of the University of the North than he joined the SA Students' Organisation (Saso), took his place on the Student Representative Council and became a staunch advocate of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM)... affiliations that led to his expulsion from the university in 1972.

His involvement with Saso continued off campus, and in 1974 he was organiser for the student body.

"Those days were hot," he says. The apartheid regime was into its 26th year and showing no signs of easing.

The banning of the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress had forced many of its members into exile or underground and young people had begun to take up the struggle in their name.

It was also in 1974 that Lekota was due to marry Cynthia, the daughter of Zulu writer OL Sibusiso Shange, author of the acclaimed Injula nokujiya kwesiZulu.

However, Lekota was detained in a swoop on student activists around the country that year as the heavy boot of the regime came down. He was later prosecuted in what became known as the Saso-BPC (Black People's Convention) Trial and sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island.

Rather than postpone their nuptials, he and Cynthia were married at the Pretoria Central Prison on April 17 1975, shortly before the verdict was delivered.

Nelson Mandela writes in Long Walk to Freedom: "I had heard reports of the bravery of Patrick 'Terror' Lekota, a leader of the South African Students' Organisation, and sent him a note of welcome."

Lekota recalls it as a handwritten introductory piece on the ANC, on a double-sided foolscap page, written and signed by Mandela. "It gave a bird's-eye view of the movement," he says.

The written correspondence between Lekota, Mandela and Walter Sisulu continued to permeate the prison walls in the days that followed and it didn't take long to bring the 27-year-old activist on to the ANC side.

Ironically, it was the late Steve Tshwete, the man who would lose the chairpersonship of the ANC to Lekota many years later, who did most of the work to recruit him.

It didn't take much, it has to be said. Unlike many of his Saso comrades, Lekota was non-racial then, and still is, in his outlook... "and I was ideologically au fait with what the ANC was all about. I joined almost immediately."

In no time, he was preaching to the uninitiated on the ANC's behalf.

For that he got his comeuppance from fellow BCM inmates who badly harmed him in an attack, forcing the prison authorities to confine Lekota in isolation.

The next two years he would spend with Mandela, Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and other notables, a time in his prison life he recalls as "a tremendous learning period".

It was only when he had to make space for a new PAC inmate that Lekota was returned to the general section of the island prison. After 24 months, it felt good, he says. "You can't only stay with the old guys."

Besides, he could not play soccer in confinement. Once back in the general section he joined the same football team as fellow inmate Kgalema Motlanthe - "a good soccer guy".

But football and fun aside, prison was a time when Lekota began to write: poetry, essays and letters.

He had taken to writing to Masetjhaba, his oldest daughter... "my favourite child", he confesses.

And in a string of letters he would later compile and publish, Lekota would explain to the young girl why her father was doing time behind bars.

In one of these, he wrote: "Above all then, my dear, I am in prison for the sake of peace for our country and the world. I am in prison so that our generation may leave to yours and later generations a country and a world that has the greatest potential for progress."

To do that, he helped to launch the United Democratic Front upon his release in 1982, aware as he and many others were then that time was not on their side because the people of South Africa could not be subjected to white rule ad infinitum.

Eight months later he attended the launch of the UDF as its new publicity secretary.

He regards co-founding that movement as his greatest achievement during his 30-plus years with the ANC.

However, it attracted the attention of the authorities once again and he was briefly detained in 1984.

He was detained again in 1985 and prosecuted in the Delmas Trial, which ended four years later, the longest political trial in South Africa.

Along with several other activists, Lekota was accused of, among other things, treason and murder. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

But he and the other convicts decided to appeal from behind their prison bars. George Bizos was part of a legal team that led it on their behalf.

The appeal was successful and when Lekota read Bizos's arguments against what he dubbed a blatant miscarriage of justice, Lekota asked Bizos if he had not heard of the Basotho saying: "Don't shout at the crocodile until you have crossed the river", as Bizos later recorded in his autobiography Odyssey to Freedom.

They would prove to be rich words coming from Lekota, who would himself take on one of the biggest sharks of South African politics in the years to come: Thabo Mbeki.

After the ANC was unbanned in 1990, Lekota rose through its ranks, climbing the steep steps of post-apartheid government politics. He was elected to the ANC national executive committee in 1991, and to the national election committee a year later.

In 1994 he was appointed premier of the Free State, a position he was removed from two years later for mishandling the accusations of corruption he levelled against some of his provincial comrades. It was Mandela who appointed him premier, but Mbeki who ordered his recall.

Lekota regards this as his "biggest regret" in political life. "I think I should have approached it (the accusations) differently," he says now.

Instead, "I got myself victimised and removed from the leadership. I think it was much later that the comrades realised I was right but it was too late then."

That year - 1996 - proved to be a trying year in other ways: Masetjhaba (then 22) was found dead on the campus of the university she was attending.

She was the eldest of four children Lekota has with Cynthia: Kotane (now 25); Nakubutu (23); and Kopano, who's just shy of 18. From separate relationships, Lekota is also father to Laurent and Leila.

From the Free State, he was sent to Cape Town, where he joined the National Assembly. He was also appointed chairman of the National Council of Provinces.

If that latter move was intended as a slight on the part of Mbeki, it didn't work. A year later, Lekota challenged the Mbeki-backed candidate Steve Tshwete for the chairpersonship of the ANC. Lekota won it. And then he held on to it for the next 10 years.

And it has to be said that it was under Lekota's watch as chairperson and Mbeki's time as leader during those two consecutive terms that the ANC began to crumble. Less than a year after they left their respective positions, the 96-year-old ruling party has split.

But as Mbeki paved his own way to the presidency at the end of the '90s and prepared to step into what he would foolishly call Mandela's "ugly shoes", he saw in Lekota something of a force to be reckoned with.

He may not have seen him as a rival, but at a time when the future president was beginning to close ranks and surround himself with a band of loyalists, he knew that Lekota was not one who would be easily tamed. Lekota was aware of his UDF grassroots appeal... and he knew exactly when to call on it, as he would again this year in rallying support for the breakaway Congress of the People (COPE).

After Mandela stepped down in 1999, Mbeki became the second president of South Africa's democracy. In a surprise move, he decided to bring Lekota in from the cold rather than risk leaving him to his own devices in the political wilderness.

But being part of the inner fold did not silence the defence minister, however, and three years later Lekota broke ranks and publicly criticised Mbeki's quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe.

"I know President Mbeki was quite irritated about me breaking ranks on this view, but I wasn't talking about a position of government. It was my own view. And I've always spoken out on principle," Lekota says.

Lekota was one of 11 cabinet ministers who resigned days after Mbeki was recalled. Ten days later, he served the "divorce papers" on the ANC, a move that prompted him, his former deputy Mluleki George and former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa to found COPE.

They were looked upon as a bunch of sore losers, Mbeki-ites who could not bear the thought of being led by those they had not chosen to lead.

But an Mbeki loyalist Lekota is not. He claims not to have spoken to the former president about his plans to form a political party. He did not confide in him. He sought neither his advice nor his blessing.

"No, no, no, no, no," he says. "He was always my senior, but he was not my friend, not the way Mbhazima would be friends with (him)."

Not satisfied to leave the matter at that, he continues: "I'm not. No, I'm not. I'm not loyal to an individual. I've been loyal to principle, but not to (Mbeki)."

How ironic it is that it's at Mbeki's expense that Lekota has risen to what may be the pinnacle of his political career as founding president and leader of COPE, potentially the first real strong opposition to the liberation movement.”
By Fiona Forde - 24. December 2008 at 07:11AM - This article was originally published on page 11 of The Star on 24. December 2008

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Regional > Südliches Afrika > Aktuelles aus Suedafrika > Der Mut von Terror Lekota