By Moegsien Williams
Group Editor, The New Age
So, the liberal media would like us to believe that Pallo Jordan is a faux intellectual?
Much is being made since the weekend about Jordan's paper academic qualifications that could not traced at various foreign and local universities.
One can sense the schadenfreude in certain quarters, the high fives and the fist pumps. Ah, another uppity darkie brought down! One of the brightest in the ranks of the African National Congress has been put in his place, has been the tone of the reportage.
We are led to believe he is really just an intellectual pygmy, a liar about his qualifications.
Who defines whether Jordan is suitably qualified? First, he has a superb struggle pedigree. He was born in 1942 in B Location, Kroonstad in the Free State, the son of novelist Archibald Campbell Jordan and Priscilla Phyllis Jordan, a teacher and lecturer. Both his parents were members of the Non-European Unity Movement.
He started at the age of seven selling copies of the Torch, the NEUM’s publication. He left the country in 1962 and worked fulltime for the ANC from 1975 as a researcher and deployed to Angola in 1977 to run Radio Freedom. He was also involved in Mkhonto we Sizwe and later appointed as one the ANC’s chief propagandists, eventually becoming the director for information and publicity in Lusaka.
After the unbanning of the ANC, he had stints in the cabinet as minister of Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet. He aslo served stints as minister of Environment Affairs and Tourism and as minister of Arts and Culture in Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet.
With or without qualifications, his is undoubtedly a distinguished history of service to the overthrow of apartheid and the creation of a new South Africa.
But personal experiences tell their own story. For those of us who have engaged him, sparred with him intellectually, who were hosted by him in Lusaka before the unbanning of the ANC or had him at the other end of a phone, withering in his criticism about a mistake in one of our newspapers, Jordan is an intellectual of outstanding quality.
If reading degrees is about, well, reading, he is extremely well read. Others will be able to speak about his courage when he was locked up by the ANC in exile, mainly because of his outspokenness.
Hundreds if not thousands of ANC members who crossed his path at conferences or NEC meeting will tell about his well-honed debating skills, a preparedness to be the odd man out when weighty decisions have to be made. His willingness to take a stand based on principles.
Just one example of his intellectual brilliance and bravery will suffice.
Danielle Mitterand, the wife of the then French president Francois Mitterand, followed up the famous Dakar conference with a meeting of "inziles" and exiles in a freezing Paris in December 1989.
Mrs Mitterand managed to pull together a stellar cast of South Africans at a well-guarded college/dormitary facility at Marly le Rois, a few kilometres west of the capital. They included Thabo Mbeki, Jackie Selebi and Albie Sachs among the exiles. The "inxiles" included Judge Laurie Ackerman, Peter "Terror" Lekota, Franklin Sonn, Trevor Manuel and a number of senior journalists.
The debating sessions about the future of South Africa’s political, judicial and economic systems lasted for days but proved less fiery than the drinking sessions that followed. One particularly memorable one pitted Mbeki against Anglo American’s Murray Hofmeyr.
Dissapointingly for us “strugglelistas”, Mbeki was defeated by the drinking prowess of “white capital” and literally drunk under the table by Hofmeyr, then a doyen of the white business community. Mbeki’s “defeat” had consequences the next morning when the entire contingent of Mitterand’s guests was invited and due at the French National Assembly. The arrangements entailed addresses to the assembly by Lekota, representing the United Democratic Front, Ackerman, representing the white/business community, and Mbeki representing the ANC.
As the buses waited, however, Mbeki could not be roused from his slumber. Hastily, the ANC had to appoint a replacement and it fell to Jordan who had no time to prepare an address except gather his thoughts as the busses made their way to the Palais Bourbon in Paris.
Ackerman made his address first, followed by Lekota who was followed by Jordan. With no notes, Jordan delivered an off-the-cuff analogy of the French revolution and the struggle against apartheid. It was a speech of sheer brilliance.
His depth of knowledge of the French revolution and the storming of the Bastille in 1789 flabergasted even the French deputees present. He named among others, the baker, the plumber and many others who took part in the charge on the prison of Louis XVl.
The end of his 20-minute speech was greeted with a standing ovation with some of the French politicians conceding they had been given an object lesson in French history.
Jordan bereft of academic paper qualifications? When it comes to grey matter, he is worth at least half a dozen doctorates.