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Profiles in the Contemporary Africa Database have been commissioned, reproduced with permission, or written by visitors to this web site. Opinions expressed by contributors are theirs alone - they do not reflect the opinions of the Africa Centre, London.
Profile 1 (commissioned)
01 Nov 2001, by Mario Pissarra - Freelance writer
If soldiers are supposed to be disciplined and loyal at all times, and military commanders strategic in their choice of targets, then Bantu Holomisa has broken the stereotype by becoming one of the loosest cannons in South African politics.
Born and educated in what is now the Eastern Cape, Holomisa was a career soldier who rose through the ranks to become a Brigadier in the Transkei Defence Force in 1985. Two years later he led the military coup that toppled the corrupt regime of Kaiser Matanzima. In power he promoted himself to the military positions of Major-General and Chairman of the Transkei Military Council. He also appointed himself Defence Minister and Audit Minister). Calling Apartheid's bluff that the Transkei was an independent country, Holomisa provided sanctuary for the training of African National Congress and Pan-African Congress cadres alongside the soldiers of the Transkei Defence Force. During this time he became close to the late Chris Hani. Proving to be a successful military leader as well as an uncompromising politician Holomisa managed to retain power despite attempts by the South African Defence Force to topple him.
As a result of Holomisa's support for the ANC and PAC and his defiance of the apartheid government his popularity grew rapidly. Holomisa joined the ANC after it was unbanned, and he was assigned a key role in its electioneering. In 1994 he received the most votes within the ANC for its national Executive, and he was appointed Deputy Minister of the Environment & Tourism in the ANC government. However he was not in favour with the ANC for long and he was expelled from the party. This followed his submission to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission where he accused ANC Minister Stella Sigcau (formerly head of government in the Transkei) of corruption. This was part of his pursuit of businessman Sol Kerzner, who was wanted in the Transkei for his bribery of senior Transkei government officials. Holomisa also alleged that senior ANC leaders including Thabo Mbeki and Steve Tshwete were 'bought' by Kerzner.
Nervous of his grassroots popularity the ANC produced a booklet "The Rise & Fall of Bantu Holomisa" that it distributed nationally and internationally. The ANC accused Holomisa of having been a product of the South African Defence Force (something that can also be said of other ANC appointments). He was also blamed for the corruption in the Transkei (although it was generally recognised that he had taken power in order to end this trend). He was also accused of pursuing vendettas originating in the politics of the Transkei. Totally uncompromising, Holomisa refused to back down despite attempts by Mandela and others to bring him back into line.
Expelled from the ANC and stripped of his parliamentary position Holomisa joined forces with another political maverick, Roelf Meyer. Meyer was once a rising star in the National Party who led their delegation at the constitutional negotiations. Meyer fell out with FW De Klerk, former State President and NP leader, because he argued for the formation of a black led opposition to the ANC. Together Holomisa and Meyer established the National Consultative Forum. They embarked on a number of meetings before eventually constituting the United Democratic Movement (UDM). Barely 20 months after its formation, and in spite of failing to draw credible and popular leaders into its fold, the UDM contested the second general elections and surprised many political pundits by winning 13 seats in parliament, as well as securing representation in 6 provincial legislatures. In two provinces (the Eastern Cape and the Northern Province) the UDM managed to become the official opposition.
Back in parliament Holomisa has continued to pursue corruption and incompetence wheresoever he smells it. Apparently afraid of no-one he has levelled serious accusations at Deputy President Jacob Zuma, Minister of Defence 'Terror' Lekota, and Northern Province Premier Popo Molefe, as well as others. His outspokenness and relentlessness means that he has made many political opponents whilst also winning some admirers. With Holomisa there is little scope for indifference, and less chance of him not being heard. Although time will tell whether Holomisa's cannons are on the right targets, or whether he will self-destruct, South African democracy is all the richer for his fighting spirit.