In praise of Pallo Jordan

Patrick Johnson

Howard Barrell (“Triumph of the politics of stupefaction”, February 19 to 25) raises a number of questions regarding the African National Congress’s national and provincial election lists, and the ordering of the lists as published earlier.

It is interesting that of all the ANC ministers Barrell zoomed in on, he singled out those identified with the left. The South African Communist Party seems to be his particular bugbear, so that wasn’t surprising.

Among other issues, Barrell questions the placement of Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Pallo Jordan in sixth place.
He even suggests Jordan does not deserve this placement.

Let me set Barrell straight. The lists published are the outcome of regional and provincial list conferences, where delegates cast their votes for the various candidates. Those elections were conducted by an external body and not by ANC officials. The position each candidate achieved on the lists is the end result.

At an extended National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting from February 12 to 14, the ANC leadership did not alter the ordering of the lists as they came from the provinces. If Jordan won sixth place on the national list, it indicates the confidence the ANC membership has in him.

Considering he attained third place in the NEC elections in 1997, second place in the 1994 NEC elections and fifth place on the ANC list in 1994, I would think this showed a consistently high estimation of the man by the ANC membership. Rather than searching for a devious explanation, is this not perhaps the simple one?

Barrell need not accept the ANC membership’s verdict, but it is the hard reality. As for the virtues the ANC membership attribute to Jordan, let me hazard to guess a few.

l A commitment to basic decencies. In the 1980s, when the offensive of the National Party’s police spies and assassins reached its peak, there were many who felt the soft option of permitting the ANC security organs a free hand to deal with the problem was the way out. This led to abuses that culminated in a mutiny in ANC camps in Angola. Jordan was one of the few who spoke out against such abuses, and he consequently became a target of the ANC security organs.

l Consistency. During the 1970s and 1980s, it was easy to be a “socialist”. But once the Berlin Wall fell and the palpable benefits of being identified with the other superpower disappeared, many erstwhile “socialists” discovered the sterling qualities of late capitalism. Jordan was never an acolyte of the Soviet Communist Party or its South African branch. But he was, and remains, an unapologetic socialist.

l One of the reasons Jordan fell from grace in 1996 was because he dared to disagree with President Nelson Mandela during a Cabinet debate. Mandela raised the matter in the party’s NEC and said, had Deputy President Thabo Mbeki been in the country at that time, he would have removed Jordan from the Cabinet that very day.

A few months later, Mandela did exactly that. Many of Jordan’s colleagues did not speak up because that meant taking on the president.

l Brutal honesty. The ANC has had its spats with the press. In 1996 the Black Editors Forum sought an audience with the ANC leadership about their differences. Any of the journalists present at the meeting will agree that had it not been for Jordan’s unwavering support of the principle of media freedom the meeting would have ended on a different note.

l Performance. When the ANC was legalised in 1990, it hardly had a media presence inside South Africa. Within four years, Jordan had built the party’s communications capacity into a formidable machine which, though disliked by its opponents, was highly respected.

Before he was sacked as minister of posts, telecommunications and broadcasting in March 1996, his ministry had each year contributed R40-million towards the Reconstruction and Development Programme; he had instigated a far- reaching policy process in telecommunications.

In February 1996 Jordan was the only minister then poised to restructure a major state asset. His sacking deprived him of the opportunity to deliver on it, but any researcher will tell you that among the government’s achievements South Africans believe have made a difference, telecommunications ranks tops.

If you measure performance against the targets set in budget speeches, you will see Jordan has, in fact, over-achieved his targets in the fields of tourism, environmental management and sea fisheries. Tourism has come centre stage and is now regarded as the route to job creation and economic growth.

And for the first time, South Africa produced a comprehensive piece of environmental legislation which is second to none in the world.

Jordan has led the way in transforming the fishing industry and has created opportunities for the disadvantaged communities whose livelihoods were ruined by apartheid and the greed of big business.

Of course the Barrells who make so much noise in the pages of the Mail & Guardian grew up taking telephones, secure jobs and three meals a day for granted, so that does not count for much. Perhaps if Barrell were not blinded by a particularly vicious animus towards the left wing of the ANC, his columns might actually contribute to sensible debate.

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