/ 2 August 1996

Holomisa refused Mandela’s appeal

If Bantu Holomisa had heeded President Mandela’s appeal that he apologise, his sacking could have been avoided, writes Gaye Davis

PRESIDENT Nelson Mandela tried to persuade axed deputy minister of environmental affairs and tourism Bantu Holomisa to apologise for remarks he made about Public Enterprises Minister Stella Sigcau before the truth commission, saying this would enable him to neutralise the forces against the former Transkei military ruler.

Holomisa told the Mail & Guardian the president’s appeal came soon after African National Congress secretary general Cyril Ramaphosa publicly announced he would face a disciplinary hearing for saying Sigcau received a R50 000 cut of a R2-million bribe allegedly paid by hotel magnate Sol Kerzner to then Transkei president George Matanzima to secure gambling rights.

“President Mandela called me from Transkei but couldn’t get me. His last call to my wife was at 3am. He called my drivers, he left a message on my cellphone which was in my hotel. I got his messages in the morning and phoned him at about 10am.

“He advised me to apologise for what I said about [Sigcau] at the truth commission so that the whole thing could be handled. He said this issue would divide the organisation and my opponents would find an opportunity to go at me.

“He said if I said I was asked by him to apologise he would be able to neutralise the forces against me — that was how he put it.”

Holomisa, whom Mandela sacked as deputy minister last Friday, said he told the president that by apologising he would be “putting my credibility on the line”: he had toppled the Transkei government in the 1987 coup because of the corruption riddling it. “The entire military council which took that decision in 1987 as well as the Transkei Defence Force would find it difficult to do that.

“I found it ethically impossible [to apologise]. I differed with him [Mandela] fundamentally. God will forgive me if I had taken the wrong judgment on not taking his advice. He is always accused of protecting Holomisa. He knows the people who are against me,” Holomisa said.

Holomisa on Thursday suggested the government had been compromised by Kerzner. It was “common cause that as a result of the R2-million bribe” Kerzner faced criminal prosecution, and “I have been most insistent that Sol Kerzner be charged”, Holomisa said.

While he could understand why the National Party government deliberately frustrated such prosecution from taking place, he could not understand why “the democratic government has been compromised”. He said he had “privileged information” relating to Kerzner’s financial aid to the ANC to contest the 1994 elections and said it was known he had funded social events of leading ANC members, including Deputy President Thabo Mbeki’s 50th birthday party.

However, “as a loyal member of the ANC” he wanted to “resist the inference that the price that our organisation had to pay in return” was that Kerzner would not be prosecuted.

In a handwritten post-script to the letter to Ramaphosa setting out his objections, Holomisa wrote: “The bottom line: get yourselves out of Sol Kerzner’s top drawer first, thereafter you can point fingers. Many in this country would agree with me that there is a symbiotic relationship between Kerzner’s R2-million payment to the former Transkei officials and the subsequent favours offered by Mr Kerzner and his company to some of us.”

Holomisa was making public his objections to the hearing, set down for Cape Town on August 14. He contends the ANC has no jurisdiction to charge him for testifying as a “concerned citizen and former head of the then government of Transkei” and mentioning Sigcau “in passing” as a member of the former homeland administration.

The issue was “not so much about Minister Stella Sigcau” as it was “about Sol Kerzner”, Holomisa said.

A further objection is that he believes the disciplinary hearing will be biased against him on the basis of Mbeki’s earlier remarks that Holomisa’s testimony was “ill-informed and malicious.

“This leads me to the irresistible conclusion that even without hearing my side of the story, he had come to the conclusion that I was the guilty party.

“His influence in the organisation cannot be underestimated and therefore it is conceivable that whoever presides might be constrained to return a verdict that would be more in line with the expectations of the deputy president than the merits of any case I might be able to put before the disciplinary committee, however persuasive ordinarily those merits might be.”

It was now clear he was being charged for having testified before the truth commission. While the ANC had denied members first had to have their testimony vetted, “as long as Deputy President Mbeki’s state views … prevail the work and credibility of the TRC will be seriously undermined.

“Already the TRC as well as the public are finding it extremely difficult to separate my dismissal from government from my having testified in the TRC… pressing charges… will only serve to confirm that public perception.”

Holomisa has asked Ramaphosa to respond to a letter setting out his objections in writing before August 14. He could be expelled from the party, in which case he loses his seat as an MP, or suspended, or sentenced to some form of community service.

He said he had been informed that he would be asked to apologise and that if he declined to he could be suspended or expelled.