A politics of poor judgement


Death, they say, often brings people together. It was the death of Mme Albertina Sisulu which caused the paths of pro-sanctions activist and former member of the British cabinet, Peter Hain, and mine to cross. We met each other as we entered the Church of St Martin of the Fields that summer’s morning. We had come for Mme Sisulu’s memorial service. Closely associated with anti-Apartheid cleric, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, St Martins was to London’s anti-Apartheid activists, what St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town was to the struggle for freedom in South Africa. It neighbours South Africa House on Trafalgar Square.

The year was 2011 and Hain was in the opposition benches by then; I was a student at Sussex ending my coursework and preparing for my dissertation. I followed up that greeting with an email requesting that, as an upcoming activist in South Africa, it would be great to volunteer my services in Hain’s office. Hain had no time for me. His days in contributing to South Africa had ended, at least so I thought. His response was dismissive.

While I would not want to be arrogant and suggest that Hain should have taken me seriously, his latest attempts to being relevant in British politics went noticed. What did surprise me was his inclusion of the name of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Peter Hammond. In it, Hain links several individuals to the Gupta business empire and requests the Chancellor to launch an investigation into these individuals.
Peter Hain, it would seem, has taken up the South African baton again and sees himself once again as a champion for the South African cause. This time not against Apartheid but against President Jacob Zuma. Suffering from no loss of White saviour syndrome, Hain has awoken from his slumber in respect of South Africa as he tries to hold onto his political career and create some sort of legacy.

Born in Kenya, the Hains moved to South Africa when he was a toddler. When Hain was sixteen, they left South Africa to live in the United Kingdom. They had had enough of the colonies. His parents had been members of the now defunct Liberal Party and had been harassed by security police. In the UK, Peter Hain would lead campaigns of sport boycotts against South African teams especially in cricket and rugby. While he contested both the 1983 and 1987 general elections in the UK, he was only elected to Parliament in 1991 as the member for Neath. 

In recent time, Hain has been as controversial as the Guptas. He had to resign his position in the Brown government, as Secretary of State for Wales, because of his failure to declare donations to his deputy-leader of the Labour party campaign in 2007. In spite of these donations, valued at nearly R2 million in today’s value, Hain was so unpopular in his party that he came fifth out of a race of six for the deputy-leadership position, losing to Harriet Harman. Notably, long time National Party, the architects and guardians of Apartheid, funder, Isaac Kaye had also donated to Hain’s campaign.

As important as the idea is that Hain’s letter is an attempt of the formal colonial master to continue playing a role in the politics of the now liberated colony, as the French continue to do in Francophone Africa, we may suggest two other reasons why it is important.

Firstly, hitherto, there has been no link between established between Dr Dlamini-Zuma and the Guptas. As the FBI sullied Hilary Clinton’s campaign on the eve of the US election, so too Hain’s letter is an attempt to throw international mud at Dr Dlamini-Zuma on the eve of the ANC’s elective conference. Not even the Gupta-leaked emails, material for much of the expose done by South African media against the family and their associates, could link the former AU Commission Chairperson to this family. Yet Hain desperately attempts to do just that. 

Given that White monopoly capital could not rely on its allies in the local media, it had to rely on its international friends, in London of all places, to start this campaign of deligitimising the candidature of a woman whose credentials speak far louder than her once marriage to the current president.
Dr Dlamini-Zuma is a medical doctor and had served the ANC in London and abroad during exile. She was appointed as the first minister of health in a free South Africa under President Nelson Mandela. During the Mbeki administration she served a double term as the country’s foreign minister while playing a key role in the establishment of the African Union. Before going on to be the continental body’s commission chairperson, she turned around the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa and has yet to be linked to a corruption scandal. Yet the blemished Peter Hain sees fit to link her, but none of her four daughters, to the Gupta family.

The second reason why Hain’s letter is to be noted is that it clearly identifies the camp in which Hain is situated. In throwing mud at Dr Dlamini-Zuma, for there can be no other reason than he opposing her election to the presidency, he has identified himself with a faction of the ANC that seems to be out of touch with the reality of the majority of South Africans. The likes of Peter Hain are much more comfortable in the company of Johan Rupert who dismiss radical economic transformation, which the majority of South Africans are demanding, as a mere code word for theft. Peter Hain does not have his finger on the pulse of the South African populace.

But then again, his career in British politics ends on just that note. He is out of touch with his own party and the British people. In 2007, he lost touch with Labour when he was eliminated in the first round of election for the Deputy-Leadership race. Today, he forms part of a clique in the Labour Party longing for the days of Tony Blair when Brits want more of Corbyn’s Labour. Hain voted remain and stubbornly refuses to vote for Brexit, defying his own party. 

Asked whether she had any response to Hain’s letter to the Chancellor, Dr Dlamini-Zuma had no idea what the reporter was talking about. That is how relevant Peter Hain has become. He may be a member of the House of Lords but South Africans have very little time these days for anything said badly about them by the British never mind a Lord. In fact, what Hain’s letter does is prompt one to ask: when will the British take responsibility for corruption in Africa? For if anything, it is their actions through theft and colonialism, not Bell Pottinger, that gave them the worst PR on the continent.


Wesley Seale teaches Politics at Rhodes University, he is a PhD Candidate at Beijing University in China