The lady's not for turning

Makhosi Khoza, the ANC MP who is fed up with the Zuma regime’s shenanigans.

When South Africans took to the streets on 7 April to try to force Jacob Zuma to stand down as President, ANC MP Dr Makhosi Busisiwe Khoza was on her way to Pietermaritzburg to visit her mother.

“I drove into Mkondeni and saw this march. It was as big as the march in the ’80s when the former England cricketer Mike Gatting came to play in Pietermarizburg. There were priests and other members of civil society; it was completely multi-racial. What really struck me was that they were all holding the South African flag.

Dr Makhosi Koza

“I thought, we’ve always talked about a rainbow nation and here, quite clearly, is an issue which is uniting all these people; right here are the people I fought for, black and white. It was the flag that really got to me. Apart from the World Cup, which was all about celebration, I hadn’t seen the South African flag being flown like that behind a specific issue.

“I told myself, ‘You are guilty of betraying these people by constantly voting for an amoral man’. I didn’t go to my mother. I turned and drove back home to Hillcrest. I was in tears.

“It was as if desperate South Africans were speaking to me directly,” Khoza told Noseweek in an interview.

That weekend, Khoza was at home reading the Sunday newspapers. ANC minister Nomvula Mokonyane was cited defending Zuma’s cabinet shuffle at a rally, saying glibly that “if the rand falls, we’ll pick it up”; Zuma’s son, Edward was quoted as saying cheerily that ratings agencies S&P and Fitch ‘did us a favour, really’ in downgrading the country to junk. There were other ANC comments about the civil society protests being racist and [pushing] an agenda of white monopoly capital.

That Sunday night, Khoza took to Facebook to post her now-famous article, “Leadership injudiciousness” in the ANC.

The rest is history. Since then Makhosi Khoza repeatedly called for Zuma to stand down and for a secret ballot in the no-confidence debate against him.

She has received repeated death threats, including a daily count-down to her termination. Both her children, too, have been receiving death threats.

Khoza has been “charged” by the ANC in KZN with ill-discipline and defying the organisation. But she hasn’t stopped speaking out against state capture and corruption, whether on Facebook, at public events or in committee meetings at Parliament, where she chairs the standing committee on Public Service and Administration.

This is not the first time Khoza has clashed with her party on issues of principle. In the interview, which took place in Noseweek’s offices while two private protectors waited outside, it emerged that she has stood up to the leadership and banged heads with comrades on a number of occasions.

The Pietermaritzburg-born Khoza, who remembers being active in politics from the age of 12 in the turbulent 1980s, once found herself at loggerheads with fellow ANC members over the necklacing of an IFP member.

“It was in 1986,” Khoza said. “I’d just got out of a taxi in a place called Moscow in Edendale when I saw a crowd of comrades cheering around a burning fire. It was during the time of necklacing. A young IFP girl was burning. I started screaming, and ran into a woman’s house, grabbed a blanket without asking and put it over this girl. I actually put out the fire myself, but she died from the burns a few days later. The comrades were very angry with me, saying, ‘No, this is Inkatha’ and threatened to kill me. I told them to go ahead. I mean, this was not what we were fighting for.”

She remembers clearly how some of her senior leaders looked on as this was happening. “To me, that was a turning point in relation to speaking truth to power.”

Another turning point for her was when she was working for a senior ANC leader (whom she does not name) in the 1990s.

“A group of young men from Ashdown arrived in the office for a meeting with him and I was taking notes as the PA. They were complaining about the leader of the Ashdown youth organisation – saying he was stopping them from attacking the IFP –  and this leader then said to these young men, ‘Suppose you are driving a car and there’s a big log in front of you. What do you do?’. The young guys said, ‘We remove the log,’ and then this leader said, ‘Well, you have your answer,’ and they left. At three o’clock that same day, the young man, Sipho Moloko, was dead. “When the news came I was with this leader. I went hysterical and blamed him. I said, ‘You killed him. How could you have said those things to the youth?’ We had a big argument.

“In that same week, I experienced four murders and because I’d spoken out against the killing, I was also threatened. I was on my way to a meeting, and a comrade called me, hysterically, and said, ‘Don’t come... They’re waiting for you in Boom Street,’ which was close to where I was living.

“I couldn’t take it anymore. There was too much spilling of blood and I’d lost so many comrades. It wasn’t just IFP people killing; it was comrades killing comrades. Somebody was even killed in the leader’s bathroom. That’s when I secretly applied for a UN scholarship. I had seen in the paper they were recruiting young South Africans to study in Zimbabwe. I didn’t even resign. I simply left for Zimbabwe.”

Khoza doesn’t want to reveal the leader’s name because: “I learnt so many good things from him. He was a great orator and an environmentalist ahead of his time.”

Khoza only returned to KZN two years later and started studying at the University of Natal in 1993, where she completed a BA in Economic History and History, before completing her MA in 1996.  She later earned a PhD in Administration from the University of    Zululand.

While still at university, aged 26 and pregnant with her son, her second child, she was elected deputy mayor of Pietermaritzburg. In that capacity she was in charge of managing the municipal finances, and made her mark in her zero tolerance for corruption.

Another turning point for Khoza was when she started working as CEO of the South African Local Government Association (Salga) in 2003. There she discovered that there were 79 pension funds for 260,000 employees in local government. “This was completely excessive. It didn’t make sense, paying all these board members, principal officers and different fund managers. It was depleting the investment of the workers. I wanted to amalgamate the funds but many in the Salga leadership were very unhappy with what I was doing.”

When she finally got buy-in for an amalgamated fund, she was asked by “someone in the Salga leadership” to appoint a new pension fund administrator – irregularly – “in a manner not consistent with tender specifications and who did not meet the criteria”. At the time the value of the collective fund was R248 billion.

Although she parted ways with Salga over this issue, she has since been credited with turning the organisation around.

“That was the first time I started seeing corruption creeping into local government. I said to them, ‘It is clear I’m not able to implement this decision because if anything goes wrong, I am the accounting officer’, so I tendered my resignation. I did not leave nicely  – we had a very strong dispute.”

To this day Salga still operates multiple funds.

The next time Khoza recalls having had to stand her ground was in 2009  while she was a Member of the Provincial Legislature (MPL) and chair of the KZN Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa). She found herself at loggerheads with the ANC’s Provincial Executive Committee.

“It started getting serious in about 2010/2011. We had over-spent by more than R5bn as a province. I feared the National Treasury would take over the administration of the province in terms of section 139 of the Constitution.

“I was also serving on the Finance committee and some MECs weren’t very happy with me because I was very strict on their spending. That is significant because of what then happened: at the time I was working as the ANC spokesperson in KZN and I was on the ANC’s Provincial Executive Committee in KZN, as well as chairing Scopa. I was also a member of the Provincial Working Committee that met on a daily basis. I was already known as a person who was anti-corruption because of my previous role as mayor.

“We were campaigning for the 2011 local government elections and people were telling me the city had collapsed because of corruption. They were citing certain members who were in the executive in that municipality.

“I then took a report to the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) and said if we want to win the election in Pietermaritzburg, we need to recall the leadership there because of corruption. So we did that as the PEC before the elections. Then, after the elections, the executive said they wanted to appoint Alpha Shelembe, one of the people implicated in the collapse of the municipality, and who we had recalled before the elections. They were now even promoting him as a possible deputy mayor of the city.

“I objected to that in the PEC meeting. I said, ‘we have to have strong principles; the voters will feel betrayed – we told them to vote for us because we were dealing with corruption and had removed the people implicated in corruption and the collapse of the municipality’. I told them ‘we can’t go back to these people and tell them the person we had removed would now be leading them’.

“I was defeated in that meeting – and this is very important because when people say, ‘Go to the structures, don’t speak to the public,’ they fail to understand the dynamics there.

“Then I went to (provincial) parliament – wearing my Scopa hat as chair of Scopa and deviating from the leadership collective. I instructed Alpha Shelembe to resign within 24 hours – and he did so. The leadership was very unhappy with me. I was going to pay dearly for that.

“I was removed, voted out as a member of the PEC and the PWC and as spokesperson for the ANC.”

Next thing she knew, Khoza found herself being “upwardly demoted”, a phenomenon which is quite well known in the ANC. “I was demoted, but to a position that looked as though it was higher than the position of chair of Scopa: I was made the chief whip at parliament in KZN. The role of chief whip in the provinces is very different to that at national level. It is more of a prefect position. I was very unhappy, because I’m an action-oriented person.”

It was when she was working as chief whip, in 2012, that she applied and was shortlisted for the job of City Manager of eThekwini (Durban), to replace incumbent Mike Sutcliffe.

“There were three of us on the final shortlist. I was the only female, the only one with a PhD and the only one with extensive experience in local government. I had been in the mayoral position, in Exco, in Salga and I had experience in drafting legislation.

“As soon as I applied, I started receiving threatening calls, telling me to withdraw from the race, otherwise they would kill me. The reason was that I was going to close taps in eThekwini Municipality. They wanted me to pull out because it was going to be difficult for the panel to exclude me. They were worried that even the opposition would say ‘This is the person we want’. For me it was not about getting the blessings of the ANC leadership for this top position. I was the most qualified of the three on the shortlist.”

Khoza with her father and grandfather at Harewood in 1987

On the day Khoza was meant to go for her final interview for the job, her property in upmarket Hillcrest was invaded. “It was a land invasion, people were bused in. I was literally about to leave my home for a 2pm interview when suddenly I had all these informal settlers on my land.

“It was terrible! I run a B&B on my property. People were up in arms, saying, ‘Dr Khoza, this will devalue our neighbourhood’. It created a frenzy. The worst thing was that the ANC kept completely quiet. They offered no support, or condemnation of the land invasion, yet I was still their chief whip!”

At the time, her daughter was writing matric and her son was still at school. They also received threatening calls.

On the day Khoza went to court to stop the invasion of her land, KZN Legislature Speaker Peggy Nkonyeni and Economic Development MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu were appearing in court in connection with the “Amigos’ case” linking the pair to fraud and racketeering charges in a R144m water purification procurement scandal in the province.

“Our cases happened to be in court on the same day. The entire leadership of the ANC in KZN was there to support Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu. I didn’t want my children to be exposed to my trial and I went to court alone, facing a whole lot of community members who had invaded my land. But then something miraculous happened.

“We sometimes think ordinary people can’t comprehend sense and logic, but that’s wrong. I stood up in court and started addressing the land invaders directly. I gave them the proof of ownership of the property. I said,  ‘Listen I am here, a single woman, alone, and I have to defend myself against you. I am fighting against the people who don’t want you to live the quality of life you deserve, people who commit corrupt activities’. I told them they’d been misled about my land. All of a sudden the tide turned and the people became angry that they’d been misled and used. They went back to my house and cleaned up the entire informal settlement. They apologised to me. I got the court order – of 30 years – to prevent them from going on my land, but it was just a formality.”

Nothing came of her job possibility that was so neatly scuppered by the “invasion”.

After that experience, Khoza resigned from politics and went to Johannesburg to become group CEO of Akani Pension Fund Administrators, before moving back to Durban as MD of Msinsi Holdings, the holding company for Umgeni Water.

“I had thought, ‘Now that I’m out of politics, I can focus on my writing’. But the branches of the ANC elected me in absentia to come back to politics, which is how I returned to Parliament in 2014 as an MP.”

South Africa’s biggest problem, said Khoza, is that “we have allowed the rot to sink in too much”.

The Nkandla saga incensed her from the outset. “You try to reason with comrades but you find you’re fighting against the tide. Remember how Zuma dispenses his patronage.

“There were some of us who kept saying internally, ‘Comrades this thing is really destroying the reputation of the ANC,’ but each time the leadership collective would say that we must go to Parliament and defend it. We were never given an opportunity to say what we thought. It was a top-down approach. So we defended it; then the people sitting in the committee were so embarrassed when Zuma suddenly came back and said he’s paying the money back.

“I had voted for that man seven times during the votes of no confidence. It was painful, as he does not represent my value system. I followed ANC directives as a disciplined loyal cadre – until I saw those people marching on April 7.”

When Cyril Ramaphosa, Zweli Mkhize and Gwede Mantashe distanced themselves from Zuma’s decision to get rid of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in the infamous Cabinet reshuffle in March, Khoza balked again: “I said, hang on a second, democratic centralism is no longer there. We are now actually run by a kleptocracy. We are now in dictatorship. You’re talking about the deputy president, the treasurer and the secretary-general of the organisation. If those three key people are saying we do not know about or support this decision, then who has taken this decision? That was a critical turning point. It screamed kleptocracy.

“Remember when we were operating underground, we had one common enemy, an illegitimate government, so all our energy was focused on this illegitimate government. Our directives came from the leadership. Underground, we operated like the military, through directives. Suddenly it occurred to me, the ANC is still using the underground language. We have not transitioned to constitutional democracy, where the government is for the people and of the people.”

When she wrote her now-famous “Leadership injudiciousness” article, she  was “really sharing my internal pain about confronting the truth; that, as a liberation movement, we no longer have the same mission”.

Despite having lived in deep poverty, for Khoza’s family, integrity was always emphasised. Church played a big role in her childhood – “the main preachings in our church were about Stephen, who died for his beliefs”. Also influential in her life was Khoza’s paternal grandmother. “She would talk to me about the Kingdom of Kush, the first civilisation in Africa. She told me stories of how we originated in North Africa and ended up in KwaZulu-Natal. I used to ask her, ‘If the African people were once glorious, how come we are no longer glorious?’ and she’d say that leaders had become very corrupt. It was only years later, when I started reading the work of (14th Century North African historian) Ibn Khaldun, especially his book Muqaddimah, that I realised how right she was and how much I learnt from her.

“I realised that part of the reason we are no longer great as abantu generally was really around moral and ethical issues. Yes, colonialism came, and defeated us, but we must remember that we also took part in the slave trade. It wouldn’t have happened without some people within allowing it.”

Khoza has a 25-year-old daughter, Zama, and a son Mlando, aged 20, who are both studying in KZN. “Being a widow since I was 28 made me much closer to my kids. There’s nothing we don’t talk about.” Her biggest concern is the effect on her children of the constant death threats to her family.

Khoza married uMkhonto we Sizwe Major Ntela Richard Skosana, who was head of military intelligence in KZN in the early 1990s. He died, quite mysteriously, of blood poisoning in 1998.

“We never got a report, I tried to investigate, but stopped because all sorts of strange things happened – as they do in military intelligence. It was a traumatic time.”

Makhosi Khoza with Winnie Mandela at the Women's Peace March in 1990

Where does Makhosi Khoza see her future?

“I am not going to leave politics. That’s all I can tell you. I’m tired of black leadership being synonomous with corruption and incompetence, and I’m tired of black leadership being synonymous with not understanding how a small open economy operates in a global macro-economic context.

“If the ANC fires me, I am going nowhere. I’m going to be in politics. I won’t join the EFF as I don’t believe in their policies. (I was socialised in communism but I am not a communist because every communist economy has to be saved by a capitalist economy when it gets into crisis); there’s no way I’d join the DA, which has positioned itself as a defender of minority interests; and I can’t join Cope or the UDM because they are established around personalities. I want principles.”

Does Khoza believe the ANC will self-correct?

“We have this thing I call ‘liberation struggle syndrome’; this belief that the ANC will self-correct, but it will never happen. We have completely lost it as the ANC. We have become more of an Africanist party. I want that non-racial character back.”

Khoza receives support wherever she goes: “It’s overwhelming. I take selfies every day! It’s humbling to know that what I stand for resonates with ordinary South Africans. A white Afrikaans man handed me a handwritten note on a flight recently, saying he and his wife pray for me every day, that they see me as the hope.”

What does Khoza want from life now?

“I want to be significant. The only way I can measure significance is if I bring significant changes to the lives of South Africans and Africans on the continent. That’s what drives me. I’m busy studying for my second Master’s (in Finance, through the University of London), but with all the recent upheavals I’m not sure I’ll finish in time. And I want to write. My kids are nearly done with their studies and soon they’ll be able to carry themselves. Now I want to give back to society.”

Khoza’s favourite book, apart from The Celestine Prophecy (a 1993 novel by James Redfield discussing psychological and spiritual ideas) is Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail, about how change has disrupted everything. “It is a mind-blowing game-changer that has fuelled my desire to contribute to re-engineering South Africa for the digital and information age.”

Her heroes are Nelson Mandela (“I conferred the first-ever Freedom of the City on him, in Pietermaritzburg, when I was deputy mayor, because that’s where he was arrested) and US author Maya Angelou (“She was my everything. When she died, all my friends and comrades sent condolences. They all knew that it was like losing my own mother. I love that poem she wrote on phenomenal women. I wish I had met her”). Then there’s Chief King Shaka’s aunt, Mkabayi Kajama. (“She challenged men, she performed an oversight function. She put the nation first.”) And Miriam Makeba, “Who represents resilience and consistency – I love the fact that she even died on the job” – aged 76, she suffered a heart attack and died after a performance in Italy.

What is Khoza’s prognosis on President Jacob Zuma?

“He has very poor moral reflective capacity. His behaviour has always given me pain as a feminist. In fact, before Polokwane in 2007, I was very against him. Senzo (Mchunu) and I sent Zweli Mkhize and Willies Mchunu to go and speak to him when he was going around marrying women like it was going out of fashion. They came back to the PEC and said they couldn’t do it. But I think that, when you’ve been operating in the dangerous underground environment as he was, you’re not properly socialised into moral and ethical value systems.

“Also, having grown up in rural areas and having seen how the amakhosi (kings) live, getting to this position as President somehow elevated him to the level of royalty he always dreamed of. Look at the parallels with King Mswati and King Zwelethini – it’s all these beautiful women as your wives, even if you’re too busy to satisfy all of them; you have a sense of entitlement.

“And there’s the genealogy aspect. This king theory is supported by the fact that he appoints his own wife as his successor. It’s all kept in the family. Look how his son Duduzane is involved in appointing ministers. It’s the mentality of the king, it’s all about, ‘Son, sit here. Who should we appoint?’

“But there’s something else we have not addressed as a liberation movement in South Africa and Africa – and I say this with respect: to move a man from extreme deprivation where the system says you are nothing – which is what colonialism and apartheid did to us – to a position where suddenly you are somebody, means that you naturally want everybody to see that you are no longer that deprived person; that you are now powerful. I do think this sickness exists.”

When the day of the no-confidence vote dawned, Khoza thought the motion would go down in history as a day where the ANC’s moral pulse had been “all but extinguished”. But, coming out of the vote, she believes “the pulse was still there”.

Since then, she has been more outspoken than ever on public platforms and in the social media. The efforts at discrediting her continue too. A week-or-so ago, she said, a few police officers arrived at her KZN home and asked her son whether he knew that his mother had killed his father.

“He said to them, “I thought my dad died at M1 hospital, so how could my mother have done this?

“This is just the work of a desperate somebody… there is nothing they haven’t said. I am unaffected. It is more important than ever now to soldier on.”   

A feisty daughter of turbulence

Dr Makhosi Busisiwe Khoza was born in December 1969 in Harewood, near Edendale in Pietermaritzburg, to Johannes Khoza, a factory worker, and Ntombi Nkosi Khoza, a stay-at-home mother.

She became involved in politics while still at primary school and ended up going to seven different high schools and having to leave home because of her political activities in the turbulent 1980s in KZN.

“I was a questioner from day one. When the history teacher glorified Jan van Riebeeck, I asked questions nobody wanted to answer, like, ‘Why is Jesus white and Satan black?’”

The family was so poor, Khoza recalls, that she wore shoes for the first time only when she was well into high school.

She was seven when her father was retrenched and, as a born entrepreneur, she helped to generate an income for the household. “I sold fried fish, standing on a bench because I was too short for the table with the primus stove. I sold sweets at school, and fetched water for people in the area.

“I loved singing, acting, drum majorettes and debating.  I sucked at sports, but never missed a sports match – that’s where I sold my fish, sweets and popcorn. I was very profit-driven!”

In the city she saw white kids with shoes on, riding bikes. “I found it fascinating. I’d thought it was normal to live in a mud house with no running water and to walk barefoot to school across a river. I wanted to understand why they had nicer lives.”

Before she’d even reached high school, Khoza was reading ANC publications and attending youth meetings and was involved in establishing the Edendale Youth Organisation, which was affiliated to the UDF.

“I was a child of the 1980s, questioning everything and getting involved in student politics, especially the boycotts of the imposed councillors in the townships who were very oppressive to us. At the time there was a great deal of political intolerance in KZN. Many of my friends were killed and my parents’ house in Harewood was burned down, and then, again, when they moved to Imbali. It was there she met her mentors and “second parents”, Aron Mazel and Anne Macdonald.

“I was 15 and no longer living at home and I went to Pacsa (Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action) for help. I’d been living with a lot of different comrades – Indian, white, coloured, whatever, I was everybody’s child, also to Yunus Carrim and Nalini Naidoo. They decided I needed a more permanent place. So I went to live with Aron and Anne in Oxford Road, off Boom Street. Aron was working for the Natal Museum and Anne was a high school teacher. They were young, but chose to share their limited resources with me so I could have a future.

“From them I learnt how important it is to teach a person how to fish. Anne taught me to sew, which enabled me to make and sell bags, and Aron (now Professor of Archaeology at Newcastle University) took me on excavations in the Drakensberg. I’d help him do the sorting. Every bit of money I had was money I’d earned.”

Khoza eventually wrote matric at the Turrett Correspondent College in Cape Town in 1987 but, because of her turbulent schooling, did not get an exemption. “I got H for history – because we were given an essay to write about Jan Smuts and I was critical of him, saying how dare he establish peace structures for the world when his own country was at war.

“I remember Aron saying to me, ‘Makhosi I know you love to push your ideas across but you must write according to what you were taught’.”

Because of her poor matric marks Khoza attended Khanya College in Observatory, Cape Town, a pre-university college, in 1988. There she thrived.

In 1990, she was about to enrol at university when she got a call from KZN ANC leader Harry Gwala. “The ANC had just been unbanned and he asked me to help establish the first ‘legal’ ANC office in the country, in Pietermaritzburg. She ran the Women’s and Youth desks there before taking up a scholarship to study in Zimbabwe.

While still at university, aged 26 and pregnant with her son, her second child, she became the deputy mayor of Pietermaritzburg. After that she was head-hunted by Standard Bank as head of Public Sector Finance in Johannesburg. She stayed with the bank for three years.

Khoza was then recruited as the CEO of the KZN local government association. There she set up an academy of local government which trained mayors and other councillors. Four years later she was appointed CEO of Salga in late 2003.

At the Polokwane Conference in December 2007, she wrote Jacob Zuma’s much-acclaimed acceptance speech – reconciling himself with Thabo Mbeki. “I don’t think he even knows I wrote it!”

In the 2009 elections, Khoza was elected as an MPL and became the chair of the provincial Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

In 2012, she resigned from politics – but returned in 2014, when she was elected, in absentia, to the National Assembly as an MP. She chaired the process of appointing the new Public Protector and she drilled Communications Minister Faith Muthambi during the inquiry into the SABC.

As chair of the Public Service and Administration committee – if she still holds that position – she is due to give Muthambi a second grilling for having flown 30 members of her family and friends to Cape Town for Parliament’s Budget votes – at a cost of more than R300,000.

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