Vytjie Mentor is a commendably brave woman from the Northern Cape – one of the poorest provinces, despite being endowed with diamond and uranium deposits.
An activist against the inhumane system of apartheid, Mentor – like any black South African – suffered under apartheid from a young age.
She was confined to a township and unable to live alongside white people due to the then Group Areas Act. She could not cast a vote during elections and could not just marry anyone she loved because of the Mixed Marriages Act.
But despite the hardship, she rose to become an activist at a time when it was not fashionable to be pro-ANC, because that was tantamount to working with “a terrorist organisation”.
Being openly supportive of a banned political organisation at the time was akin to committing treason.
When Mentor made supreme sacrifices, little did she know that one day her country would be free and that Nelson Mandela would become the country’s first democratically elected president.
After the ANC won the elections to form the Government of National Unity with the National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party, Mentor became one of the pioneer black members of parliament.
She soon rose to chairperson of the portfolio committee on public enterprises – an important and strategic committee playing an oversight role over the executive and ensuring growth in the country’s economy.
Oversight over the executive also means ensuring that governance, policies and ethics are adhered to by government – from the president to a junior civil servant.
What Mentor did not prepare for was that, one day, she would have to come up against someone like Jacob Zuma, who served as national executive committee member of the then banned ANC and whose contribution to South African democracy is unquestionable.
This week, she had to testify before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, not pointing her arrow at a leader of an opposition party, but to a man she grew to admire: Zuma, who himself went through hardship.
She was one of many who were offered Cabinet posts by the friends of the president – the infamous Gupta family.
Some may mock Mentor for coming across as slow or forgetting dates or some details in her testimony about what happened eight years ago while addressing the commission headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
But what we have failed to do is admire her courage to speak out against very powerful people: Zuma, the Guptas and some cronies who hold levers of state power.
We have failed to rally around her for being a whistle-blower – an undertaking which is a huge political risk, within structures of her own political party, to her safety and to her life.
So, when she broke down in tears during her testimony, Zondo had to pull out all the stops to ensure that her safety came first.
Sadly, what we did not hear were the voices of women – particularly the ANC Women’s League – in rallying behind her cry for an end to the plunder.