There are two little vignettes in Eric Naki’s book – Bantu Holomisa The Game Changer – which, read in the context of current events in South Africa, can make you sad.
But they are not sad stories, they are merely stories from the life of Bantubonke Holomisa.
The first anecdote is from his younger years, when he was staying with relatives and learning how to be a prince (he was born of royal blood).
That schooling in how to be a leader included the same chores everyone else did.
One of those was to guard his uncle’s orchard from the petty thieves (many of them his school pals) who loved to steal the ripe fruit.
The young Holomisa took his job seriously and would often unleash his uncle’s fierce guard dog, to chase the “tsotsis”.
No amount of bribery, or appeals to friendship, would get him to allow them into the orchard and the clever thieves resorted to plundering the fruit when he wasn’t on duty.
The second story is recounted, with laughter, by some of his good friends at the time he was head of the Military Council in the then Transkei, having removed the civilian leadership of the Bantustan in a military coup.
The friends came sidling over to Holomisa’s house one day, suggesting he appoint them to special, and important, positions simply because he was their friend.
Major-General Holomisa, as he then was, explained gently, but in an uncompromising way, that he would have no truck with nepotism. But, to ease their feelings, he plied them with a bit of drink.
In the book, the friends hold no grudges and clearly respect him for his ethics.
Those two stories are sad when you consider what they say about Holomisa: that he was never motivated by money and that duty to society always came first.
He has never been tarred with the brush of corruption, despite attempts by some opponents to spread innuendo on occasion.
Looking at what is happening in the ANC at the moment, you cannot help but wistfully, and sadly, wonder how different this country might have been had Holomisa not been kicked out of the ANC in 1996.
He was shown the door for his strong stance against corruption which was just starting to raise its ugly head then in the organisation.
He insisted that former Transkei Prime Minister Stella Sigcau – implicated in taking a bribe from Sol Kerzner and his Sun International organisation back in the 1980s in relation to casino rights in the homeland – be held accountable.
Sigcau was, by that time, however, a minister in the ANC government, as was Holomisa himself … but the organisation was not keen then, and is still not keen today, to shine the torch of inquiry into its murky corners.
Had Holomisa got his way and had the ANC in those early days laid down an unambiguous and zero-tolerance policy on corruption, we may not have had the arms deal scandal … but, even more importantly, the fertile and secretive ground where Jacob Zuma was allowed to flourish and grow all-powerful in the ANC might not have existed.
What would South Africa have been like – or still be like – under Bantu Holomisa as a president? That’s an unavoidable question after you read Naki’s book.
Titled an “authorised” autobiography, the book has, clearly, been vetted by Holomisa.
Yet, unlike the ANC to which he used to belong, Holomisa is surprisingly open about some of the most controversial aspects of his life, and especially his time as military ruler of Transkei.
The issue I was curious to see dealt with was the attempted coup against him in 1990, an event I covered at the time.
Discontented members of the Transkei Defence Force (TDF), under the leadership of Holomisa’s erstwhile friend, Colonel Craig Duli, and supported by the then South African Defence Force (SADF), tried to remove Holomisa.
There were exchanges of gunfire at a military base outside the capital, Mthatha, and at government headquarters in the town. Duli was, reportedly, captured at the government offices and taken away, wounded.
Witnesses described him as being well enough to walk – yet, some hours later, the TDF reported Duli had died. Some other reports at the time claimed Holomisa had been present when Duli was executed.
All these events are handled, in an open way, by Holomisa, in the book. He denies that Duli was executed and points out that, during the mini-rebellion, he was holed up in his house in Mthatha, guarded by loyal troops.
Then, Naki has also included in the book, the long and detailed ANC hatchet job done on Holomisa after he was expelled from the organisation and which was authored by SACP member Jeremy Cronin.
In it, Holomisa is accused of being a puppet of the apartheid government in Pretoria, as well as being guilty of corruption himself. The ANC pamphlet is carried unedited in the book, which is brave of Holomisa.
In response, Holomisa wrote a document titled Comrades in corruption which is not only a defence of himself but prophetic about what the ANC would become under the scourge of corruption.
The timing of the book is deliberate: as the ANC heads towards its watershed elective conference in about two weeks’ time, Holomisa’s story can be seen as a warning.
It can also be a reminder that this country still has politicians who have not been tainted – and so far, Holomisa has not been proven of any wrongdoing.
It was only a few weeks ago that he – now as leader of the United Democratic Movement – made one of the most telling observations of current South African politics when he said our current troubles as a country had a lot to do with our flawed constitution.
This book is required reading for anyone who wants to know how we got to where we are and wants to think about how we might get out of it.