A conversation with Adv Vusi Pikoli, former National Director of the NPA and author of the book, “My Second Initiation “

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LM:

Mkhuluwa, Thank you for this opportunity to have a deep conversation on a range of issues facing the country and the continent. 

VP:

It is an honour and privilege to participate on this platform which seeks to empower young minds. Thank you for inviting me.

LM:

Tell us a bit about your early years growing up in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth.

VP:
I come from a religious family. My parents inculcated certain values and principles in all of us at home. These were also reinforced when I joined the Boys Scouts at Johnson Marwanqa Higher Primary School whose motto is “Be Prepared”. Which I interpreted to mean that one should be prepared for anything in life and should be able to adapt but also remain principled and positive. In 1970 when I was doing standard 6 our class was instructed to plant trees. We were not happy with this instruction because at the time we did not appreciate its significance. Our reasoning was that trees take such a long time to grow and we were completing our primary education that year. What I have since realized was that you do not always do things for your own benefit. A good act stands to live and serve others long after you are gone. Those trees still stand tall there and are providing shade to others. So, when you walk or drive in Ngesi Street you must remember that those trees were planted by the class of 1970 which included amongst others, Sizwe Kondile, Monde Maqhula ,Bantubahle Khovu, Zolile Zokufa, Nontando Ngxiki ,Cikizwa Mayedwa, (The late Brenda Snyman, Amanda Shumane and many others.

I got politicized at Newell High School where I got my Junior Certificate in 1973. The formation of the Kwazakhele Rugby Union(Kwaru) under the umbrella of Sacos also introduced me to non-racial sport and politics of non-racialism though my hero and role model was Bhut Barney Pityana a Black Consciousness adherent at the time.

LM:

Who were your early heroes or people you looked up to and why?

VP:
I have always regarded my parents as my first role models. Educationally I was always impressed by Mr Budaza who was our teacher at Newell, he always boasted about his Master of Arts (MA)majored in English. Politically it was Bhut Barney Pityana and professionally it was retired judge CM Somyalo who was then still practising as an attorney.

LM:

What sparked your political awareness and what age were you politically active?

VP:

Before my further politisation at Newell High School. I was introduced to politics at a very early age. I would hear my mother talking about her brother Zolisa but I had seen and met all my uncles and aunts except for uncle Zolisa. She later told me that he was in Robben Island serving a 20 year sentence after being arrested and convicted in 1963. He was a member of the PAC and its military wing. They were arrested at Queenstown railway station travelling in a group from Cape Town en route to Mthatha to kill Kaiser Mathanzima for having accepted the self-governing territory status for the Transkei.I was 5 at the time. Also, the continued harassment by the security police of Bhut Barney and her brave wife Sis Dimza alerted me to the injustices of apartheid. I did my matric at St John’s College, Mthatha and travelling in those railway busses or trains was also a racial nightmare given the racist attitudes of those bus drivers and train conductors and inspectors. I belong to the 16 June 1976 generation. I was a student leader at Fort Hare University and I know the pain and humiliation of detention without trial. 


LM:

You then skipped the country to go into exile, what are some of the most memorable experiences of your time in exile and what lessons did you take from those experiences?

VP:

I went into exile with Sizwe Kondile, Phakamile Ximiya and Thozi Majola.Cde Chris Hani insisted that we must continue with our university education and to also combine it with military training in Lesotho and in Angola. We did not like that idea because we just wanted to do military training and come back and fight. We had to submit to the discipline of the organization and do as instructed. The highlight was being infiltrated for an underground political mission back into SA in 1986 at the height of mass resistance and the state of emergency. 

Participating in the drafting of the ANC Constitutional Guidelines and engaging the SA legal profession in discussions in Harare before 1990 is an experience one will never forget and will forever treasure.

LM:

South Africa faces a huge ethical crisis in both the public and private sector, how can young leaders avoid the traps that have caught many prominent South Africans?

VP:

We seem to be having this obnoxious culture of entitlement and greed. A culture change takes a long long time to set in. People can be taught ethics and be trained in ethics through codes of ethics or codes of conduct. These conversations need to take place very early on as part of early childhood development. The family being a basic unit of society is the obvious starting point where these values should be instilled. Where there    is a culture of impunity ethical lapses and erosions become a norm. South Africa needs a common set of ethical values that would define us as a nation. What cannot be taught is integrity and it is personal integrity that guides our conduct or behaviour. The road to success is hard and there are no short cuts.

LM:

One of the stories to be told is how companies were places under political pressure not to hire you after your stint at the NPA, what would drive people to do this kind of thing?

VP:

The default position of human beings is selfishness where people start with self and the rest can follow. When you stick to own values you must be prepared for isolation and castigation. You also need to be resilient in the face of adversity “ungabi yinkenenkene” do not be a softie, you must stand your ground. Here I am, I have bounced back and bear no personal grudges against anyone.

LM:

There are billions of Rands that have been squandered in the SOE’s. Many of these companies are now a huge drain on the fiscus. What do you think is the root cause of this problem, and how can it be addressed?

VP:

Greed and unethical conduct of business where leaders have no integrity. In the last 9 years or so, we witnessed an erosion and undermining of state institutions particularly in the criminal justice sector where questionable appointments were made at the NPA, the SAPS and Hawks and at Intelligence services. We have seen the growth of an illegitimate parallel state apparatus feeding off the legitimate state. We have seen how the unholy trio of a corrupt business person, a corrupt civil servant and a corrupt politician have raided and looted the public fiscus.

LM:

As someone passionate about good corporate governance, what should be the relationship between executive management, the board of directors and the Ministers representing shareholders in the SOE’s? What recommendations would you give to strengthen corporate governance in the SOE’s?

VP:
The board performs an oversight responsibility in ensuring good performance and proper implementation of the business strategy as well as maximizing shareholder value. Shareholders do not run the day to day activities of the company nor do they involve themselves in the appointment of key personnel. All the King reports highlight these issues and they serve as a persuasive guide to good corporate governance. Also, the observance and enforcement of the Companies Act is critical. The Audit Committees and Social & Ethics committees of the boards must have experienced and competent persons who themselves are above reproach and are not malleable and pliable persons. They must be people who stand their ground even against shareholders including Ministers when it comes to SOE’s.

LM:

A number of prominent international companies such as SAP; Mackinsey, Bain, Gartner, KPMG and others have been implicated in serous ethics violations, what does this tell us about their corporate culture?

VP:
Unfortunately corruption is everywhere. A culture of greed and unethical behaviour does not happen overnight. It starts by not declaring conflict of interest and not having a gift policy. Turning a blind eye to minor infractions and not tightening internal controls and systems and exercising unfettered discretions in conditions that lack transparency and accountability.

LM:

Many Organisations, both here and abroad have lofty values and principles prominently displayed at their corporate headquarters, why is there such a huge gap between these lofty ideas and their involvement in corruption involving some very senior people?

VP:
The tone is set at the top, you need exemplary leadership that does what it says. You need a leadership that values the truth, one that does not overstate the companies’ revenue and understate the liabilities. Lookout for off book transactions. Leaders must first hold themselves accountable before holding junior staff accountable.

LM:

The current Commissions of Inquiry and other investigations into malfeasance reveal the involvement of law firms, banks, auditing firms, reputational management companies and even members of Boards in grand theft and corruption, are our universities doing enough to produce men and women of integrity to lead?

VP:
Integrity cannot be taught. We are products of our material conditions and are also influenced by our socialization. We are still prisoners of human frailties. Most professions operate within regulatory frameworks and specific ethical codes applicable to their professions. We need to have these enforced where there is violation. Auditors,doctors,lawyers,engineers etc have their own ethical standards.

LM:

During the time in exile, you and many leaders of the liberation movement, observed the shortcomings of liberation movements across the African continent, there was an early commitment to learn from these shortcomings. What in, your mind, went wrong with the ruling party in South Africa?

VP:

We tend to think we are unique and the sooner we realize that we like any other country in Africa and the world the better for all of us. Yes, you are right, we did say that given the benefit of being the last to be liberated we would avoid the pitfalls of others. We have a wonderful legislative and administrative framework, our laws and policies are excellent, but we lack implementation. We know what needs to be done and how it can be done but we simply lack the will to do it. There are however some encouraging and positive signs lately. We need to start developing the culture of resignations when found wanting. We must fall on our swords and take the responsibility and accept the consequences of our own wrong doing and not seek to blame others or develop some limp conspiracy theories.

LM:

What is cadre deployment, how do you think it can best be done in a constitutional dispensation to ensure that it is not abused?

VP:

On Cadre deployment 

My response is more on use value. In the first 10 years of democratic rule we needed people who knew and understood the policies of the ruling party whose loyalty to the new constitutional democratic order is unquestionable.

It would have been naive to think that immediately after the 1994 first democratic elections the civil servants who were there during apartheid days would just switch allegiance automatically and support the new constitutional order. Section 9, the equality clause of the Constitution does provide for fair discrimination if done for right reasons and also taking into account our preamble that talks about healing the divisions of the past and establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

For me cadre deployment should NOT be intended to unduly benefit a political party by virtue of it being the ruling party.

Section 195(1)(d) specifically provides that (public) services must be provided impartially,fairly,equitably and without bias.

When it comes to security services section 199(7) says “Neither the security services nor any of their members may in the performance of their functions (a) prejudice a political party interest that is legitimate in terms of the Constitution or (b)further in a partisan manner any interest of a political party.

LM:

When you retire and are sitting in a rocking chair in your beloved Port Elizabeth, looking back on your life, what would be the 5 key events that you would say shaped Vusi Pikoli?

VP:
Surviving apartheid military raids into Lesotho 1982& 1985 and in Harare in 1986 are some of the negative highlights. We had to juggle different roles of being students by day and guerillas by night. It was not that easy.

LM:

Thank you so much Mkhuluwa( Big Brother), I truly appreciate your unique insights and your amazing reflections on your life journey

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