Covid-19 has exposed serious personal issues between ANC leaders as Carl Niehaus, in a statement, revealed there were some who “even wanted me to die” as he lay ailing.
Niehaus is the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veteran’s (MKMVA) spokesperson but released a statement in his personal capacity to say he was recovering from a serious bout of Covid-19 pneumonia.
He thanked ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule for his “support, friendship and comradeship” – but the same could not be said for his deputy, Jessie Duarte.
Niehaus said he was saddened that she “saw fit to attack me and undermine my long history as a 42-year veteran of the ANC in good standing, as well as my elected position as [a national executive committee] member of MKMVA, and MKMVA national spokesperson”.
He added: “This she did, knowing that when she was doing so, I was gravely ill. It was unnecessary and callous – I am deeply saddened by it.”
Duarte’s public “attack” on Niehaus happened during a television interview on eNCA with JJ Tabane on Sunday when she was asked to comment on his utterances.
She responded by saying Niehaus was not an elected official anywhere in the ANC, but a staff member in the secretary-general’s office.
Duarte told News24 she chose not to get involved, but did note she was unaware of Niehaus being ill because he did not tell anyone he was unwell at the time.
Niehaus, in a statement on Thursday, claimed he had been “very ill with Covid-19” over the past two weeks, and developed full-blown Covid-19 pneumonia “and had to be urgently hospitalised” in the intensive care unit of Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg “where I was fighting for my life”.
He thanked the doctors and staff there, who, he said, saved his life.
“I was able to experience in person the hard work, at great personal risk and sacrifice, that healthcare workers make every day. They are the true heroes of this terrible pandemic.”
Even during his illness, he took a “deliberate personal decision” not to make it public. “I preferred to deal with my illness in private.”
He said: “I did so because I realized that there are those in our society who would in hatred have celebrated my illness, and even wanted me to die.
“At the time when I was gravely ill I did not want to deal with such viciousness. Now that I am on the road to recovery, I can end my silence.”
Niehaus said it was “sad that some in our society have become so hate-filled, and vicious, that one cannot even hope at a time of grave illness, for support and sympathy”.
He claimed there was a “well-co-ordinated, aggressive propaganda smear” campaign against him in the media during his illness.
In the past two weeks, Niehaus was identified as one of South Africa’s “top miscreants and moegoes of 2020” by the Daily Maverick.
An entry from the book “50 people who f—– up South Africa”, which also featured Niehaus, was run by the Mail & Guardian during this time.
“These attacks are still continuing unabated,” he said.
Despite his illness, Niehaus has consistently managed to tweet. He spent his 61st birthday on Christmas Day quietly with family in KwaZulu-Natal, he revealed the next day.
Three days later, he said he savoured “how I managed to get under the skin of my haters”.
On New Year’s Day, he tweeted a picture of the ageing former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda, and on 5 January, he tweeted an article by his “comrade and friend”, Dakota Legoete, titled “Ace Magashule charge sheet taints integrity of state institutions”.
Three days later, Niehaus tweeted it was a disgrace that golfer Gary Player, who he called “just another reactionary white”, had accepted an award from outgoing American president Donald Trump.
By 11 January, he felt well enough to tweet there was a media campaign against him, and by Wednesday, he pushed back against criticism of him.
By Thursday, he revealed in a statement he had, in fact, been at death’s door.
Niehaus promised, however, he would not be silenced even though the pneumonia had damaged his lung capacity and he was still dependent on oxygen.
“I will continue to speak my mind as a loyal member of the ANC, regardless of the personal pain, callousness, and terrible consequences that even some comrades inflict on one.”
He said he was faced with “a prolonged period of convalescence” but was hopeful he would eventually recover fully.
Niehaus told News24 he did not know where he had contracted the virus, which had caused a surge of infections in South Africa and which had also made a number of his fellow party and government leaders ill during and following the festive season.