Nothing Left To Steal
RIVENGO: Whom God has blessed, let no man curse
- To the tainted and in authority he has remained a marked man…
- To some in the profession, he steals their thunder…
- But underneath, that fearless, hard-hitting investigative journalist lies Mzilikazi wa Afrika, the human. The one that feels pain (physical and emotional) like any of us
- Is he flawless? He doesn’t claim to be, but would do anything and everything to give power to the oppressed even if it means challenging his own previous beliefs
- This is an extract from his book, ‘Nothing Left to Steal’
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Unknown
A ten-year old boy asked his father, “Daddy, what is politics?”
After scratching his head for a few seconds, his dad explained, “Let’s say this house is a country; your mother, who is the administrator of the house, is the government. I would be the politician since I am the one working hard to ensure that we have food on the table.
“You shall be called the union as you are the one making all kinds of demands, like forcing me to buy you new movies, a PlayStation and plasma television set. And your three-year-old brother shall be called the future; he is still young and innocent.
“Our helper shall be called the working class. She works so hard to make our dinner, wash our clothes and keep our house clean. That, my son, is politics.”
The boy went to bed disappointed because he didn’t comprehend his father’s convoluted explanation.
Late that night, while the boy was asleep, he heard his younger brother crying in his bedroom. He went to check on him and found out that his nappy was full.
He went to his parents’ bedroom to notify his parents, but when he got there, his mother was sleeping peacefully but his father was not there. The boy decided not to bother her but get some assistance from the helper who lodged in the outside cottage.
As he walked over to the cottage, he noticed the door was half open and while peeping through he saw his father having sex with the helper. He went back to bed more dispirited.
The following morning, at breakfast, the boy said to his father, “Dad, now I know and understand what politics is.”
The father, proudly, asked the boy to explain, in his own words, what politics is.
The boy said, “While the government is fast asleep, the politician screws the working class. The union sees everything but can’t do anything about it. And the future is full of shit.”
The father got the message loud and clear.
If the boy had asked me the same question, mine would be different from his father’s lyrical answer but nevertheless close to his intelligent observation.
Politics to me is the surreal art of convincing the nation that you are proficient to milk a chicken and circumcise a mosquito every election season, and even promise to build bridges where there are no rivers.
Without being malicious, I think a politician is someone who scores an own goal then tries to convince everyone that he deserves to be named as the man of the match. And if the furious coach reminds him that his brilliant own goal would count against him, he turns around and blames the opposition for his own stupid and egregious behavior.
Politics and I have been playing a cat and mouse game: there was a time in my life when I was a political activist and committed to the struggle for freedom, justice and equality. And there were also times when politics was like a jealous ex-girlfriend, just out to ruin my life and career.
There have been several times in my life when I have died: shot to death with a gun loaded with lies and left to be buried under a heap of malicious propaganda.
My obituary was poetically written by someone with an evil and twisted mind and embellished with voluminous smear campaigns.
There have been days when I was labeled a crook and a dodgy character, not because I had robbed anybody but because someone with a creative mind conjured up seeing me receiving cash stuffed in a brown envelope.
In my life and career as a journalist mu integrity and conviction has never been up for sale: I have chosen to remain poor rather than to accept a bribe.
Several times some idiots have thought they could buy me. A businessman implicated in a R44 million scandal offered me R2 million to drop the story. I wrote the damn story and the man ended in jail. To this day some of my friends, who were aware of the bribe, think I was a fool not to take the cash and drop the story.
There was another attempt to bribe me with R8 Million after I sued the state for my wrongful arrest. Again I turned down the offer and accepted a R100,000 settlement that was legally due to me – a matter that was discussed and agreed upon by lawyers and not settled through clandestine arrangements. When I sued the state, it was not about money, but a matter of principle.
In my journalism career, I have always written about anybody found on the wrong side of the law or caught with their dirty fingers in the cookie jar because I do not owe anybody a favour or have allegiance to any politician or any political party. My allegiance has been to my newspaper, the Sunday Times.
The favour I owe is to God in Heaven because He bribed me with this life and it did not come in a brown envelope.
For my entire adult life, as a village political activist and journalist, I have lived – and still do – with the consequences of my convictions and it helps me to sleep better at night.
I am not a critic of politicians but a patriot who uses his pen, not a machine gun, to fight for his country. I am loyal to my country – politicians come and go but the country remains forever.
Life is like a marathon: you must be fully prepared for it and be ready to run the race until the end, and be ready to endure personal humiliation, prosecution and slander.
This marathon is a conundrum: when you are in the lead, those behind you will try every trick in the book to bring you down and when you are at the back, those in front will use anything to block you from getting ahead. It is a vicious cycle, brutal most of the time, and heart-breaking. In this helter-skelter world, you will never know whether your friend is a snake or a snake is your friend until one of them bites you.
Life is hard and terrible at times: the weak get eaten alive while the stronger bulldoze their way through. Life does not need a coward but a brave person who can stand the test of time.
In life, one needs a good friend: a friend in need and in deed, the one who stands by you in good times and in bad times.
Oprah Winfrey made a profound statement about friendship when she said, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take a bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
In my life, I have made all sorts of friends: those who wanted to ride in a limo with me and those who were (and still are) prepared to walk the distance with me when the limo breaks down.
I am fortunate and blessed to have met people like Nathaniel Makanete, Ripho Machate, Ronny Mkhari, Stanley Mokoena, Justin Arenstein, Jecelyn Maker and many others who came into my life when I had nothing and I was nobody – blind to the rot around me – and gave me all the wisdom and knowledge I needed to survive on planet earth.
Of course my life would be boring if those two-faced people were not there, those who tried in vain (some of them still do) to bring me down, to taint my reputation and destroy my image – not because I am a rancid human being but because my achievements and good work, which I toiled for and spent countless hours over while building my career, drives them to fits of jealousy and envy. …
… In my career as a journalist, there has been a group of six gentlemen, all professional journalists working for four national publications, who have spent quality time and good resources in a racially motivated smear campaign to bring me down, taint my reputation and defame me.
These gentlemen, poisonous like snakes and burdened with hatred, have tried everything and told whoever cared to listen that I am dodgy and corrupt. They have repeated the same lie so often that many people started to believe it was the truth – an old propaganda strategy to smear a person.
At best, some of these men should be described as fiction writers instead of being called investigative journalists, which they are not.
This racially motivated smear campaign has persisted for years. The men in question have vowed that they will not stop until they “flush” me out as a no-good journalist. They do not believe that a black journalist can scoop them fair and square. No, there must be some private investigator doing it for me, or some crime intelligence operative feeding me with information. They claim I have been paid off, bribed and used as a blunt instrument by politicians and business people to expose and tarnish their rivals. In my short life, according to them, I have been an agent for the FBI, CIA, MI5 and Mossad.
My biggest mistake, I was told, was to outshine them in the game of journalism and outgun them with my colleagues at the Sunday Times by writing better stories and sometimes exposing some of their sources and people they like and admire.
My colleagues and I at the Sunday Times investigation unit have one agenda: to tell the story like it is, without fear or favour, not taking sides, to be as objective as we can – even if a friends or a relative is caught on the wrong side of the law. We will write about it as we have done do many times.
These men have constantly singled me out in their snide attacks even though the Sunday Times investigation unit is a team: I am the only black guy in our unit. They have, as contrarians, tried to undermine our hard work, our great efforts and the hours we spend researching complicated subjects while they are busy recycling gossip and turning it into front-page news.
Whenever my colleagues and I win an award, they boil in their anger and jealousy. Competition is healthy but professional jealousy and hatred is another thing.
Let me give you some examples of the bad experiences I have had at the hands of these men. One of them used his publication to write a series of fabricated stories about me that cast me in a bad light and quoted me verbatim from fictitious interviews. When he realized that those stories were not making the impact he had desired, his attacks took another twist and he started bad-mouthing me, even flying halfway across the world to spread his grotesque gospel.
“He drives an Audi”
Sometimes in 2012, one of the men without any shame phone my colleague Hofstatter and said, “Do you know that Mzilikazi is corrupt?”
When a shocked Hofstatter asked him to elaborate, the gentleman said, “He drives an Audi.”
Hofstatter dismissed him and the man then phoned my former editor, Ray Hartley, and repeated the same allegation. Hartley asked him to provide proof to support his allegations or evidence that my Audi might have been bought in a corrupt deal, but there was none.
This is the man who believes that a black man or a journalist, like me, cannot afford to buy an Audi. He insinuated that someone had bought or financed the car for me. I have been driving an Audi since 2001 and still drive one today. It is my favourite car and I can afford it from my salary.
There is an explanation for this: in his company, white reporters get paid more than their black colleagues. At one point he tried to recruit me but I turned down his offer.
One of the men phoned my colleague Rob Rose in 2011 to inform him that I had driven to work in a black BMW X5 owned by crime intelligence that morning. In a spirit of fairness and transparency Rob and I went through the parking lot and found there was not a single X5 parked in the building. The security guard confirmed to us that no car of that nature had been in the building, even from visitors, for months.
Another one of these men told colleagues at his newspaper that controversial crime intelligence boss General Richard Mdluli, who was on suspension at the time of writing this book, was one of the guests at my fortieth birthday party. At the party, which was well attended by friends and family, as well as a number of journalists from different radio stations and newspapers, including his newspaper, nobody saw Mdluli.
I know Mdluli, who hails from Thulamahashe township in Bushbuckridge, while I come from Sibambayani village, also in Bushbuckridge, but we are not friends. Mdluli and I are Tsongas – what many prefer to refer to as Shangaans – and it ends there. Bushbuckridge is a huge area with a population of more than two million people.
“Hi, There’s this claim going around that you’re related to Richard Mdluli – is this true?”
With all this propaganda and these smear campaigns going around I was not surprised when Dianne Kohler Barnard, Democratic Alliance (DA), member of parliament and the party’s shadow minister of police, inboxed me via Facebook on 8 April 2012, and said, “Hi, There’s this claim going around that you’re related to Richard Mdluli – is this true?”
To begin with, I am not sure whether it is a crime for people to be related or if that was going to make me an incompetent or corrupt journalist if I was indeed related to Mdluli. I replied, “Not at all. He is not my relative, not even a distant cousin. He is from Bushbuckridge. I am also from Bushbuckridge but not the same area. I don’t even know where his house is.”
Her question implied or insinuated that I was either blocking negative stories that were to be published about Richard Mdluli in the Sunday Times or I was somehow protecting the crime intelligence boss. I did not know I was so powerful that I could influence my colleagues and editors…
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