The Presidential Years

First, just a few things before moving back to your question, because sometimes we tend to forget that other things came up at the time.

I was with him not only in government but in the lead up to the first election. I was deployed very deliberately, besides being one of two deputy national elections coordinators, to also work on the Northern Cape. The reason for that was that I speak Afrikaans as a second language and I speak it fairly fluently and was also from the Western Cape. This is just by way of background.

You may also recall that Madiba towards the end of that campaign and in subsequent election campaigns focused part of his time on the Northern Cape. That was because in 1994 we thought we could lose the Northern Cape or that it would be a tie. But unlike the Western Cape we won the Northern Cape and in part of that was, I think, the way the ANC mobilised in the region. But he also went out to a number of these places and communities and I accompanied him to many of these communities.

I want to fast forward now to some of his so-called ‘personal projects’ and then come back later to the government years. I think his time in the Northern Cape left a lasting impression on him and that he then decided that he was going to build schools, he wanted to get involved in building a hospital and all that, in a few communities, including the Riemvasmaak community where we went with a group of business leaders. ...

What I witnessed, when I sat with him in the breakfast meetings with business leaders, was the way in which he approached them to invest resources into projects and initiatives. He went into those meetings very clear that he was not going to take no for an answer, very clear that this is what he wanted and that he expected them to meet it – and it was clear there was no free breakfast, there was no free lunch. There were certain times when they provided the charter planes, and that might have been in the post-government years and there were also times when he went in the presidential plane and he would bring them with him. He was very clear what he wanted from them – and even when some of them felt discomfort in agreeing upfront, he didn’t really allow options. That happened in closed meetings and then he took them out into the communities and engaged with communities and the people.

I wanted to make the link that his commitment to that community came pre-election and he took it through his government years to the end of the government years and into his personal projects. I remember there were some issues about the way Madiba was putting forward such projects, because of course they needed to be supported by government programs: you needed to look at staffing, at equipment, at what is required to make sure that the schools are functional and all that. If it was not in the overall plan it did create a bit of tension. But that was also where he thought that the private sector could and should play a greater role.

The link I want to make is that Madiba very clearly saw a role for the private sector along with the public sector. It’s just that those projects tended to be seen as his personal projects rather than taking them forward as a coordinated government, private sector relationship.

Geraldine Fraser Moleketi