A voice in the desert
# 702 Breakfast host Bongani Bingwa shares his thoughts on Carl Niehaus.
Carl Niehaus is hard of hearing. He says his hearing was impaired when he was tortured by the apartheid regime in solitary confinement after his conviction for treason in 1983.
Betrayed by a man he believed to be a friend, his roommate who turned out to be a police informant, Niehaus was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and served just under eight years, before being released in 1991.
He is plaintive when he thinks about his incarceration. Don’t believe what you read in books or see in movies, he warns – a man can lose their mind when left alone for months.
You lose track of time; day becomes night and night becomes day. There was no natural light entering his cell and he could never tell the time of day and as such the seven months he spent in isolation seemed much longer.
Insects and even food become your companions. You start talking to oranges – who knows if the word fruity comes from this context?
So what got him through? Ask Carl Niehaus for any scripture and he will probably know it, chapter and verse. Not only because he was a theology student (questions about his actual qualifications based on previous claims might never go away), but more importantly, he says he knows the Bible because that’s all he has. been allowed to read by his prisoners. Alone with his fears and an uncertain future, he read the good book backwards and forwards.
The particular copy his parents brought him in prison remains on his bedside table to this day. Perhaps in the coming months, with his increasingly uncertain and politically isolated fate, he will find time to read it again.
I asked him how much of this part of his history is known? Not only his own, but he regrets that many others were not informed. Take his recently fallen comrade Kebby Maphatsoe. Will he be rightly remembered as the hero he was? Despite recent differences of opinion, Niehaus said: “Losing his life (in Maphatsoe) at a far too early age leaves a deep void among us all. “
But in the end, were they really that close? One way to look at it was that Maphatsoe was better able to switch allegiances, even if it wasn’t completely. For better or worse, he knew not to pee inside the tent.
Their disagreement revolved around the dissolution of the Umkhonto We Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA). Refusing to defy the ANC’s instructions, Maphatsoe agreed to work with the joint committee towards a united conference, Niehaus and other senior leaders strongly disagreed and there were even name-calling.
As comrades and staunch supporters of former President Jacob Zuma, the two may have been cordial in the end but perhaps not brothers in arms as they once had been.
There was a time when Niehaus’ star in the ANC firmament shone with dazzling brilliance. Perhaps it was thanks to the strategic acumen of Nelson Mandela who made this white Afrikaner his spokesperson in 1994, but whatever the reason, Niehaus took on the role as a man born in the mansion.
Also a fan of the game, even on the international stage, he finally rose to the post of Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1996.
As spectacular as the climb was, so was the fall. In 2009, he was back in the country and was the spokesperson for Jacob Zuma’s ANC.
But a series of allegations of personal financial mismanagement, including the faking of his mother’s death to obtain fellow loans he couldn’t repay, forced him to step back and fall back on him- same.
He returned to the national stage with the losing team of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the 2017 ANC Nasrec conference. It was then that he became the voice of MKMVA. Many problems later, he faces isolation again – first after his ruling party membership was suspended in July this year.
“The NEC noted with concern your inflammatory speeches made outside the home of former President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal on the weekend of July 2-4, 2021 and which were broadcast live on national television. and came to the conclusion that such statements brought the ANC into disrepute.
So read the letter from Assistant Secretary General Jessie Duarte to Niehaus communicating the decision. The party has since rejected his attempts to appeal.
As the ANC prepares for the November 1 elections, the party is yet to be assured that all of its candidates will even be on the ballot. Niehaus has now brought charges of fraud and theft against five of his Top Six executives; they in turn fired him as an employee as soon as he threatened to do so last week.
It is difficult to predict how this chapter in its history will end. What remains certain is that Carl Niehaus is hearing impaired.
Bongani Bingwa’s weekly B’s Bonnet column first appeared in The Saturday Star.