A Healer. A Leader. A Legend

“Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rohlihlala Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed,” President Jacob Zuma announced just after 11.30pm on December, 5, 2013.

I will never forget that day.

The day that will forever be marked as the day that South Africa lost its father and its leader.

Within minutes of the news, despite the hour, the outpouring of grief eclipsed whatever else was making headlines around the world and continues to do so.

Madiba’s last journey to Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where he will be laid to rest, has been paved by countless Madiba memories and anecdotes recalled, touching cartoon tributes, world leaders travelling to our shores on mass, including countless column space and airtime dedicated to the life and times of Madiba.

As in life, Mandela has united the people of South Africa and indeed the world.

My personal memories of Tata really take me back. I cannot imagine my own life without the golden thread of his sacrifices, his leadership and humility.

My first brush with Madiba was in 1990 when he was released from prison. At the time I was a junior reporter for the SABC and was part of a group of journalists who covered his address at the Grand Parade in Cape Town.

Who will ever forget when F.W de Klerk made the announcement in parliament that Mandela was to be released? I was in parliament covering it.

Over the years I covered many more stories regarding Madiba.

I was there when Madiba was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. What a momentous occasion.

One of these stories that really stand out for me was when he reacted to the death of Princess Diana in 1997 outside his Pretoria official residence.

Just before he retired from politics in 1999, he invited the so-called Indian community for a breakfast at his official residence in Pretoria. We were asked to be there early, so around 40 of us arrived promptly at 6am.

Madiba went around the table to shake everybody’s hand and when he finally came around to me he said jokingly: “Oh, young man, what are you doing here?”

Even in his retirement, Madiba was relentless in the pursuit of social justice and people continued to seek him out for advice. He would later at the age of 85 announce that he was “retiring from retirement”.

To give an example, shortly after he retired, he visited Laudium where I accompanied him to the Sunrise School for children with disabilities and the Tshwane Muslim School (then Pretoria Muslim School).

He never stopped being fully invested in the people of South Africa.

In 2001 when Madiba was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Talk Radio 702 arranged a fundraiser for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. I was 702’s station manager at the time. Together with Aki Anastasiou we handed over the cheque to Madiba at his Houghton office.

My last face-to-face meeting with Madiba was in 2005 when Talk Radio 702 celebrated its 25th birthday. Zelda Le Grange arranged for Madiba to record a message for us to mark the occasion. Andy Thomas, our then audiovisual manager, and I went through to his office in Houghton to record the message. That office is now part of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Centre of Memory’s museum.

I remember that after he read the message for the first time, Zelda cautioned “Tata, you are reading to fast” and he graciously read the message again.

The part of his birthday message that resonated the most and which I will never forget was:

“Happy Birthday 702. Keep the nation talking for they say that ‘it’s when the talking starts the wars stop’.”

I fully appreciate how lucky I have been to have had so many moments in his presence and as a journalist to be able to have had a front row seat to watch the legend at work.

This week we saw Madiba’s so-called magic at work then people from all walks of life united in mourning.

Lead SA partnered with the Nelson Mandela Foundation to host a special interfaith service as part of the National Day of Prayer and Reflection this past Sunday.

The next evening we also held a special tribute with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as the keynote speaker and performance by some of best local musicians. Johnny Clegg and the Soweto Gospel Choir’s rendition of “Asimbonanga” still gives me chills, not to mention the people that came out in their numbers despite the rain.

We were further awarded the opportunity to bid Tata farewell at the FNB Stadium where his memorial service was held this week. The heavens opened with an unyielding drizzle and sometimes pouring of rain, but South Africans were not deterred.

During this memorial I was struck by the speech of US President, Barack Obama, in particular who said: “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoners, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth.

He continuously urged people from around the world to follow Madiba’s example and how we can apply it in our own lives. This is exactly the action that Madiba inspires in so many of us – to be better, to make a difference to lead.

Since Wednesday Madiba’s cortege moved through the streets of Pretoria to the Union Building’s where his body lie in wake for people to say their goodbyes. People lined up for kilometers to do so. It’s been an emotional time for us as a nation.

Personally, the finality of seeing Madiba’s body has been profound beyond any words I could say. Yes there is immense sadness, but also bittersweet closure in knowing that his body is finally heading home to rest in Qunu, where he spent some of the happiest years of his life.

But the spirit of Madiba remains. Larger than life, embedded in the hearts of the many people he has touched along the way.

Lead SA took the opportunity to arrange a special gathering at the Pretoria News offices in Madiba Street to unite scores of people in seeing Madiba off on his final trip to the Union Buildings on Friday. There was  festive mood as the crowds started singing and dancing, the atmosphere was palpable and fitting to the celebration of the life of Madiba.

Yet when the cortege passed a somber mood descended and the crowds fell silent in respect, reflection and acceptance. I will carry that memory with me always.

It brings the truth home that the hardest challenges lie before us yet.

To let go.

To carry on his legacy and ensure that the unity we have seen over the last couple of days endures.

That is the best tribute we can pay to Tata in honouring his ideals for South Africa and bigger than that, a better world for all.

His time on earth should resound through the future generations.

One day we must be able to stand up with pride and be able to say that we achieved each and every ideal that Madiba so often said he was willing to die for.

Let’s come together and move forward.

For Tata, for ourselves and for the world.


Goodbye Nelson Mandela

IMG_0068Seeing the body of Madiba laying in state at the Union Buildings today was so emotional.
We have lost a giant. We have lost a legend. We have lost a leader.

We have lost a leader.

We have to keep Madiba’s legacy alive.

It was heartbreaking to see the body of Tata. I could not hold back the tears. Thousands of mourners shed tears over the past two days.
Tomorrow, we need to line the streets of Pretoria to bid farewell to Madiba as he goes to the Union Buildings for the last time.
Join Lead SA outside the offices of the Pretoria News in Madiba Street from 6am onwards.
RIP Madiba: 1918-2013

In the line of fire

It was another Freedom Friday… I awoke, checked my mails and tweeted.

I did not go into the office as I had a speaking engagement at a graduation ceremony in Pretoria. It was 9:30am. I was in the bathroom… and of course listening to Talk Radio 702. The Eyewitness News headlines were being read.

Moments later, I heard my wife Firoza screaming. Yes, that scream when you know something is wrong. It continues to echo in my head. It’s a scream I doubt I’ll ever forget.

I yanked open the bathroom door to find a man pointing a gun at me. He threatened to shoot, demanding the keys to my BMW. In the background I saw another man with Firoza.

The men retreated, grabbed the keys and fled to the garage. I followed and locked the front security gate. I then ran to wake my son Zaheer (21) who was asleep in his bedroom. I grabbed my firearm and stood in the courtyard as the robbers reversed the car out of the garage. Zaheer joined me.

They spotted us and opened fire. We immediately returned fire. My car was hit several times during the gunfight. The men escaped, but their freedom was to be short-lived as the law caught up with them a few days later.

My story is not unique. There are few, if any, South Africans who have not been affected by crime. I am among the thousands, no millions, that have fallen victim to crime. For me this was not the first time. I have first-hand experience of the anxiety and trauma that a victim of crime experiences. I can at least say that in my case my family wasn’t harmed physically, but the sense of helplessness and anger of the situation stays with you long after the crime.

My incident appears to be a random one. Many of the crimes are so-called “opportunistic” in nature and these thugs simply just want to part you from your hard-earned possessions.

Police acted swiftly and apprehended three suspects in connection with the robbery at my house. The men are now being linked to a spate of hijackings, house robberies and burglaries across Pretoria. Two illegal firearms and five vehicles were seized during police operations. More arrests are expected.

The cops were very professional and for that I compliment them. Some say it’s a “high-profile” case and that is why we are seeing the swift and efficient action. That may well be the case but let’s not forget that a gang which has allegedly been terrorising the community has been nailed. That’s the bigger picture.

CCTV footage obtained from my premises assisted to bring these men to book. Over the coming days, I hope to release the footage to show how brazen these criminals are.

I now hope the law takes its course and that the suspects are convicted and punished. I hope they don’t get bail. There are suggestions that at least one of the men is out on bail on other charges.

I will continue to be vocal against crime. If anything, this incident has made my resolve to create a safer South Africa even stronger.

We must strengthen partnerships on all levels. Communities must play a bigger role in fighting crime. Tip-offs work. Information to Crime Line and Crime Stop has led to the arrest of thousands of criminals. We must continue to blow the whistle on crime.

I have been asked over recent days why we simply don’t put our hands up and give up the fight against crime. We can’t. We cannot give in to criminals. If anything, we must become even stronger to fight the scourge. There are many pockets of excellence within the police. But, there is also lots of hopelessness. We need the police leadership and our politicians to up their game.

The buck doesn’t stop with the police though. We need a strong and effective justice system and we need it now. For one, the reports of dockets disappearing are of grave concern and urgent intervention is needed. Far too many criminals are roaming our streets and South Africans live in fear. For how long is this going to continue?

Let’s unite and act. As the latest victim of crime, and as much as I am feeling despondent, I am determined to make a bigger difference.

The support from across South Africa I am continuing to receive means a lot. We are by far a peace-loving nation.
For the criminals in our midst, we must continue to root them out of our communities and put them where they belong – in orange uniforms, behind bars.

Yusuf Abramjee is the Head of Crime Line and Second Vice-President of Crime Stoppers International (CSI). He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on twitter: @Abramjee

My take on General Riah Phiyega’s announcement that Lt General Mzwandile Petros was being replaced

706x410q70stephen-petros-subbedM(1)This is my take on General Riah Phiyega’s announcement that Lt General Mzwandile Petros was being replaced as Gauteng police commissioner by Lt General Mondli Zuma:

Firstly, I think replacing Petros is a mistake. I have said it publicly and I repeat it.

Petros is a dedicated and committed police officer. He was committed to fighting crime and corruption. He must be credited for starting sector policing in Gauteng after running a pilot project in the Western Cape. It’s now national.

Petros took no nonsense. He constantly came down hard on his members – and that’s why I am not surprised the unions are happy seeing him go.

I’ve worked closely with Petros especially in my role as head of Crime Line and chairman of the Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT). Lead SA has also engaged him on initiatives such as Drug Watch.

Petros valued partnerships with civil society and the community at large.

The Gauteng Community Police Board also wanted Petros to stay. It’s chairman, Andy Mashaile, is also on record as saying CPF’s wanted to retain Petros as the provinces number one cop.

Phiyega’s announcement today that Zuma was to replace Petros with immediate effect took many by surprise.

Within an hour, reports starting emerging that Zuma was facing a criminal charge for drinking and driving.

Phiyega said later she was not aware of this.

It has to be asked: How can our country’s top cop not have been aware that one of her trusted officers was awaiting trial?

EWN’s Mandy Weiner tweeted: “@MandyWiener: Lots of noise about new GP Commissioner Mondli Zuma’s role in the Shell House shooting too – NB he was granted amnesty by the TRC.”

I asked the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee in Parliament, Annelize van Wyk, on Twitter, what her take was on Zuma’s appointment.

Her response:
“@annelizevanwyk: It undermines the integrity message.”

Phiyega said earlier Lt Gen Zuma “is the epitome of a professional police officer.”

The DA and others have good reason to question Phiyega’s decision to appoint Zuma, who by the way is reportedly not related to President Jacob Zuma.

Surely, Phiyega needed to have done her homework before appointing Zuma. One has to wonder whether her political bosses ordered her to appoint Zuma, who was in-charge of the police at ORT International
Airport. He holds the rank of Major-General and is now a Lt General.

Phiyega has embarrassed herself and the police service.
It’s decisions like these that take the credibility of the police to even lower levels.

How can the community support Gauteng’s new top cop who has a cloud over his head?

I have reliably learned that some senior Gauteng cops are disillusioned following today’s announcement. The leadership of the Community Safety Board is also unhappy.

It may be argued that Zuma has not been convicted. Yes. But with such controversy, he should not have even been considered for this job.

We expected better from Phiyega and her bosses. You have messed up!

If you want the people of Gauteng to support the police, make the right decisions.

Let’s accept Petros is leaving and wish him well.

But, let his successor be credible, clean, non-controversial and a real crime and corruption fighter – not a controversial figure facing a criminal charge.

-This is my personal view.

The focus should be on Tata at this time.

mand_d_logoNelson Mandela remains in a critical condition in a Pretoria hospital.

The focus of the world remains on our country and millions of people are continuing to pray for Madiba and his family.

The focus over recent days has shifted to the Mandela family and family feuds are now dominating the headlines.

It’s sad, yes very sad. The focus should be on Tata at this time. But the family battles are taking precedence. It’s Mandela vs Mandela.

Let’s hope the Mandela’s can resolve their differences and unite- for the sake of Madiba and his legacy.

What would Madiba want? Unity, reconciliation, peace, harmony and happiness. Not feuds, conflict, disunity and unhappiness.

Let’s also move our focus now to Mandela Day on 18 July. Let’s mark Madiba’s birthday with a common purpose and goal- that of making a difference in the lives of others.

Let’s plan to do 67 minutes of community service. Let’s all Lead SA. As we countdown to 20 years of freedom on April 27 next year, let’s volunteer 20 hours of our time for good causes. Let’s start on 18 July and log 67 minutes of our time.

Let’s all join hands, stand up and do the right thing. Let’s do it for Madiba. L’

We wish Madiba well and let’s all continue to pray for him. Let’s hope the family sort out their squabbles now and focus on Tata.

Yusuf Abramjee

Madiba: Let’s Show Some Respect


Our beloved former President, Nelson Mandela was admitted to a Pretoria hospital yesterday.

The world media has turned the spotlight on our country and messages of support are pouring in from all corners of the globe.

It is sad and disappointing  to see some, especially on social media, being grossly insensitive. They say there is no need to pray for Tata and others say let him die.

Yes Madiba is old and yes he will not live forever, but in respect to the family and millions of people who hold him dear, there is no place for insensitivity.

I tweeted earlier today: “@Abramjee: Some of the comments about #Madiba are so insensitive. Let’s show respect.”

Someone responded:

” FREEDOM of speech rules the world my friend, how it is.”

What we conveniently forget is with freedom of speech and expression comes responsibility.

Let’s be sensitive and show respect. I agree with this tweet… “@craigbjacobs: Whether you were in prison with him or a Brit right winger, I’m not interested in your thoughts on Mandela. Can’t we just reflect and pray.”

Let’s be sensitive and let’s show respect. Those who make inappropriate comments must hang their heads in shame.

Get well Madiba. I am joining millions around the world and saying a prayer.


20 Years of Freedom: The Countdown Begins


I attended the launch of the 2014 “20 year freedom countdown” in Pretoria today.

I am a “social cohesion ambassador”. Scores of veterans of the struggle, business leaders and influential South Africans attended the launch, hosted by Arts and Culture Minister, Paul Mashatile.

The 20 year celebration is important. It’s not about whether your Black or White, rich or poor, male or female, ANC, DA or any other political party…It’s about our country.

While we celebrate, let’s not forget to hold government accountable. We have serious “challenges” in SA including crime, poverty, unemployment and poor service delivery.

I argued this in my address today.

Much has been achieved over the past 19 Read more

One last time: Be an Active Citizen

I wrote my very first column for the Pretoria News in 2006.

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing the weekly Tuesday column which has focused on hundreds and hundreds of issues.

This is my last column. You are welcome to follow me on my blog www.abramjee.com or on Twitter @abramjee.

It’s a good time to reflect on some of my writings:

On the Limpopo textbook scandal: "I am surprised that the Premier of Limpopo and the Education MEC still have jobs. They should have been fired long ago."

On the Limpopo textbook scandal: “I am surprised that the Premier of Limpopo and the Education MEC still have jobs. They should have been fired long ago.”

*There is no doubt that government handled the e-tolling issue poorly right from the very beginning.

*A large chunk of the anonymous tip-offs to Crime Line and to Crime Stop are drug related. This is a clear indication of just how widespread the problem is.

*On Sunday, I called the 10111 number to report a suspicious vehicle. The operator hung up on me a few times and then said: ‘F*** off’.

*We as residents need to use lights and water sparingly. While we need to ensure that we conserve energy, the authorities also have to ensure that we can keep up with the cost of living.

On former National Police Commissioner, Bheki Cele: "When former police commissioner, General Bheki Cele, ‘militarized’ the ranks shortly after he took office, it was the start of a “skop, skiet and donder” approach."

On former National Police Commissioner, Bheki Cele: “When former police commissioner, General Bheki Cele, ‘militarized’ the ranks shortly after he took office, it was the start of a “skop, skiet and donder” approach.”

*There seems to be a growing culture of recklessness, negligence and lawlessness on the roads.

*Promises mean nothing to those who bear the brunt of non-delivery every day across our many towns, cities and remote areas of our country.

*Please continue to assist NGO’s and rape crisis centres who are in dire need of financial assistance and volunteers.

*Become an active citizen!

*Freedom of speech and expression should be used responsibly.

*Sport is not only about winning. When we lose, we must accept defeat and continue to be loyal supporters. Read more