I am no apologist for Allan Boesak, who hit the headlines again this week after he resigned from the Congress of the People. However, I have known the man for a long time and have tried to understand his mind through all the dramas in his life.

These dramas, of course, include the Di Scott affair and his subsequent affair with his present wife, Elna. I spoke at length to him and his former wife, Dorothy, about what was happening in their lives at the time and it was clear to me that both of them were suffering a lot because of his indiscretions.

I have also seen him in court on fraud charges and how he steadfastly refused to give evidence in his own defence because he feared he would sell out his former comrades who he had helped with money given by foreign donors to his Foundation for Peace and Justice.

Boesak is, ultimately, a flawed individual who has made some stupid decisions in his life. Does this necessarily make him a bad person or a bad leader? I don’t think so.

I don’t believe Boesak is more flawed than most of our political leaders, including those people who are criticising him today. I also believe that many ordinary South Africans who have been criticising him should first check whether their own houses are in order. You know what they say about people in glass houses throwing stones.

I know fraud is fraud and crime is crime, but it is interesting to note that the amount that Boesak took was significantly less than what was taken by a lot of politicians who are still in their positions today.

It is so easy to forget the role that Boesak played during the dark days of apartheid, when he and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu led the sanctions campaign against the former regime.

The ANC would like to make us believe that it was because of pressure put on the apartheid regime by Umkhonto weSizwe that we have our liberation today, but I believe that the international sanctions campaign played a much bigger role than MK could have ever hoped to play.

Boesak was head of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches when he was still in his mid-thirties. He had the ear of the Kennedy family in the US and just about every prominent African-American leader in those days.

He operated on the world stage and spoke about the injustices of apartheid on every occasion. At home, he helped to inspire millions of people and gave them hope that apartheid would end in their lifetime.

The role he played in the United Democratic Front and in the religious movement in South African cannot be underestimated. My humble belief is that Boesak, not unlike many of our leaders today, got seduced by his power and influence. He started to believe that he deserved to live the high life. In some ways this made him lose touch with ordinary people but ordinary people have always believed in him.

If I could give him some advice, it would be to leave politics to the politicians and to craft a role for himself based on his natural gifts: theology and his appeal to ordinary South Africans.

I struggled to agree with Boesak’s decision to join Cope but I understood why. Like so many other South Africans, he was desperate for a relevant alternative to the ANC and thought that he had found this in Cope.

I remember thinking at the time how long it would be before he left Cope. What he does after Cope is going to be important to determine whether he will have any credibility left. If he rejoins the ANC and/or tries to get a diplomatic posting, then he would lose credibility in my humble opinion.

There has been talk about the possibility of forming a social movement, which is something that Boesak should seriously consider. He can then use this foundation to act as a watchdog on government, the ruling ANC and other political parties.

I can’t claim to have any influence on the man, but if I had I would strongly encourage him to consider starting a social movement in which he could carve out a completely new role for himself.


  • Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is executive chairperson of the Cape Town Festival, which he initiated while editor of the Cape Times in 1999 as part of the One City Many Cultures project. He received an international media award for this project in New York in October 2006. His personal motto is "bringing people together", which was the theme of One City Many Cultures. It remains the theme of the Cape Town Festival and is the theme of Race. Ryland has worked in and with government, in the media for more than 25 years, in the corporate sector, in NGOs and in academia. Ultimately, however, he describes himself as "just a souped-up writer".


Ryland Fisher

Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is...

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