'Our democracy is too valuable to lose,' - Maharaj on the future of our country

Clement Manyathela spoke to apartheid activist, political prisoner, and former cabinet minister Mac Maharaj about his life through the struggle and the current state of our country.

FILE: Maharaj said he had hope for the future despite the country’s setbacks. Picture: Karabo Tebele

Even in the face of state capture and the abuses of power by some ANC members and others in government, Mac Maharaj still believes the party can learn from its mistakes, can rebuild itself and has the country’s best interests at heart.

In a wide-ranging interview with Clement Manyathela on 702 on Thursday, Maharaj spoke glowingly of his family and other supporters of apartheid prisoners who fought the racist system “in the belly of the beast”.

In the light of the final state capture report that was delivered to the president on Wednesday evening with damning references to abuse of power; and widescale corruption on the part of the most powerful people in the country, Maharaj felt that we should receive this report positively but acknowledge the damages, and he believes that one of the biggest mistakes the country has made was not expressly criminalising the abuse of power.

I think the key problem that is coming out from the Zondo commission is that in our democracy we never created a law that made it illegal to abuse power.

Mac Maharaj, Apartheid activist

Despite this, he still maintains hope and believes that it is time for the ANC, and president Cyril Ramaphosa to show if they are going to rise to the challenge, accept responsibility, and carry us forward, or whether they will fall short.

Maharaj believes that the next fight for the country is to deepen democracy, making a special note to mention how journalists on Wednesday said that they had not recalled a sitting government delving as deeply into its own problems as this one has.

Our democracy is too valuable to lose. We are in danger of destroying it over the corruption that took place, and the abuse. Let us stand guard, but not just to defend democracy, let's work to deepen our democracy.

Mac Maharaj, Apartheid activist

Maharaj said he had hope for the future despite the country’s setbacks, and this type of deep hope is something that he carried with him through his most difficult times in prison, fighting for our democracy.

He talked about the hope that carried him through his imprisonment and torture, and the strength he gained from his family, and through music that encouraged him to keep fighting.

He said that there were a few songs that hes loved through his life; _Malaika _by Miriam Makeba, In my solitude by Ella Fitzgerald, She’s got a ticket by Tracey Chapman, Mannenberg by Abdullah Ibrahim, Strimela by Hugh Masekela, but none gave him strength quite like Gracias a la Vida by Mercedes Sosa and Joan Baez.

When I was detained and under torture again in 1990, my wife at that time was in the UK and she smuggled a tracksuit for me, and in order to make sure that I was encouraged, she had embroidered on it ‘Gracias a La Vida,’ and I knew then that we would come through.

Mac Maharaj, Apartheid activist

The realisation that the public sees people like me as the heroes and the people that made the sacrifice, I plead with you, that’s not the true picture. The real heroes are our families, they made the sacrifice. And therefore, let us find space in our society to look at our past and recognise that we need to honour those who were not in prison, but stood by. Those who were not in exile but stood up inside the belly of the beast and continued to support and hold the hope for democracy.

Mac Maharaj, Apartheid activist

He delved further into leadership within the ANC, those he was most privileged to serve with, and some of the important lessons he learnt from the late Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, and his willingness to give his life for a better South Africa.

To find out more, listen to the full audio below.