Former South African Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba was a teenager during the mid-80s in South Africa when like numerous other young people at the time he was veered into active politics out of no choice of his own. He remembers the 1980’s as one of the most violent decades of the “struggle” against apartheid when the brutality of the regime was nauseating and the country was in turmoil.
The boycotts had started in the Vaal region, there were stay-away’s and students were targeted with tear gas, water canons and were being chased around the townships by police for boycotting school in massive numbers. Gigaba experienced his first school boycott in 1986, during the time that “organs of people’s power” had been established such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in 1985, and the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) which was formed in 1983. When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, Gigaba inevitably joined the party and active politics. “The apartheid regime sjambokked us into the struggle against it. It forced us into wanting to destroy the system,” says Gigaba. Gigaba was in Gaborone on Tuesday 4th December and formed part of a panel of speakers at the conference on finding the ‘Intersection between Gender Based Violence and Technology’. Also adding their voices to the cause were Vice President of Botswana, Slumber Tsogwane, HIV and Gender activist, Dr. Sheila Tlou, High Court judge Lot Moroka, and local human rights lawyer and activist, Uyapo Ndadi.
The conference, which attracted throngs of both young and elderly, gender and civic activists was hosted at Botho University premises and facilitated by Hlanganani ICT Botswana, Oracle Academy, Cisco and BONELA. Gigaba’s presence at the conference raised certain eyebrows particularly that his ‘image’ was deemed in some quarters as inappropriate particularly for GBV issues. The former South African Minister resigned almost three weeks ago from both his cabinet and MP roles due to public pressure after it was found that he lied under oath in court. Gigaba also found himself the fodder of tabloids after public misdemeanours one of which involved his wife and his then mistress, and the other was about his penis; his penis went viral when according to him his phone and the contents therein were misappropriated by a currently nameless person who Gigaba said wanted to extort money from him and he refused.
“There is probably a greater return in successfully blackmailing those with public profiles; revenge porn and sextortion. Complete violation of human dignity, of privacy. We need to end the weaponisation of technology. And to pay attention to emerging technologies and their impact,” says Gigaba.He is adamant that the negative aspects of technology need to be mitigated including the disclosing of private sexual images without consent, child pornography, human trafficking, indecent communication, sexual abuse of children, cyber hacking and cyber stalking, “Some of us see technology as an instrument of love,” he says. Gigaba became president of the ANC Youth League in 1996 when he was 24 years old, a position he was re-elected into for three consecutive years leading to eight years at the helm of the youth league. In 2004 he was re-elected into the South African parliament as Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, and he resigned a few weeks ago from his position as Minister of Home Affairs after serving the government for 14 years.
Gigaba pulls out his cellphone to show this reporter a recent message from his former personal assistant who says everything seems surreal without him in the office. Politics is fickle and he knows it but he does feel let down.
“A part of me does feel a sense of betrayal. I think the leadership of the ANC did not handle the issues that resulted in my resignation as well. I think they let me down. But I harbour no bitterness or anger or vengefulness. That is not me,” says the former minister who is still a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, and has been for over 20 years. He is also quick to point out that he was not entirely created by the ANC, that he has parents who always invested in him and made him focus on his education, “Sure enough you can take away the titles and positions but you can’t take me away from me.” In his observation the last 24 months have been hell on his ‘brand’ as he watched it being smeared in the media and forever engraved online. He aches to see his public identity, one that he worked so hard to build being destroyed in an instant. Most importantly it has pained him to see his closest family members being dragged in the mud with him.
The people he was most concerned about were his daughter, wife and parents. “Blackmailers don’t care how this will affect your family and loved ones,” he says. Compounding this is that no one will ever forget the incident with his penis because it is saved online and can be retrieved at any time, his digital footprint is aligned to this image, “some people did not know about me until that video went viral”.He adds that he is aware of how difficult it would be to seek the ‘right to be forgotten’ in the context of online information.
Judge Lot Moroka of the High Court also spoke on the ‘right to be forgotten” which seeks to extract affected people from the damaging material; and in extension some view this as the right to have an “imperfect past”. He observes however that the online world is difficult to restrain because once the images go viral no one has control over them. The plus side is that, “Digital footage can be useful in court as critical evidential material when required,” says Moroka citing a case of GBV in which a daughter captured via cell phone her father physically abusing her mother.
Moroka also clarified that GBV is not gender specific, “but in practice the complaints are overwhelmingly men killing women, including beheadings.” Gigaba is currently unemployed and already worried about school fees for his children when 2019 begins as he is no longer receiving a salary. And although he has attempted some business ventures, he says, “life has a way of humbling you, and forcing you to develop multiple other skills.” What he is avoiding is being desperate and economically vulnerable lest he finds himself in compromised positions.
“This is politics. Someone may think I am too independent and try to entice me into doing favours for money,” he says. The optimistic Gibaba says he will always keep his thoughts positive. “Hindsight is a terrible teacher. I can only deal with my reality and not what could have been,” says Gigaba. His advice to other politicians is that they need to empower themselves with education and maintain their humility as they rise up the ladder. “The people who raise you must also be the first to receive you when you fall. Keep your bearings, your values and systems. Never lose your head to the benefits and incentives of public office. Work hard for your people. Whatever may happen to you people won’t forget the hard work you did for them, and when they do they will fight for you,” he says.