Mthembu: Don’t do what I did

Since his high-profile arrest for drunken driving in Cape Town this month, the ANC’s senior national spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, apologises to everyone he meets for letting them down.

“I will apologise to you, too. I’m sorry for what I have done. I’m sorry for letting you down,” the 51-year-old struggle veteran told the Mail & Guardian. “I am doing this because what I did was wrong. Indeed, I did not adhere to the behaviour that the general population of South Africa, my organisation and my family and friends expected of me.”

Mthembu pleaded guilty to drunken driving this week and was ordered to pay a R12 000 fine, of which R6 000 is suspended for five years. He was also fined R500 for driving in the bus lane.

Leadership comes with responsibilities, he said, adding that he had been horrified when he was arrested on the N2 at 7am on March?11. “I was handcuffed in full view of all the passing motorists. It was not a nice experience and it’s something that will never happen to me again.”

Mthembu said it had been a coincidence that Mcebisi Skwatsha, an ANC member of the Western Cape legislature, had been driving past while he was being arrested.

“Nobody tried to shield me. Skwatsha stopped to assist a comrade who was being handcuffed,” he said. “At all times I cooperated fully with the traffic officers.”

Mthembu said he had read the M&G article reporting the suspicions of a Cape Town mayoral committee member, the DA’s JP Smith, that attempts to suspend the use of the Dräger breathalyser in the Western Cape after his arrest were “no coincidence”.

News that the use of the breath­alyser had been suspended in the Western Cape hit the headlines five days after Mthembu’s arrest, but the National Prosecuting Authority in the province knew nothing about it, said Smith.

“I would not hide behind a technical issue like this and there were certainly no approaches to my lawyer or myself about a cover-up,” said Mthembu.

“You become a better person if you own up, and I had already decided to plead guilty.”

‘I knew there was something wrong’
Mthembu said he had been invited to a party in Somerset West by a friend the night before his arrest.

“Discussions went on there and we drank until the early hours of the morning. I decided to sleep over there and I woke up early in the morning,” said Mthembu. “Even as I was waking, I knew there was something wrong. I think I should have just phoned Gwede [Mantashe] and said there is a problem here. But unfortunately, as a result of poor judgement on my part, I got into my car and tried to drive to my hotel in the Waterfront, where I planned to sleep it off.”

Mthembu said the whole experience had been a “learning curve” for him. His driving reflexes had not been good, but he had wanted to attend the planned ANC meeting with the SACP.

“I would really like to appeal to all of those who find some leader in me: please do not drink and drive. I have a clear recollection of everything that happened that day and I definitely sang Ayesaba Amagwana [over the phone to a reporter]. Julius [Malema] is so young, he was not the inventor of that song. During the struggle, we sang all sorts of songs against the enemy apartheid.”

Mthembu said: “If people feel these songs are now not in keeping with democracy, then say so, and let us debate. I’m not so sure what all this hullabaloo is about. This song has not been expunged from our vocabulary.”

Mthembu, who says he is “married” to his wife and the ANC, said he had apologised for his behaviour at an ANC national executive committee meeting a day after his arrest, and his apology had been “warmly received” by President Jacob Zuma.

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