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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Ray Hartley’s Honesty Cuts to the Bone in Ragged Glory

Book Launch: Ragged Glory by Ray Hartleyr Harris

Ray Hartley’s new book Ragged Glory was launched at Love Books in Melville recently.

Hartley was in conversation with Peter Harris, author of In a Different Time and Birth, and Harris recalled meeting Hartley at press conferences during the 1990s, “fixing his beady eyes on you”.

Ragged Glory“Ray was the person who asked the questions that cut to the bone in an honest and insightful way,” Harris said. “Ragged Glory reflects that honesty you bring to your journalism,” Harris told Hartley, adding that the insights in the book are “quite exceptional”.

Harris said there are few books that examine with unwavering honesty what we’re doing wrong, and what we are doing right.

Hartley said the challenge as a journalist in writing this book has been to look beyond one news story to see the bigger picture. You need to ask yourself, how do these stories connect? Individual stories tie into a longer and more complex narrative; decisions made by powerful people play themselves out in the long term.

Ragged Glory provides an in depth examination of the three presidents during the past 20 years of democracy: Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, and Jacob Zuma.

Ragged Glory examines the strained relationship between Mandela and FW de Klerk during the transition years. Harris pointed out a scene in the book where Mandela enters his new office at the Union Buildings only to find that the space has been completely cleaned out, with not a coffee cup in sight – a scene indicative of the petty squabbles between the two great figures.

Hartley said that the mark of maturity in these two men was that they kept the thread of their relationship, however fragmented it got. “Mandela understood the symbolism of having De Klerk by his side,” he said.

“De Klerk had a vision that he would be seen as the man who brought about the destruction of the system, but Mandela and the ANC would not allow that to happen,” observed Hartley.

Mandela was known for his grand gestures, for example extending a hand of friendship to Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and having tea with Betsie Verwoerd.

Ragged Glory probes the interplay between successors and the other potential contenders for the presidency. Mandela began to hand over meetings to Thabo Mbeki to conduct in order to prepare him for the role.

Hartley said that Mbeki was at his best as Mandela’s deputy. He had no burden to engage with the public, freeing him up to put the macro-economic framework in place, a task he performed with perfect efficiency. Mbeki wasn’t capable of understanding what Mandela understood all along – that reconciliation and reconstruction has to be worked at. Mbeki opted instead to focus on reconstruction, leaving reconciliation by the wayside.

Mbeki’s presidency marked the unraveling within the ANC. His denialism on issues like HIV Aids, crime, poverty, and unemployment had a profound effect on the ANC and the government. Mbeki’s unwillingness to accept these issues, and the effort by the ANC to silence any criticism of the party was an attempt to project a stable image to the foreign investor community. During this time Mbeki’s paranoia escalated, said Harris, and he made enemies around every turn. He realised too late that he had gone too far.

For three years from 2005 to 2007 a “golden economic period” followed, signified by greater investor confidence, an annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP) of over five percent, and the government focused more on infrastructure. South Africa adopted an “open for business” attitude to foreign investment.

Then the 2008 financial crisis happened, followed by the Polokwane crisis, “just in case there was a shred of investor confidence left”, said Hartley. The Arms Deal led to further loss in confidence.

The Zuma years have been characterised by the undermining of institutions, said Harris.

Zuma has been a cunning operator, said Hartley. “I don’t think PW Botha ever found himself with as much administrative power as Zuma.” He said the disintegration of the criminal justice system is important and often overlooked.

Hartley said South Africa has a good court system and lawyers, but what if the case never goes to court?

Despite all the problems, Ragged Glory is a story of hope. The title reminds readers of the glory despite the gloom. South Africa has succeeded in unifying various homelands, has held five democratic elections, and has a strong judiciary, Hartley said.

Harris added that the rulings of the Constitutional Court have always been obeyed, for example when the court ruled to make antiretroviral drugs available to the public. The fact that the president follows the court’s judgment is proof that we do have a functioning constitution.

Hartley referred to the stories of Bheki Cele and Dina Pule to illustrate how public pressure does force those in power to be accountable, even if it does take a long time. He said with regards to Nkandla the pressure is building and at some point the pressure will tell.

Towards the end of the book Hartley interviewed Helen Zille, who said South Africa is becoming a failed state.

“I disagree,” said Harris, “We are far from a failed state.”

Hartley said it is wrong to think of South Africa as a failed state, “but failed states start out as successful states that become complacent”.

Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:



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