Ronald Suresh Roberts
Ronald Suresh Roberts

The colour of money

The great critic of bourgeois hypocrisy, Honoré de Balzac, reminded us in Father Goriot that behind every great fortune is a forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done neatly. But what exactly does it mean to do a crime neatly?

Balzac did not mean mere cat-burglar prowess at the drainpipe, nor the tricky finesse of the “perfect crime” as often given in television drama. He had in mind something far larger and more insidious: a privatised variant of the Big Lie that is famous in totalitarian propaganda.

What Balzac meant were crimes committed in plain view that then hide behind the bourgeois respectability that lies, like a well-manicured lawn, over the buried bodies.

As I point out in Fit to Govern, today’s Oppenheimer wealth was founded on the rape of Namibia, an act of successive German and South African states. These outlaw governments ultimately ceded the lion’s share of opportunities and profits to the Oppenheimers and De Beers. Between 1903 and 1908, about 10 000 indigenous Nama-speaking people were killed in an uprising against the German colonisers; within 10 years Ernest Oppenheimer had cornered these suddenly un-peopled Namibian diamonds.

It was these vast resources that then propelled his family into the pound seat among the fractious shareholders at De Beers. Wealth with such origins has all too often, as Balzac saw, promptly bought itself a new respectability by maintaining a tight and disciplining grip on the ownership and funding of those who might otherwise criticise it, whether in culture, academia and media.

But, in a strange phenomenon that I canvassed in a talk at the Michaelis School for Fine Art in Cape Town last week, some are more equal than others in the dash to buy respectability for wealth that has dubious origins. The colour of money matters, even here. While the Oppenheimers have managed very neatly for decades to give illegitimate colonial and apartheid gains a semblance of respectability, the Congolese businessman Sindika Dokolo is strangely battling in the same game.

The African and global art worlds have been buzzing for months over Dokolo’s increasingly high-profile art-patronage activities. On February 23, Ben Davis, associate editor of the website Artnet, wrote a story headlined “Art and corruption in Venice”.

Davis explained: “The 52nd Venice Biennale makes a historic gesture towards Africa by including a substantial exhibition drawn from the Sindika Dokolo African Collection of Contemporary Art in the impressive spaces of the Arsenale. But now, the unsavoury political and business activities of the people behind the collection are raising questions that could well prove an embarrassment to the venerable art fest.”

The Artnet piece looked beyond Dokolo to his wife, Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos: “One of the richest people in Angola, Isabel dos Santos is identified as a prominent member of Futungo, a patronage network of about 200 well-placed individuals and families close to President Dos Santos, supposedly responsible for siphoning off some $2-billion in state revenues for personal gain (Angola became the second African member of Opec this year), in what the UK group Global Witness has described as ‘wholesale state robbery’ …

“Sindika Dokolo’s wife’s reported business interests include major stakes in the government’s diamond monopolies” which were allegedly responsible for “a staggering list of human rights violations” in Angola’s diamond-rich Lundas region.

These violations included “laws making it illegal to travel in the Lundas except in association with the diamond trade, ‘creating a situation tantamount to forced labour’ for the more than one million inhabitants of the province”.

Davis and Artnet, whose intentions in highlighting Dokolo were plainly progressive and non-racist, wrote that “vast segments of the African population have been subjected to several centuries of imperial intervention, foreign-backed civil wars, looting by international corporations and extortion by Western financial institutions. This has created the conditions for some pretty nasty stuff.”

Davis mentioned a range of past and present Western robber-barons-cum-art-patrons, from Rockefeller to Alice Walton of Walmart and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, as well as the Economist’s observation this year that the art collection in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum “has invested a family name that might otherwise be stained by economic exploitation during the Second World War with a kind of fragrant immortality”.

What struck me most was that Davis somehow made no mention whatsoever of the Oppenheimers, who loom far longer and larger than does Dikolo upon the blood-drenched playing-fields of Africa philanthropy. This is sign of how neatly turned have been the historical crimes of this particular dynasty: its old crimes hide in plain view, as Balzac predicted.

Davis was not deliberately ignoring them; he just failed to notice them, which is Balzac’s whole point about the well-turned crime. When George Orwell said that saints should be presumed guilty until proven innocent, he was thinking not so much of Mahatma Gandhi (the subject of his essay) but more of those who promoted and invested in the cult of sainthood around Gandhi, hoping to dignify their own unsavouriness in the great man’s reflected virtue.

The same dynamic underlies what is probably the single most scathing headline that Nelson Mandela has ever incurred in the pages of a reasonably respectable publication. On December 18 2006, the New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner published a column startlingly headlined “Nelson Mandela: Diamond shill”. De Beers’s attempts to spin-doctor the Leonardo di Caprio film Blood Diamond had clumsily and unforgivably ensnared Mandela himself in a Washington, DC, mini-scandal that was little reported in the South African media.

Chotiner explained: “From 1991 to 2002, rebel soldiers from the brutal Revolutionary United Front kidnapped civilians, forced them to work in diamond mines, and smuggled the gems they unearthed to neighbouring countries. From there, the diamonds were shipped to Europe and sold by conglomerates, such as De Beers. The proceeds filtered back to Sierra Leone, where they paid for even more kidnapping and violence.

Blood Diamond is a withering critique of the diamond industry’s role in exacerbating a savage war and its callous disregard for human rights in Africa. Zwick had every reason to expect that Mandela — one of the world’s greatest living advocates for human rights — would be pleased.”

In fact, however, Zwick received a rather discouraging letter signed by Mandela himself: “It would be deeply regrettable if the making of the film inadvertently obscured the truth, and, as a result, led the world to believe that an appropriate response might be to cease buying mined diamonds from Africa … We hope that the desire to tell a gripping and important real-life historical story will not result in the destabilisation of African diamond-producing countries, and ultimately their peoples.”

Having quoted this, Chotiner commented rather harshly: “None of this makes much sense, unless you take into consideration something that isn’t widely known about Mandela: the man who ended apartheid and became the late 20th century’s most eloquent spokesman for human dignity is also a shill for the diamond industry.”

Mandela is, of course, nobody’s shill. Chotiner was grossly overplaying his point. And yet Mandela’s letter was indeed part of the broader one-sidedness to which I want to draw attention, within the discourse of African historical crime and benefaction. This one-sidedness, in which the attribution of the labels “good and “evil” seems to follow the colour of money more than the quality of its wrongdoing, tends to give Oppenheimer an easy ride while targeting Dikolo and his ilk.

This problem, in turn, leaves Dokolo’s detractors rather vulnerable to the kind of gambit with which the Congolese benefactor shrewdly ended his reply to Artnet: “I would like to conclude by questioning the ‘why’ of this article. Why not take any time for research or analysis? Why this taste for immediate caricature when it comes to African elites? Like my father before me, I have decided to fight preconceived ideas so that Africans would have a strong point of view on the world that would be their own. My weapon is this collection and the impact that it will have on the African public.”

Dokolo’s business activities certainly deserve rigorous scrutiny and criticism and ought to receive a lot more of both. But when I hear talk of diamonds and forced labour, when I hear of the kinds of objections raised by the activist NGO Global Witness in the Angola case, I also immediately think of South Africa’s De Beers, which is a philanthropic benefactor of Michaelis, of the University of Cape Town more broadly, and of all sorts of African studies work across the cultural and academic landscapes of South Africa and the world. Within the cosy civility of such high cultural adventures, the historic barbarism of the South African mining industry cross-dresses as civilisation.

From 1890 to 1904, the mining industry in Southern Africa was not even required to register the death of black workers. Up to 1922 the family of a deceased worker in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) received £5, which was the equivalent of two months’ wages. When this rose to £10 in 1922 (the grand equivalent of three or four months’ wages), WM Leggate, who was then in the colonial legislature and later became British colonial secretary, felt this £10 compensation should not be automatic, as “death would be considered a windfall in some instances, and he did not think the government should lend itself to that”. The industry was literally wringing profits, through blood, from stone.

Blacks on De Beers diamond mines were not “employees” in any recognisably modern sense. They were denied personal autonomy and basic human dignity. Their entire lives and intimacies, not excluding bowel movements, were subject to control by De Beers for its own purposes. When these “employees” ended the working day they were forced to jump naked over bars and were paraded with extended arms before guards who “scrutinised hair, nose, mouth, ears and rectum with meticulous care”, looking for concealed diamonds.

Before the “employees” left this rather uncongenial De Beers Native Club during the migrant labour cycle, they were kept semi-naked in detention rooms for several days and force-fed purgatives so that they would inevitably excrete any swallowed gem stones. We hear a lot about black diamonds, meaning new black middle-class consumers. But as I pointed out at the Black Management Forum (BMF) conference last month, these bowel-smeared diamonds were the original black diamonds in the most extreme and distasteful sense. After I had addressed the BMF, the De Beers representative, having sat silently in the audience, came up to me to remonstrate: I ought to have sent the speech to him first!

That is a small example of how large historical crimes have, since they occurred, been managed ever so neatly within the South African knowledge economy. The main library at UCT, for instance, is now called the Oppenheimer library, the naming rights having been unceremoniously wrested away from the late JW Jagger, who previously enjoyed the privilege.

“The new central complex of the University Libraries was renamed the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library, honouring its most generous benefactor, at an opening ceremony in October 2001,” according to the UCT website. The Centre for African Studies is likewise a great beneficiary of Oppenheimer money.

Mbeki critic William Gumede is currently an “Oppenheimer Fellow” at Oxford. Oxford PhD candidate James Myburgh, who formerly served as a research assistant and “special projects” operative for Tony Leon in Parliament, was handsomely funded by the Ernest Oppenheimer memorial trust.

Why have the Oppenheimers not asked for their money back? Perhaps it is affirmative action. In a piece published under the auspices of the illiberal Institute of Race Relations not long before he got the Oppenheimer money, Myburgh identified a “curious transmogrification” in what he imagined was the old status of South African blacks as the proverbial uncivilised Yahoos. He lamented the passing of that status. “Overseas, it was whites who started being regarded as [barbaric] Yahoos, and black South Africans who were regarded as [civilised] Houynhnnms.”

Whether South African blacks abroad were ever regarded as Yahoos (“rude, noisy or violent persons”) is a matter really for Mr Myburgh to canvass with his therapist.

These are mere casual fragments in what could be a systematic and useful study of the invasion of Africa studies by vested interests, countrywide as well as internationally. The same critics who go after Dikolo’s are silent on the rapidly expanding American benefactions of the Oppenheimers.

The difference is not, incidentally, between ancient crimes (Oppenheimer) and recent ones (Dikolo). The allegations against each side are equally recent, with the Oppenheimer misdeeds stretching back, of course, far longer than Dikolo’s. Just weeks before I took the plane from New York to Johannesburg in March 1994, for instance, Jennifer Ward told me in the Dean & Deluca on University Place in Manhattan that she was about to marry Jonathan Oppenheimer, but in London rather than New York, because Harry and Nicky (among other guests linked to the De Beers Central Selling Organisation) feared being arrested upon arrival at John F Kennedy airport in respect of alleged antitrust offences.

A few years earlier, Isabel dos Santos had strolled into my Oxford College as a prospective student, with no arrest warrants on her head. And there are still none to my knowledge. This does not necessarily mean that there are no alleged crimes (there are); just that they are certainly more recent and less far-reaching than the dark and century-long Oppenheimer legacy.

In 2004, De Beers finally resolved its alleged crimes by paying a $10-million fine to the US Department of Justice in settlement of a charge that the company had conspired with General Electric to fix the price of industrial diamonds. Over the next two years, De Beers paid more than $295-million to settle class-action suits in both the United States and worldwide. No liability was admitted.

Promptly thereafter, Jennifer Ward-Oppenheimer popped up on the Advisory Council of Harvard’s WEB Du Bois Institute of African and African-American Studies and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s De Beers African Health Scholars. No Dokolo-style protests have greeted any of this.

According to the Harvard University website, the Committee on African Studies “offers summer travel grants to assist Harvard juniors with senior honours thesis research and Harvard graduate students doing doctoral dissertation research on Africa. These grants are for research in the social sciences or humanities and are only for travel in sub-Saharan Africa. The graduate student grants are funded through the generosity of the Jennifer Oppenheimer Africa Research Fund and the Provost’s Office.” Such “scholars” certainly ain’t attacking Oppenheimer or De Beers.

The involvement of De Beers in Kalahari diamond prospecting caused international political and activist controversy, but not so strangely failed to set off any benefactor-related controversy locally. Quite the reverse. The De Beers corporate website boasts, under the heading “Sponsoring African cultural heritage”, about the company’s great deeds in the direction of the Bushmen: “De Beers has long supported the work of the Bleek and Lloyd Archive and is the sole funder of Professor [Pippa] Skotnes’s endeavour to study this collection and make it available to fellow scholars.”

The University of Cape Town’s Monday Paper for March 31 2003 reported that “funding of more than R1-million from De Beers, the Mellon Foundation and the Scan Shop (who are subsidising scanning costs) will underpin the huge task of digitising one of the world’s largest and richest folklore collections, the Bleek Lloyd Collection, one that captures the lost language, customs and mythology of the indigenous but now destroyed /Xam people”.

Without the slightest irony, the paper quoted Professor Skotnes, who said that the collection was “one of the jewels in the UCT crown”.

  • http://Webmail Misha & Mvulane

    Very brave and succinct article, Roberts. We think that the complicity of black people also plays a huge role.Excess capital at the hands of a few blacks has functioned as a buffer zone between the working class and the obscenely wealthy “old money” class (primarily white). Moreover, it has given them the illusion of power and further dirverted the attention from the atrocities that were commited against Africans to accord this wealth to a few whites. Sure, in this country blacks have considerable political power. But economic?
    The amnesiatic (denialist?) approach that some white people take on apartheid is quite shocking considering that they still benefit from the economy, because of the apparatuses set by that system. As you point out, some parts of Africa have been exploited beyond measure and its people have been dehumanised but current members of African governments are faced with difficult decisions. They have socialist-comminitarian principles but are trying to manouver for the betterment of their people against a titanic wave of globalisation (neo-capitalism).

  • http://Webmail Misha & Mvulane

    The patronising benovolence of these rich people (who hold extravagant parties to fundraise for charity) should not be taken as philantropic. They are thieves who have stolen labour (in the form of exploitartion), land and resources thereof. Those pathetic little hegemonic tokens’ (some BEE beneficiaries and the like) loot all they can and generally don’t give an ish about others.

  • Tafa

    It seems that De Beers/the Oppenheimers have a sophisticated public relations strategy, and it’s doing a good job. If anything this highlights the power of PR and “corporate responsibility” practices.

    But it’s certainly not the only instance of a powerful entity escaping due attention. (The sweatshops of Asia spring to mind, as does IBM’s involvement in World War II.) And it won’t be the last!

    In fact, thorough investigation would probably reveal that many profit-making entities exploit their workers in one sense or another. One of the duties of government, therefore, is to protect workers. Of course, most governments can’t be relied on to do that, as they are often easily “influenced” by such entities. So workers’ unions could lead the charge. But in many cases, their leaders also become “influenced”.

    What remains? Revolution – in an effort to replace the powerful status quo? History has shown that even then, the few that attain prestigious rankings in such societies utilise their status to benefit themselves at the expense of others.

    An anarchist ideal suggests the dismantling of all structures of power, to prevent their inevitable misuse. Stuff of fantasy!

    What are we, truth-seekers left with? Some of us devote lives to exposing the truth. Do we have a hope of matching those complex, well-oiled PR/propaganda machinations? The scenario appears hopeless.

  • John Bond

    I am no supporter (or detractor) of the Oppenheimer family or De Beers/Alglo/other multinational of Africa so why don’t you give us your leads. Spill the dirt on where these businesses are acting as robber barons RIGHT NOW.

    The biased comments on current injustices expressed in this blog should be backed up by credible references. Those that occurred before 1899 (or 1994 for that matter) are unfortunately but ancient history.

    Trying to divert us from what is really important in Africa by inaccurate history and untrue comment on current events helps no one.

    Lets acknowledge Africa’s challenges and move to deal with them rather than being a nation of denialists (blood diamonds, AIDS, violent crime, corruption – throughout Africa)

    If we don’t have the GUTS to tackle the REAL issues in Africa, who will?

  • Oupoot

    I think the critical part is the influence the wealthy has over the distribution and access to information – either owning the media, or be house friends with the media owners, or large PR budget, or strong networking with the government of the day to restrict access through their network, etc. Nearly all large companies have been built through the sweat and blood of others, or exploitation:

    UnionPacific Rail
    Pacific Gas & Electric
    And thousands more

    But as you rightly point out, many of them have been able to avoid public scrutiny of their actions. It is a rather ugly aspect of the politico-economic system we live in.

  • Guy Oliver

    For the record, the story of de beers prospecting in the central kalahari game reserve for diamonds was first published by South Africa’s Sunday Independent newspaper. The newspaper and i were subsequently subjected to a withering assualt by both de beers and the Botswanan government. Survival International and the global media merely picked up the story.

  • John Bond

    Bombastic big business bashing begets little

    Denialism is a killer.

    In the one year 2005 (the latest statistics) we lost 600 000 0f our people to AIDS yet that year we were still putting forward a beetroot and garlic regime!!!

    Pray tell me, other than the Nazi Government, what other state has stood by while 3 million of it’s people died. We need to much now to redress that EVIL. (or is it all because of Aparthate that some black politicians care so little for OUR people)

    Then there is the murder and violence, corruption, terrible educatin… Hey but for now lets just stick with one of our many political challenges.

    And lest you post a stupid reply, spare a minute thinking of all of our friends we’ve lost to this AIDS political scourge.

  • W. Gotora

    Thanks Ronald, a good insight into the shady dealings of De Beers. One wonders how much the South African & Namibian people would have benefited from the wealth of those looted diamonds and other minerals

  • W. Gotora

    I think John Bond is missing the point here. Youre deviating from the core subject. Anyway, to answer your question, the apartheid regimes are the only other succsesive governments i know to have watched thier people die by deliberate causes. (have you ever heard of “PROJECT COAST” ?)this was a deliberate attempt to wipe out the blacks of South Africa “genocide”. this might also answer some of your questions as to how the rapid spread of disease in blacks came to be.

  • T. Kwetane

    Very brave, and spot on as always. You will have though this hypocrisy would have been highlighted by our newspapers long ago since we have so many black editors. But no, they are all busy telling all sorts of lies and pursuing all sorts of agendas against our leaders. Well done!
    A follow up article will be more than welcome…

  • John Bond

    And the story unfolds further…

    While our presidents “unauthorised” biographer is looking under every bed for the villains among big business. Our government is prepared to put many more of our people at risk of catching HIV just so they can make a publicity scoop.

    Haven’t we killed enough of our own people yet? This is not about companies making blacks of the 1930’s undress this is our government – TODAY. WEDNESDAY. 14th

  • Pierre de Vos

    Mr Roberts was of course paid a large sum of money (arranged by the Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad) by Absa Bank to write Fit to Govern. Absa Bank was formed when Allied joined forces with Trustbank, United Bank and Volkskas Bank. The latter was of course formed by the Broederbond in 1934. Like the Oppenheimers Volkskas is deeply implicated in the exploitation of black people and the support for apartheid. Maybe Mr Roberts should return the blood money he received from Absa or otherwise he might be charges with being a monumental hypocrite?

  • jason

    And, again, he could not resist including some of his favourite targets, Gumede and Myburgh. Their names were immaterial in an otherwise great piece. But RSR cannot help his childish self: he *must* include at least one personal attack per article.

    And someone should tell him Myburgh is Dr Myburgh now. So the attempt to pretend he is lazy or dumb by claiming he is still working on his doctorate, shows laziness on RSR’s part to verify ‘facts’.

  • Anthony Brink

    Since Roberts’s book ‘Fit to Govern’ and the subject of AIDS have been raised in this discussion, readers might be interested in a new book just published, free online: ‘LYING AND THIEVING: The fraudulent scholarship of Ronald Suresh Roberts in ‘Fit to Govern: The Native Intelligence of Thabo Mbeki’ with reference to chapters 8 and 9 on AIDS: ‘A clash of fundamentalisms 1: medical politics’ and ‘A clash of fundamentalisms 2: racial politics’.
    As the back cover blurb describes it: ‘This critical analysis of chapters 8 and 9 of ‘Fit to Govern: The Native Intelligence of Thabo Mbeki’ (Johannesburg: STE, 2007) demonstrates Ronald Suresh Roberts to be an extensive plagiarist, a fabricator and falsifier of history, and the author of a colossal literary fraud, and accordingly so grossly unprofessional and discreditable a writer that he’s unfit to be relied upon for any purpose, not even for directions to the post office.’
    It’s up at
    It will be in all the Sunday papers this weekend.

  • MidaFo

    A great piece!

    Gets the rabbits running around as Pierre de Vos and John Bond and jason amply demonstrate.

    I am literally sad to say this because they are indicative of the huge majority in the largely white bourgeoisie.

    But in the end this is the significance of the piece. It shows that the enemy of our future is firmly ensconced within. Many of the posts to Thought Leader illustrate this point. The ANC has recognised this and waits for them to see the light.

    I have great hopes and there is indeed no alternative but I am not so confident. There has to be a fight. We are dealing with pirates.

  • thembani mbadlanyana

    At times I get flummoxed by the motive(s) behind Roberts` evasive pen. Is it necessary at this current conjuncture to denude our country’s historical malfeasances and personage blunders? What good is it going to make to the perplexing issues facing our country?

    Due to my inadequate grasp of historical ‘facts’ I didn’t know that Oppenheimer Dynasty was built from ill-gotten wealth and ‘rapes’, so Suresh you have broken my historical virginity. But where do I apply my newly found knowledge honourable Roberts? I vehemently believe that, the use of this newly found information (on bourgeois hypocrisy in SA) is the lacuna in Roberts` thesis. Mr Roberts` hackneyed arguments are not assisting and are not far from being otiose.

    I concur with John bond; Roberts` article only serve one purpose, that of diverting us away from the pressing issues facing our country. Off course, in doing so he uses hyperboles and historical anecdotes that, at times, lack credence.

    What further frustrates me the most is that, Suresh spend much time digging graves of the past and less time exposing the neo- bourgeois hypocrisy. He doesn’t even bother looking at how power is dispersed to the extremities in the new political system.

  • Reuben Maphutha

    Mr Anthony Brink, I smell a dead rat from your side. As a lawyer for some odd number of years you should know that submissions are supported and not just assumed. You made the certain obvious assumptions that you further expect us to understand. You just can’t say Suresh is a plagiarist and give us somewhat questionable submissions as prove that he is a plagiarist. How about the possibility of you attempting to further destruct history from his reconstruction of history? Don’t jump on a high horse of glorified truth teller here.

  • Pieter

    James Bond
    How about the African government encourage the forceful taking of white economic interests in this country then 10 years from now we will put it to “Ancient History” as you refer to it.

    Roberts , I enjoyed reading this article.

    Let me conclude by saying :Aspects of Mugabe’s land reform will never be seen as empowerment of blacks ? Never, !Perhaps he sould fire his PR manager, or is it the color of his skin but you know what … “Ancient days” from now , African students will still cherish an Oppenheimer Busary, or Rhodes Scholarship or is Mugabe Busary ?

  • Ronald Suresh Roberts

    In his defamatory manuscript, which I have handed to my attorneys, Anthony Brink offers peculiar propaganda designed to suggest that President Thabo Mbeki, like Brink himself, denies that HIV causes AIDS. Brink believes that the recent biography by Mark Gevisser supports his portrayal of Mbeki as a denier of the thesis that HIV causes AIDS. The problems for Brink begin in Gevisser’s book itself. At page 758 Gevisser quotes President Mbeki himself objecting that “a campaign was launched, that I’ve said that HIV does not cause AIDS, which I never did, and all sorts of other things, all these charges about genocide, and so on.” Gevisser himself said at the book’s launch on 5 November that Mbeki is not a denialist. In a letter published in Business Day on 15 November, 2007 under the headline “no denialist” Mbeki’s spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, wrote: “the president is not now, nor has he ever been, an ‘AIDS denialist’, a point which Gevisser himself has publicly acknowledged.”

    The same detractors who cast Mbeki as an intolerant autocrat surrounded by supposed sycophants including myself, have abruptly changed tack in order to portray Mbeki as a captive of myself and Essop Pahad, who conspire to re-write his views. Hence Brink’s false and extremely defamatory suggestion that I “fraudulently misrepresented” Mbeki’s views on AIDS. Unsurprisingly, Brink’s suggestion has been given credence only by the most extreme and ludicrous of Mbeki’s detractors.

    On his Politicsweb blog for 7 November, Tony Leon’s former “special projects” operative, James Myburg, fancifully wrote: “even as Roberts was working so hard to shift public opinion on this matter [Mbeki’s position on HIV/AIDS], Mbeki was preparing to flush all his [Roberts’s’] efforts down the toilet.” Brink decorates the Myburgh thesis with the remarkable embellishment that while Essop Pahad was enthusiastic about my book at its launch (which Brink did not attend), the President (who sat with me and signed copies for guests!) was supposedly less enthusiastic.

    In his blog for 12 November, Myburgh wrote: “Politically Brink’s more important critique is of the sustained misrepresentation of Mbeki’s views on AIDS by Roberts and Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad.” What is the alleged misrepresentation? Brink himself concedes that in the 1990s Mbeki was what Brink disparagingly calls a “true believer” in the thesis that HIV causes AIDS. He then contends that he personally converted Mbeki to the denialist view that HIV does not cause AIDS and that there is no such thing as AIDS. he says I fraudulently deny any such shift in Mbeki’s views.

    Brink’s problem, once again, is Mbeki himself. In an interview with the London Financial Times’s Lionel Barber and Alec Russell on April 3, 2007 President Mbeki said: “The current [HIV/AIDS] policy is actually quite old. Already in the nineties, 98 or something, whatever you can trace formal comprehensive South African government policy from that. And as today we decided then that the deputy president would lead that campaign, which I did as deputy president. And it has continued like that ever since. Later we decided that we should put out a formal document.. therefore we did, a 2000 to 2005 comprehensive policy on Aids and sexually transmitted disease. . . So your medical documents will say Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome that is AIDS. What that means: you have got this challenge of immune deficiency. Alright what causes immune deficiency? HIV. Alright. Is that all that causes immune deficiency? The medical textbooks will say there are other things that cause immune deficiency. There is also genetic immune deficiency that is a different phenomenon. So I say alright let’s respond comprehensively to everything that causes immune deficiency. That’s where you get the story that I have denied a connection. Nobody has ever shown me , where I did. They say it. But you say where, when. They can’t. It was never said I never did. . . . You have got to attend to HIV absolutely but you have got to attend to these other matters. So that is all. I was listening to the radio yesterday. And somebody phones this telephone programme, and says oh the president, we know him for, he is a denialist. Like he denied there is a connection between HIV and Aids. What can I do?”

    As I point out in Fit to Govern, Brink habitually attributes the full and varied range of his own views to the President, among others, and this has seen him get into trouble before. After he claimed in a letter to a prospective supporter that Mbeki had instigated the formation of his TIG as a counterweight to the TAC, the Presidency responded: “A statement from the president’s office said Mbeki has ‘declare[d] his views on Aids and anti-retroviral treatment, and the claims in Advocate Brink’s document of secretive counter-mobilisation, intimate friendships and his special influence on the thinking of government leaders do not, we believe, deserve a response.’” Mail & Guardian, 25 March, 2005.

    Having defamed me with the spurious allegation of fraudulent misrepresentation, Brink, with great paradox and comedy, claims that I “plagiarised” his work. As reported by the Citizen, “Brink said he had been extensively quoted in early drafts of Roberts’s book, but that in the final manuscript Roberts removed the quote marks, and so passed off Brink’s work as his own.” Nowhere in Brink’s 376 page manuscript does he make, let alone sustain, any such defamatory allegation. And the allegations that he does level (which are in themselves false and occasionally comic) come nowhere close to “plagiarism.” The matter is, as I say, in the hands of my lawyers.

    Brink purports to quote me verbatim, often from memory. Yet he cannot even tell the difference between the intellectual journal known as the New York Review of Books and the newspaper known as the New York Times, which he muddles with each other in a tale elaborately told at pages 48, 49, 163-65 and 332 of Brink’s manuscript. Sensible people will treat his factual assertions with the necessary caution.

  • me

    Another poor blackman article, ag shame, poor, poor blackman…European mines were hardly glowing pits of human rights, good god the stories of late 1860’s all the way to the 1950’s about coal pits in the UK are not exactly the story of unbelievable human rights triumphs and these helped build the Empire.
    The labour imported to open up holes in the ground in the good old US of A was not treated with kid gloves either and it was white and chinese labour,that earned less than nothing, they were sometimes even charged to use the pick.The conditions were horrible. I don’t even want to imagine what mine labour in China or India is like,but I am guessing they don’t keep much to the high and mighty human rights.
    Mining is the crudest form of capitalism, its a dirty business that exploits the many for the gains of the very few,it destroys the environment in every country it happens in…it has existed since time began and will continue to exist,whether you like it or not.
    Black people will exploit black just as well and if not better than white people have.

  • Owen

    Nice piece, got some of us heated as usual.

    I would like to see what impact Anglo America (Oppenheimers) had on the release of Mandela and the finacing of Shell House, etc.

    Why focus on Africa, many old fortunes (and new ones) are based on blood money. I trade the markets and if there is a war then I buy gold and make money. Tragically someone dies for my profit.

    btw Garlic is a very good natural anti biotic. Taken twice a week it can help prevent colds, flu gout, etc etc. Anyone who is HIV should be taking it with their food. The drug companies don’t profit so no one really promotes garlic. Beetroot also has some basic medicinal qualities but no big difference to other vegetables. In a round about way Manto was promoting healthy eating to prevent full blown aids.

    I like our health minister. She banned smoking.

    I like Mbeki, consdiering the lack of skills in the ANC he has done rather well. My stocks have made me a small fortune.

    How about the guy who opens a funeral parlour to profit from Aids?

  • John Bond

    Note the very interesting trend in these posts.

    First, Robert’s reply on AIDS in this post show his dishonesty and self interest. He doesn’t have much of any value to contribute.

    Then there are those with very fixed views, both to the right and the left, arguing from fixed points of views. Ag Shame… (and I’m not even a boer)

    And then there is a whole lot of people, black and white, conservative and very liberal who are saying “Hey South Africans, we can do MUCH better that this – but only if we are facing forward, not looking backward.”

    To all those guys who believe that we can do better, to all those that are prepared to put up with the bigoted bunk these blotted bureaucrats and other buggers blast us with, I salute you. Whatever the colour of your money, green, brown, pink or blue, I’d like to work with you to make OUR country a better place.

  • Pierre de Vos

    So the Absa Bank blood money will not be returned then?

  • Shamin Rampersad

    To Misha & Mvulane,Tafa,MidaFo
    Once a wise African philosopher said “Have hope my brother dispair is for the defeated”
    To Ronald Suresh Roberts
    There are recurrent themes,as you know, in writings on African Studies which is very much trapped in conventional wisdom which is sung like this:
    1.Law is an instrument of economic class oppression.
    2.The Imperial powers of Europe engaged in a wave of colonialism not only in Africa,but India, America,China,Australia ect albeit in different forms but a similar pattern.
    3.The Imperial Governments of Europe used their armies to conquor the indigenous people of the land of Africa and establish colonial governments who promoted colonial companies eg(The Dutch East India Company) for colonialists eg (Cecil John Rhodes)to exploit the natural resources eg (diamonds,gold,iron,copper,hides,timber or cash crops viz sugar) which was exported to Europe at ridiculous prices to offset taxes at the expense of the natural inhabitants.
    4.Colonialism was an evil force *(look at the works of FAnon)as it perpetrated racial superiority
    and denied the inhabitants any access to meaningful education.(the closure of many African Studies Units at S.A.and the loss of vibrant, progressive,and brilliant African Studies Professors to a London University is both sad & tragic with the substitution of corporate idealogically guided research)
    5.The winds of changes blew over Africa as a result of violent civil wars or a peaceful negotiated settlement as in the case of S.A.which is unique in world history independence was accomplished.
    Now let move beyond conventional wisdom and serve this country with love and think with one heart and one mind in debating developmental models as we transact in a Global Village,the relevance of the Green/Agrarian Revolution to S.A and take on the challenges faced by S.A.with zeal,honour,respect,discipline and integrity!?

  • MidaFo

    It is the future that counts! History means nothing!

    This tendency of argument is very much worse than useless. It is downright dangerous.

    Imagine saying black is all! White means nothing.

    Hello! There is no black without white; no future without history.

    Me is lost in an infinite regression, saying black is black is black is bla———–blah blah.

    As for Roberts’ post? Well nobody is perfect—it gives me hope and should do the same for those criticised here.

  • Ronald Suresh Roberts

    OK Mr De Vos:

    The point of my piece was not to distinguish clean money from dirty money (some would say all money is dirty) but rather to protest the self-serving expectations of some money-givers and the servile behaviour of some takers.

    The solution is not to defend some money as allegedly “clean” and castigate other money as uniquely dirty, but rather to ring-fence the independence of the work from the money-giver. This I made sure to do in my ABSA contract, as you can see in an early footnote to Fit to Govern where I point out: “paragraph 4.1 of my funding agreement with ABSA provides that “The Author must exercise due, proper and untrammeled professional and aesthetic judgment in all matters concerning the Book in a manner intended to maximize the independence and broad intellectual credibility of the Book.”

  • Reuben Maphutha

    This Brink fellow needs to go have more of which ever substance he took before making such baselss if not cretenic remarks about Roberts.

  • T. Kwetane

    I am always shocked by the ignorance or hypocrisy of people who do not want to talk about the past or who do not want to do a “postmortem” on the past. I’m shocked because everything we know about everything is history/past. So any form of analysis any form of thought will demand that we “spend much time digging graves of the past” to use a phrase from Themba Mbadlanyana. The most complex algorithms in sciences, economics, retail etc, rely heavily on “digging graves of the past” (data) to predict the future. That is why articles like this are so important. Why is it that people who are ignorant or in denial about our past want to attend to some “pressing issues facing our country”?
    John and crew are happing on about AIDS, diverting us from what the piece was all about. People seem to think that we are embarrassed by AIDS or we are ignorant about the subject. We will talk about AIDS and everything else around it. I am sure that when the time is right Suresh is going to post on the subject, until then, shush!
    Lastly, Brink has been peddling this lie about Mbeki denying that HIV causes AIDS. Mbeki has never said HIV does not cause AIDS. Stop lying.

  • Azania2010

    Roberts, this article adds credit to SA journalism. The criticism that’s chased it resembles the puny farts of insects which cannot extinguish a candle.

  • John Bond

    I was very very amused by the pathetic comment by T. Kwetane on my apparent lack of knowledge of African History. I was going to let it pass but it’s too delicious to highlight the myopia (blindness) of this type of person.

    So tell me Kwetane, do you know any South African history!

    A couple of books written by members of my direct family.

    They were South Africans – John Bond (a History best seller on English South Africans published in the 1960’s) written by an uncle
    The Lost Republic – Elfreda Bright (A history of the Orange Free State Republic and the man who surveyed it) written by my grand mother.
    The Khosa Dictioanary and Khosa Grammar Book – My Great Grandfather James McLaren. (The name of the language was later changed to Xhosa). His preface showed how much respect he had for this language. Oh by the way, his was the first dictionary of a black language in Southern Africa. Grab a copy of the amazing dictionary (in print until 1994) and read the preface.

    My mother’s best friend (and a good friend of mine too) was the world famous South African historian Eric Rosenthal. (let’s test your knowledge of South African History, who was Eric Rosenthal?). I’ve got a lot of his books

    The one thing these four had in common is the way they wrote ACCURATELY about controversial topics of the time rather distorting them to suite the Aparthate Government…

    The problem I have with current “Works of History” is that they’ve been written with an eye on reward from the current regime. How can I talk with such authority on these heinous hyenas of history who hack our heritage to bits.

    Cathy Bond-Stewart (recognise the similarity of our surnames) rushed to Zimbabwe after independence to help Uncle Bob rewrite the history of that sad country. I doubt there are many historians who would accept any of Uncle Bob’s current historical claims.

    Another cousin, Simon Bright and his famous film making wife set about filming the “difficulties” of the poor blacks under white Rhodesian rule. When, after making many dozen “acceptable movies”, they made one that mentioned a rape that happened in the genocide in Matabeleland (no, not the terrible genocide – they didn’t go thet far, just a rape), they were arrested and though he was third generation Zimbabwe with perfect “struggle credentials”, he was kicked out of the country.

    Now each of us has three options
    – We can continue to rape and pillage our poor country, using an incorrect view put forward by Roberts and others like him. We can continue repeating the type of error the earlier Aparthate government made.
    – We can stand by paralyzed while we argue who’s interpretation of the history is the correct one.
    – We can accept we have a rich history but, what we can only change our future by what we do now. Look to our concience and do what’s right.

    What’s your choice

  • Sivu

    Wow, so we have in John Bond a true colonialist – good for you man!

    Now, T. Kwetane took issue with you because you were off topic writing about AIDS – which has nothing to do with the current discussion. In response, you give us nonsense about your colonial ancestry – come on man.

  • http://NA A.johnstone

    Thank you

    Pertinent and timely article.
    How about a Diamond Commission?

  • Nasdaq7

    Ronald Suresh Roberts you blast colonialism that brought the industrial revolution, trains, factories, jobs, infrastructure, cities, science, mathematics, universities, stock markets, roads, dams to the African continent, that lifted hundreds of millions of people from the bronze age into the modern age… but can you go out into the world and with that same feverish spirit denounce the African dictators that rule the African continent, some for 40 years, like Omar Bongo, 27 years, Robert Mugabe, 28 years, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and tens of others. Can you prove to the entire world you are a man of intellect and reason and not a voiceless black blind mouse to the injustices that your own people commit on this continent. You blast colonialism, yet not a single African nation that has lost its colonial roots, have been a success. Instead like in the case of Nigeria, incomes have fallen to a quarter of colonial levels. Google the following if you don’t believe me:
    During the 1970s, Nigeria had the 33rd highest per-capita income in the world, but by 1997 it had dropped to the 13th poorest.
    By 2002 Nigeria’s per capita income had plunged to about one-quarter of its mid-1970s high, below the level at independence…
    You must remember black peoples themselves colonized Southern Africa. If your attacks are directed at whites because they colonized Africa and not at the unfair laws that existed under colonial rule and you want whites to leave Africa,
    just remember that the rest of the world’s 5 billion non Africans will judge your performance without dark sun glasses, objectively. From 6000BC to 1800AD, before colonization Africa achieved nothing technologically and culturally and was ruled by tyrants and kings that suppressed all science and technology, all enquiry, laws, justice, kings owned all the land of the people, their labor … and in this 20th century Africa has reverted back to tribal warfare and black dictators. History itself will judge Africans without prejudice, investors and academics for hundreds of years to come.

  • Bernoldus Niemand

    Is Thabo Mbeki an AIDS denialist? Decide for yourself:

    “When one asks a question: does HIV cause AIDS, the question is: does a virus cause a syndrome? How does a virus cause a syndrome? It cannot, really, truly….I think it is incorrect from everything that I read to say immune deficiency is acquired exclusively from a single virus.” – Thabo Mbeki, 4 September 2000

    Howard Barrel reports that on 28 September that Mbeki “told ANC MPs that it was their duty to inform themselves so that they could counter the huge propaganda offensive that was being mounted to say that HIV caused AIDS.”

    (Note the above report led the ANC to believe that they were being bugged. A week later Parliament was swept for bugs.)

    “No, but it is setting an example within the context of a particular paradigm.” Thabo Mbeki in response to a question on 24 April 2001 whether, by being tested for AIDS, he would be setting an example.

    The Castro Hlongwane document, later shown to have been authored on the President’s computer, claimed that Parks Mankahlana had not died of Aids, but had been “vanquished by the anti-retroviral drugs he was wrongly persuaded to consume”:

    The same document also denied that Nkosi Johnson had died of HIV/AIDS, but had been “vanquished by the anti-retroviral drugs he was forced to consume”

    In March 2002 Mokaba told the New York Times: “HIV? It doesn’t exist…Anti-retrovirals, they’re quite dangerous. They’re poison actually. We cannot allow our people to take something so dangerous that it will actually exterminate them.” Mokaba was not censured.

    “Personally, I don’t know anybody who has died of AIDS.” Asked whether he knew anyone with HIV, he replied, “I really, honestly don’t.” Thabo Mbeki on 25 September 2003

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  • Luanda

    I really don’t understand your writing an article attacking Westerner for not attacking Westerners who started exploiting Africa before modern African nation-states even existed. You call them hypocrites, but yes there old crimes are today part and partial of the economic success of South Africa. But today we have African rapers of the African people and resources of the current Angolan state. Why are you looking for parity, when yes, I repeat yes, the futongo are a million times worst then the Debeers of the world. the Debeers are not Black Africans and their evils are not happening as we speak, unlike your friends that you are so eager to defend my trying to make weak comparisons. Come on, late 1800’s compared to 2009, white colonialist and voyagers compared to Africans who are suppose to be of the land and from the land. The Futongo’s actions are affecting the lives of millions upon millions of Angolans right now. Their stealing of billions of billions of dollars under the auspices of being politicians running the Angolan state is a hypocrisy that the Debeers of the world never attained. Why? Well because those men were colonialist through and through, they did not put up pretense as your dear that you speak of friend, Dos Santos daughter and the rest of their gang put up. So there is no comparison.

  • Maryln Ouellet

    Nope. It would take at least a majority vote of the board, depending on the company bylaws.

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