By Thandi Cele*
“Charity begins at home”. As a woman who survived severe physical and mental abuse for years at the hands of my abusive, self-absorbed and narcissistic partner, this phrase always leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I know how difficult it was for me to finally realise that in my case this was not true, and how long it took me to finally exit that abusive relationship.
That terrible experience adds to my pain and desperation of finding myself back in another abusive relationship, this time with my longtime employer – the African National Congress (ANC). What makes it worse is that I do not only see the ANC as my employer, but that I am also in a deeply committed relationship to the ANC as my political home, and the Liberation Movement that I have dedicated most of my adult life to.
I joined the ANC as a young and tender teenager, and risked my life working in the underground when it was still a banned organisation. For my membership of the ANC I
was detained, kept in solitary confinement, tortured, and raped by an apartheid security police man.
Since the ANC was unbanned, and returned from exile, I have known no other employer. The ANC is not only my employer and political party, it is my family. As was the case with my former partner, and the father of my two children, I am now again being abused by my family. As with that man, whom I once adored and loved, I am watching aghast as my beloved Liberation Movement is being transformed by self-absorbed and selfish leaders into an uncaring and abusive monster that devours its own loved ones and children.
I used to go to Luthuli House with a spring in my step, happy to go to work, and more than just earning my upkeep I felt that I contributed to furthering our liberation struggle, and helping to build a better life for all of us in South Africa.
Nowadays I go there with my shoulders hunched, weighed down by the heavy burden of feeling hopeless and fearfull. I watched how Luthuli House from the main entrance to allmost everywhere throughout the building became neglected, run-down, and dirty. For me this decay symbolizes the cesspool of moral collapse and selfishness that our once selfless and proud Liberation Movement had sunken into.
The only clean and shiny things one can still find in Luthuli House are the extraordinary expensive luxury cars of the NEC members in the basement parking. How eerily prophetic was comrade Chris Hani when he warned us that this will happen!
For more than two years now I, and my fellow comrades in Luthuli House, have gone burdened under a situation of no income security. Our employment contracts state that we should be paid on the 25th of every month, but this hardly ever happens. What adds insult to injury is that we are not informed that it will not happen, we just don’t see our salaries in our bank accounts…
Enquiries about why this is the case, and when salaries will be paid, is met with outright hostility. Our enquiries are treated as acts of insubordination. In the uncommon event that something is eventually communicated, it is in the form of terse and condescending WhatsApp messages stating that salaries will not be paid “until further notice”. The only acknowledgement that this must be devastating for us as staff, our family commitments and credit records, only once came with a lame apology for the “inconvenience caused”.
Wow! “inconvenience”?!, this is the how far the fat-cat NEC members and senior management at Luthuli House could get themselves to describe the havoc they are causing in the lives of their long-suffering loyal staff! When a year ago our salaries were not paid in time for the December holidays, and Christmas was ruined for our families, the Treasurer General, Paul Mashatile, irritably told journalist Eusebius McKaiser on Radio 702, “that it is not my problem”.
Yes, indeed we know that comrade Paul could not be bothered, because it is no secret that he rolls in the money – which interestingly enough he amassed as an ANC government deployee. His children were certainly not going short over that festive season. We know – by hook and by crook – these so-called leaders of ours know all too well how to take care of themselves. It would be very interesting indeed to know how they got so filthy rich on the back of government salaries … Among senior NEC members there are several millionaires and even billionaires.
A month ago when we had a staff meeting to address the perpetual late salary payments, and the non-payment of employer provident fund and medical aid contributions, as well as a huge oustanding tax bill to SARS, comrade Mashatile refused to attend the meeting, and sent Keith Khoza, as a messenger from his office to the staff meeting, to threaten us that if we dare to take legal action to address these serious matters we will be summarily dismissed.
A climate of fear reigns among the staff, in mafia-like style some staff members who, under the dire circumstances that we are faced with are desperate to get some money, are paid to spy and snitch on their colleagues.
The non-payments of employer provident and medical aid contributions are very serious, and in fact criminal matters. It is fraud and theft to deduct money from the salaries of employees, and then not to pay it, and misapropriate it for other purposes – unbeknown to us as employees.
Families of employees that have passed on are suffering because they are not recieving provident fund payments that are legally due to them. In the mids of the COVID-19 pandemic our staff Medshield medical aid was suspended several times, because of the non-payment of ANC company contributions. The lives of some of our staff members who have contracted COVID-19 were callously put at risk! The executives of any other company or organisation that behave like this would long ago have been criminally charged, and found themselves behind bars. Yet, these rogue ANC leaders and managers of ours can seemingly act with impunity, without any consequence. They are literally above the law, while they trample on, and abuse, loyal ANC members and employees.
Paul Mashatile apparently has Presidential ambitions – he wants to run our whole country – but he cannot manage a relatively small payroll of 387 employees totalling roughly R21 million per annum. If he can make such an utter dog’s breakfast of this, imagine the mess that he will make of the finances of our counrty! But the really scary part is that annually the ANC rerceives R 120 million from tax payer funds to run its operations. This excludes many other donations, only some of which have become publically known through evidence that had been lead at the Commission of Inquiry Into State Capture. What is happening to all this money, when the modest wages of us as employees cannot even be paid?
The moral depravity of those who run Luthuli House is nauseatingly demonstrated by what one of my younger colleagues is now being subjected to. Not being paid and facing action by her bank to reposses her car, she complained to an NEC member whom she thought she could trust, and who is pemanently deployed in Luthuli House. He told her not to worry and that he will take care of the problem, but then she must sleep with him.
First one drives vulnerable staff to desperation by not paying them, and then you abuse the terrible situation that you have created to sexually harass them, and literally force them into prostitution! This from a powerful, and wealthy, man who is almost every day on television waxing lirically about how the ANC cares for “our people”. I have urged her to blow the wistle on him, but she is too scared that instead of being protected she will be victimised and loose her job.
The reality is that the senior women NEC members and managers in Luthuli House have shown no interest in protecting their fellow women employees. Febé Potgieter is the General Manager, but sexual harassment cases regularly get covered up, and powerful men protected with her knowledge, as well as the complicity of comrade Jessie Duarte, who is the Deputy Secretary General. This happened when sexual harassment and abuse cases were brought against Pule Mabe, David Masondo, Senzo Mchunu and Mduduzi Manana to mention only a few. All of which ended with hardly any action, or at best a slap on the wrist, and cover ups.
These so-called ‘women leaders’ are certainly aware that out of all the employees, us women employees are the most vulnarable to victimisation and abuse when we become financially compromised through the non-payment of our desperately needed salaries. They know that there are single-parent women employees whose children are totally dependent on their salaries. Yet, instead of standing up for us they have, for the selfish sake of pursuing their own careers, become enablers of our abuse and exploitation.
Febé Potgieter attended staff meetings where we were threatened with disciplinary action and dismissal if we embark on any protest, or legal action. A month ago she wrote a terrible circular to all staff saying that for the next three to six months salaries will be paid late. The letter was sent to us staff, apparently as something that we could use to negotiate with our landlords and other creditors. But how do we go to our landlords with a letter like that? It will only send the alarm bells off for them, and they will act even swifter with eviction orders. That letter was a cold calculated act of trying to justify herself that she had done something, while literally throwing all of us staff under the buss. Since having written that letter she has been totally silent, and refused to respond to any queries about when our salaries will eventually be paid.
Although not being paid, I keep on going to work, spending my last remaining cents on taxis, in the hope that we will eventually get paid, and because of fear that if I do not go my absence will be used as an excuse to fire me. In doing so I expose myself daily in packed taxis to the possiblity of COVID-19 infection, because I cannot afford any other mode of transport.
I feel emotionally exhausted and broken, my children are every day asking me when I will get paid. I dread going home from work, and having to face them with nothing. Yesterday my daughter told me: “I am so sick and tired of your ANC”. The last four days there is no food in the house, the fridge is totally empty. I bought a box of ProNutro cereal, and that is what we now eat three times a day. I do not have money to buy electricity. In the middle of this cold spell I had to insist that we do not turn on the electric heater, just so that we can use the little bit of electricity to have lights, but that will run out today and then we will be in the dark.
As I am writing this, I know that I will have to face my landlord today. It is nine days into the new month, he has the right to be outraged that I have not yet paid him, and I cannot even tell him anything about when I will be able to pay. What if he evicts me, where do I go as a single mother with two children?
This is my life as an employee of the ANC, who dedicated my life in loyalty as a member of this organisation that was once worthy of being called the pre-eminent Liberation Movement, and the leader of society. I am angry and deeply hurt that our current selfish leaders have destroyed what our forefathers and mothers such as Chief Albert Luthuli, comrades Oliver Tambo, Lillian Ngoyi, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, and many other great iconic leaders, have built with sweat and tears and so much selfless sacrifice.
As I am writing these concluding paragraphs, I am crying. A broken woman, again abused by those that I have once believed in, and loved. Those to whom I have dedicated my life to, and was even prepared to sacrifice my life for. I have lost hope.
Even if I eventually get paid my modest salary today, or tomorrow, or whenever … it will not give me any hope, because by month-end the same abuse will start all over again.
I have learnt the hard way that one cannot hope for care and love from those who have lost their hearts. To keep on hoping that abusers will change, is in personal relationships known as the ‘abused partner syndrome’. This is the awful vicious cycle of abuse that I am once again trapped in – this time by an organisation whose selfish leaders synically keep on telling us that they ‘care’, and are our ‘liberators’.
Having realised, from my very painful personal experience, that they actually do not give a hoot, what do I tell the people of our country whom these so-called ‘liberators’ are once again asking to vote for them in the upcoming local government elections in October?
I do not yet know how, but as I have finally left my abusive partner, I again will have to find the courage to break out of this cycle of abuse that I, and so many others, are being subjected to by the ANC.
As a nation we will eventually have to do the same. I still hope that we will be able to get rid of the selfish abusers that currently fill the leadership positions in the ANC, and save our beloved Liberation Movement. But if we fail, what then? Will the ANC finally be trashed and destroyed by these thugs?
I tremble as I write this question, because for all of us this is now a very real possibility, and yet it is a fate too ghastly to contemplate …
*Thandi Cele is a nom de plume that I have decided to use in order to try and protect myself. Sadly the climate of fear and retribution at Luthuli House does not allow me to make myself known.
This is an English translation of the article that was originally written in isiZulu.