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No FEAR, Chapter 5: Who Are You Calling a Necklacer?
by BAR Editor and columnist Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
In this chapter of her book, Dr. Coleman-Adebayo recounts her experiences in South Africa not long after the dawn of majority rule. Black paid a heavy price for a peaceful transition. “White businesses that had wallowed in profits from black labor during apartheid would be free of the obligation to pay reparations—while the victims of apartheid were legally bound to pay retirement to their former victimizers.”
No FEAR, Chapter 5: Who Are You Calling a Necklacer?
by BAR Editor and columnist Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
Dr. Coleman Adebayo’s tells her own story as a whistleblower in the Environmental Protection Agency, and the growth and triumph of a movement to protect all the truth-tellers in the federal civil service and beyond. She has graciously allowed us to serialize her book, No Fear: A whistleblower’s Triumph Over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. The following is from Chapter Four.
“You are so biased in favor of black South Africans you cannot possibly represent our concerns.”
Bill Nitze, the Assistant Administrator for the EPA office of international affairs, had asked me to join him. He was going to be meeting with Bantu Holomisa to go over some final things before the ambassador’s reception scheduled for later in the night that would mark the end of this phase of the US/South Africa BiNational Commission, affectionately know as the Gore-Mbeki Commission, named after the US Vice President and the South African Deputy President. We found Holomisa in good spirits and enthusiastic about the progress that had been made between his ministry and the environment committee. When business was finished, the conversation turned more personal, with Nitze asking Holomisa about his own history and the role he had played in the antiapartheid struggle. Holomisa mentioned his upbringing in Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape. “There was not any question of what I was going to do with my life so long as apartheid was in place.”
Bantu Holomisa was a statuesque general of heroic proportions among black South Africans. Holomisa was not just physically beautiful, he was regal in gait, in stance, in gravitas. He was imposing and punctual to a fault. As organized a man as had ever lived, Holomisa’s life and security had depended on his being where he was supposed to be. He was also a man of his word. It was reported that, after having buried his own daughter, he spoke at another funeral that same day because he had previously made the commitment. In South Africa, when Bantu Holomisa wanted something done, it got done. In his deepest being, Holomisa was a man of the people.
“Bantu Holomisa was a statuesque general of heroic proportions among black South Africans.”
He did not go into any of the details of what he had done to become the head of state in Transkei, of having overthrown Prime Minister Stella Sigcau in 1987 when Holomisa was a brigadier in the Transkei Defense Force. He did not mention anything about how the South African resistance had staged its missions from Transkei or that this had played a crucial role in weakening the apartheid regime.
“There was more than enough for me to do,” he said with a smile. Nitze nodded, seeming aware of Holomisa’s modesty. “I am well aware of your father’s influence,” Holomisa said.
Nitze smiled, saying his father, Paul Nitze, cast a long shadow indeed, but that women in his family were also descended from stellar stock, his grandmother having been the first woman congressperson elected in New York State. Nitze’s uncle, he went on to say, had established the Aspen Institute and Aspen Skiing Company, both instrumental in the establishment of Aspen, Colorado. Almost embarrassed, Nitze looked at me, saying that it must be difficult for me not knowing my heritage because of my family’s history of enslavement.
“Au contraire,” I said. “I know quite a bit about my heritage from the vibrant stories that have been passed down through the generations. My great-great-grandmother was enslaved as a house servant in Georgia. She actually went to great lengths to save any glass that was broken in the household.” Her frugality seemed to please Nitze. “She stayed up nights and ground the glass with a pestle she kept squirreled away and then added it to the salt in the master’s saltshakers.”
Holomisa broke into laughter, clapping his hands. “Marsha, I would have loved your granny.”
After dinner, we left for the ambassador’s reception, which was being held in a ponderous national park with stone buildings, nestled in an oasis of flowers, plants, and formal gardens. One could easily forget South Africa’s bloody history there. An otherworldliness haunted the place. That night it was the nexus of the new South Africa. All of the characters were in place: the outgoing and angry Afrikaners, the newly invested ANC government officials, their faces fresh as the night’s full moon. Some of the guests would be so passionate about their beliefs that they would refuse to speak the names of some of the others. People on both sides, who only a few months earlier would have waited in the bushes outside to pick off many of the attendees with relish, were now plucking hors d’oeuvres off silver trays hoisted on white gloves carried around the room for everyone to taste. But I knew Americans who were oblivious to any but their own perceptions and goals, would look at the plight of the black South Africans and shrug, saying, So what? It’s time to move on. The thought of impending disaster was so gripping I began to shake.
Franklin, my former colleague at EPA and now working at AID was always the freshest and best dressed of any he traveled with. His resilience and energy were unsurpassed. “Well, look at you,” he said, stopping in his tracks to take me in. “And where has this radiant queen of Africa been hiding? Girl, you need to take a nap more often. And I love those earrings!”
“People on both sides, who only a few months earlier would have waited in the bushes outside to pick off many of the attendees with relish, were now plucking hors d’oeuvres off silver trays.”
I was delighted that Franklin was there to have fun. We were washed by the sweet scent of hibiscus and linden, and bathed in moonlight, lanterns lighting the way across the grounds marked with elegant canopies housing banquets of the most delicate, sumptuous, and impeccable American and South African cuisines. There were people everywhere, guests and staff, in clusters. Tami Sokutu saw me, Kathy, Franklin, Bill and Bradford Brown, a marine biologist on the US delegation, and joined us, addressing Nitze first.
“How are you this evening, sir? Before I forget, I would like to extend an invitation to all of you to come to an after-party that I am hosting. It will begin after the ceremonies here are completed and will be much more informal and relaxed. We would be so happy if all of you could attend.” Tami shook all of our hands and excused himself, returning to join his colleagues.
Nitze watched Tami go. “I really like that man. And do you know why? Because he knows how to speak good English. You can tell a lot about how civilized a person is and how dignified they’ll treat their guests by whether or not they use proper English.”
“You know what, Bill?” Franklin was pissed. “You should realize that, as a black American, I learned everything I know about hospitality from my grandmother, who had a third-grade education. I have never been more insulted in my life! Particularly coming from an American from our culture who can stand here and say they believe there is a relationship between the ability to speak proper English and being hospitable to friends and guests.”
Bill excused himself and asked Kathy to accompany him.
Franklin watched them walk away for a moment. “Keep your boss away from me, Marsha!” He said it without looking at me. He was seething. All of his earlier joy was gone. “Good English!” His knees buckled as he laughed. “Good English?” There was a boyish playfulness in his affectations.
It was so good to see such buoyancy. Franklin was never far from humor—or pain.
We had reached a side entrance to the room where the reception would be held. Franklin, a tall man surveyed, the room.
“I don’t know who organized this invite list, Marsha.” He was standing on his toes. “But whoever it was either has a fantastic sense of humor or delights in throwing cherry bombs into crowds. This ought to be v-e-r-y interesting,” he said with his eyes wide. “Come on. I need to find me a drink!”
As we entered the hall, he spotted a station where someone was fixing drinks. He pointed to it with his eyebrows raised. “That’s me. I won’t be too far if you get into trouble.”
On his way to the station he stopped to chat with a small group of people. “Hello, my name is Franklin Moore. I’m here as part of the environmental contingent from the United States.”
The teams of people, though not in uniforms, collected in knots like people will do when the only others they know are the people they came with. If it had not been for newspapers and television it would have been impossible at first glance to tell the big cheeses from the small fries. Or perhaps, had I been from South Africa, I would have known which huddles represented the big names from this country and continent. Apart from the officers with epaulettes, the room was full of uniforms unfamiliar to me, some traditional and some Western. The only certainty was that there were no common folk in the room.
“If it had not been for newspapers and television it would have been impossible at first glance to tell the big cheeses from the small fries.”
Both the evening and the trip were coming to a close. Everything was winding down. Mercifully, the speeches would soon be over, the protocols would have been met. I had opened as many new avenues as I could have hoped. I had seen the face of the humanitarian crisis. I had strengthened my bond with Bantu Holomisa, whom I was coming to see as a major force in the political future of the disenfranchised. Holomisa was a key figure, willing to confront US policy makers who were not accustomed to dealing with an African leader who could not be compromised.
I was looking for Franklin again. I wanted to be standing next to him during the speeches. I knew I could use his sense of humor once they began. I saw him standing in a small group of people including Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary, Ambassador Bill Richardson, Nitze, and Ken Thomas. I hadn’t seen Ken, an attorney, since meeting him at the initial Gore-Mbeki conference in Washington. Ken was a handsome, slender man, with dark eyes, hair, and mustache. His kindness and grace were endearing.
By the time I made it over to them, Ken had disappeared. Bill Richardson and Bill Nitze were talking along with Franklin Moore and Peter Mokaba, the fiery leader of the ANC Youth League, who was said to have coined the phrase, “Kill the Boer, kill the farmer,” at the April 1993 funeral of assassinated South African Communist Party leader, Chris Hani. Peter was the confidant of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. As I approached, Mokaba shook hands with Richardson, Nitze, and Franklin and then blended into the crowd.
Nitze turned to Richardson. “Do you know who that was? He is one of the lions of the African unity movement. You know, a necklacer.”
Necklacing was the practice, performed by some in the resistance movement, of singling out a black informant, placing a tire around his or her neck to immobilize the person’s arms, and then lighting the tire.
Richardson’s eyebrows jumped, and Franklin almost jumped out of his shoes. “How can you say that, Bill? How can you accuse someone of murder in front of the US Ambassador to the UN?”
“I was merely trying to give the ambassador a sense of the flavor of some of the people here.”
“The flavor! Flavor’s fine, Bill. But that’s a very serious accusation, and you need proof. You tell me one documented instance of Peter Mokaba ever necklacing someone. One credible report. One verdict.”
Before Bill could respond, there was the tinking of silverware tapping crystal, a signal to gain everyone’s attention. Franklin saw me, turned away from Nitze, and headed my way shaking his head. The closing speeches were about to begin.
While the vice presidents were making their final remarks, an Afrikaner I did not know approached me. “Excuse me. Before you leave I wanted to make sure you know that we have seen your interference with the program.”
I was stunned. I had watched this man from a distance, standing with a group of other Afrikaners, all of them sneering, looking down their noses at the black South Africans.
“You are so biased in favor of black South Africans you cannot possibly represent our concerns. We have a story also. I want you to know how displeased we are and that we have registered our displeasure with Deputy President Mbeki. It is my fervent hope that you will take to heart this information I’m giving you in confidence before you come back here again on your crusade.”
The man turned and walked away before I could respond.
“He is one of the lions of the African unity movement. You know, a necklacer.”
There was nothing for an Afrikaner like this man to be worried about. Former President F. W. de Klerk, dubbed “the smiling face of apartheid” by some ANC members, had secured the economic future of people like him during negotiations with Mandela. De Klerk was the same man who, it was reported, in the dying throes of apartheid, stepped up the savagery against black South Africans and armed everyone he could find who was opposed to the ANC.
Naomi Klein states in The Shock Doctrine that the economic costs of these negotiations were severe. All apartheid-era civil servants were guaranteed their jobs. Those retiring would receive lifelong pensions. Going forward, 40 percent of the government’s annual debt payments would be committed to the country’s enormous pension fund, the vast majority of the beneficiaries being former apartheid employees.
With breathtaking insolence, the man who had just walked away from me could count on the people of townships like Alexandra to pay his pension. Even more, white businesses that had wallowed in profits from black labor during apartheid would be free of the obligation to pay reparations—while the victims of apartheid were legally bound to pay retirement to their former victimizers.
The actual cost of all of this would be to forfeit the well-being of future black South Africans for generations to come—in denial of health care, education, and environmental protection—to the peace-at-any-price euphoria of those new post-apartheid days.
See Marsha on C-Span Book/TV at:www.marshacoleman-adebayo.org.
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA is available through amazon.com and the National Whistleblower Center. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit lead to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR.)