The increase in violence, crime and the resulting trauma for many families and communities across the Western Cape prompted the Western Cape Anti-crime Forum executive to publish an open letter to the President during October 1997 calling for the “sacking of the Minister for Safety and Security Sidney Mufamadi”.
The minister had visited certain “privileged families” and areas affected by crime and violence, but failed to show interest in the plight of communities in poor areas of the Western Cape – despite his office receiving a number of reports and requests.
The published letter caught the attention of the office of President Mandela, who called for a meeting with a delegation of the Anti-crime Forum on the 15 October 1997.
As the Chairperson of the forum, I was briefed in detail by our executive on our collective demands for the transformation of the criminal justice system, and the sacking of the Minister. Our objective was to stand firm and not be persuaded by Madiba’s magic.
On the morning of the meeting, a delegation of twenty CPF representatives from Cape Town, Langa, Manenberg, Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Lavender Hill, Bonteheuwel, Kensington, Gugulethu, Stellenbosch and Worcester entered the Parliamentary boardroom where Madiba was to address us.
Among those present was the Minister of Justice, Dullah Omar, who was very supportive of our organisation. He attended many community meetings with us in order to educate Community Police Forums about judicial processes and rights. The Provincial MEC for Safety and Security Gerald Morkel had been summoned to listen to our demands.
Madiba entered the meeting with an open smile and immediately charmed our delegation for a few minutes. He opened his address with “Sidney is a very good man. He is diligent in the execution of his duties.” He then continued to speak about the commitment of his cabinet to address all our concerns.
When it came to my turn to address Madiba, I could not contradict the him by calling for the resignation of one of his “most respected cabinet ministers”.
I sketched a detailed analysis of the ongoing gang warfare, drug problems, trauma, prevailing crime situation, the lack of political will and coherent programme to deal with the issues, but could not bring myself to call for the sacking of the minister. We criticised the local MEC for his lack of strategic planning in respect of resolving the endemic crime problems.
I got angry stares and a kick under the table from our delegation for not making the final demand.
Madiba responded very sympathetically to our cause and committed himself to speak to the honourable Minister of Safety and Security to resolve the ongoing gang violence and crime problems of the Western Cape.
At the end of the meeting we had a photo session with Madiba. Our members scrambled to stand next to him. I stood in the back row to the far left, feeling a bit guilty that I had not stuck to the “mandate”. I had been disempowered by his statesman’s presence, charm, and sensitive human nature.
Certain comrades would not speak to me that afternoon and were completely disillusioned that we missed this great opportunity to gain a victory for the victims of crime.
The next morning at 5.30am my phone rang continuously with journalists wanting to know, “how I feel about the fact that we will be visiting crime hotspots with Madiba?”
I was shocked and surprised but could not confirm anything as I had not been officially informed of the visit. By 8.30am I was back at Parliament where Madiba met me with a big smile and commented, “Chris you have nice haircut”.
I joined Gaynor Wasser, the Deputy Chair of the Western Cape Anti-Crime Forum, Comrade Ebrahim Rassool and the President on a helicopter flight across the Cape Flats.
We sat opposite the President and explained the socio-economic context of the areas that we flew over. The doors of the helicopter were opened and we flew at a low height so that we could get a good view of the townships.
We landed in Mitchells Plain where Madiba was joined by a member of the police’s anti-gang unit, who briefed him en-route to Elsies River.
We were placed in a vehicle at the back of the convoy and could only rejoin him in Elsies River. On arrival at a local sports complex, the small stand was packed with about 200 community members.
The VIP security officials ushered Madiba back to the waiting helicopter, when I rushed forward, took him by the arm and guided him back to meet Danny Brown, and to address the people.
The police officials were very annoyed at my intervention. Madiba politely informed me that he knew Danny, and about the tragic loss of his son, and that he would like to address the people.
As he spoke on crime and safety, I scanned the crowd and saw a number of local gang-leaders and their members, and realised why the police were in such a hurry to get Madiba away from area. The gangsters nodded and cheered Madiba respectfully, for having addressed them.
The security officials would not allow me back on the helicopter and I had to hurriedly find a lift back to town.
These were two significant and great days in my life. As a youth volunteer in the democratic struggle I studied Mr Mandela’s history, the M-Plan and strategy and tactics of the movement throughout its history. There were many times when we discussed, campaigned and planned for his release, but never knew what it would be to meet him as a person.
Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela is truly a humble icon, a people’s leader and a friend of the poor.
Quote: "When it came to my turn to address Madiba, I could not contradict him by calling for the resignation of one of his ‘most respected cabinet ministers’."