Last week’s accompanying of ANC member Andile Lungisa by supporters to North End prison in Port Elizabeth drew comparisons with the 2006 incarceration of former ANC parliamentary chief whip Tony Yengeni.
Yengeni was carried on the shoulders of supporters to Cape Town’s Pollsmoor prison after pleading guilty to fraud in a case related to the multimillion rand arms deal.
Ebrahim Rasool — a former Western Cape premier and ambassador to the United States and now the new chairperson of the Western Province Rugby Football Union — was among Yengeni’s supporters.
“For me, it was easy to accompany Tony Yengeni, or Allan Boesak, to prison. They understood and accepted due process. They lived in an era where there was respect for the rule of law .. It’s laudable that they presented themselves to the gates of the prison,” said Rasool. “Andile Lungisa went kicking and screaming. He is crying conspiracy. He says it’s a plot by another part of the ANC. That’s the difference.”
Rasool became the first ANC premier of the Western Cape in 2005. Though he set out to unify coloured and black voters in the province, his premiership saw increased tension between the so-called coloured and Africanist ANC factions.
There were allegations of dodgy dealings in the awarding of the Big Bay development, a prime piece of real estate on the West Coast, when Rasool was MEC for economic development from 2001 and 2004. But what he is most infamous for is the “brown envelope scandal” when he was premier. It’s alleged that he paid senior political journalists at Independent Media’s Cape Argus newspaper to report favourably on his administration.
He was “recalled” as premier in 2008 and sent to Washington DC as South Africa’s ambassador in 2010.
After a five-year posting, he built his World for All Foundation — an extension of his Home for All mission statement of his provincial administration — to continue the dialogue between leaders in countries with minority Muslim communities and the mainstream West.
An honest assessment
With one foot in international affairs and another in provincial politics, Rasool acted as an unofficial diplomat, campaigned against the incumbent Democratic Alliance city and provincial government and critiqued his political home, the ANC.
“Cape Town is a place where you’ve got to be an absolute fool to fail,” Rasool said in reaction to the DA’s claim that it is the best-governed province in the country. “If you consider that the old Cape Province had three academic hospitals, all based in Cape Town. It had the bulk of the most talented white civil servants. The road infrastructure. Cape Town practically governs itself.”
In 2016, the DA won a two-thirds majority in the city council.
“It’s not just a case of [DA] good governance, but it’s a case of ANC implosion. It’s the moral crisis of the ANC that couldn’t outdo the split of Patricia de Lille from the DA and a party that will survive the replacement of Mmusi Maimane with John Steenhuisen,” he said.
“Before [President Cyril] Ramaphosa makes the ANC recover politically, he has got to make it recover morally. An ANC moral surge will exploit DA weaknesses.”
Rasool is a staunch supporter of Ramaphosa’s attempts at ANC renewal. He said that former president Jacob Zuma’s “nine lost years” was “the depletion of ANC influence in the Western Cape. The coloured communities found confidence in the ANC and then lost confidence because of the stereotypes that came to the fore. That it [the ANC] was venal, that it was corrupt, it was incompetent.”
Rasool bemoans his party’s lack of effort to challenge the DA’s rule and to be an effective opposition party. The latter role has primarily been filled by social justice movements that challenge the DA government on everything from the provision of water to affordable public housing in the city centre.
“The ANC was in denial about being in opposition. It thought it could be an extension of the ANC in national government. It believed that rather than put the DA under pressure for the delivery of housing, it thought it needed a hotline to the national minister.”
It’s this stubbornness that Rasool believes will make it unlikely that the ANC will make any headway in the 2021 local elections and the 2024 provincial poll.
“With my ANC hat I have to say yes, we can win again in this city and province. But the distance I have had in the last year from the ANC tells me we are simply struggling to hold on to what we had. Unless President Ramaphosa can pull out a significant number of rabbits in orange overalls out of hats.”
Rasool has taken up a new job at the helm of Western Province Rugby, which has been plagued by boardroom squabbles over debt and indecision over whether to move from its home ground of Newlands to the Cape Town Stadium.
His appointment was welcomed by the mostly black rugby clubs that make up the amateur arm of the union. Some in the commercial arm have viewed his appointment with scepticism, claiming he’s a political appointment.
“There are very segmented ideas of who I am. For some, I’m the ANC hardliner who interrupted white rule in the Western Cape with a ‘home for all’ mentality. For others, I’m the transformation driver who made the province’s administration representative. And for others, the dominant memory is the brown envelope scandal. They don’t pause [to remember] I challenged the people who made the allegations, ‘don’t go to the media, go to the police station [to open a criminal case against me].”
Rasool said he wants to make the rugby union representative of the province’s demographics on the field and in the boardroom, a space he believes clubs have had little say.
“At the end of the day, I want the people of the Western Cape to celebrate trophies. To say thank you for being the most loyal rugby fans in the country,” Rasool said.