Given Mkhari left disappointed as Cyril Ramaphosa withdraws from planned conversation

28 November 2019 - 21:48 By Matthew Savides
PowerFM chairman Given Mkhari, with his wife, Ipeleng, said he was disappointed that President Cyril Ramaphosa had pulled out of "The Chairman's Conversation" event in Johannesburg on Thursday night.
PowerFM chairman Given Mkhari, with his wife, Ipeleng, said he was disappointed that President Cyril Ramaphosa had pulled out of "The Chairman's Conversation" event in Johannesburg on Thursday night.

PowerFM chairperson Given Mkhari said that he was "filled with disappointment" after President Cyril Ramaphosa pulled out of "The Chairman's Conversation" event at the 11th-hour on Thursday.

Ramaphosa had been slated to take part in the event, which was to be broadcast on PowerFM, eNCA and other platforms.

However, there was criticism over the interview because assault charges had previously been opened against Mkhari by his wife, Ipeleng. Mkhari had also opened charges against Ipeleng, stemming from an alleged fight at their home in July 2018.

The matters against Mkhari and Ipeleng were withdrawn in the Randburg magistrate's court in August last year as the pair went for mediation.

Speaking at the event, Mkhari, who apologised to the audience, said that Ipeleng received a call from Kusela Diko, the presidency's spokesperson, at about 4.30pm informing them that Ramaphosa would no longer be attending.

"Naturally, I was filled with disappointment, but I had to understand the reasons presented by the presidency," he said.

He admitted "emotions ran high" during the 2018 incident, but that they had resolved it as a husband and wife.

Mkhari said that the discussion over Ramaphosa's attendance started at around 8am on Wednesday, when he got a message from Diko saying that the president was "deeply concerned" by letters he received from civil society groups - the Wise Collective and the Soul City Institute - which were critical of the event because of the assault charges.

Before that, he said, Diko called him and said she had heard rumours that there were groups unhappy that Ramaphosa would be speaking to him.

"I said, 'Khusela, there is civil society in South Africa, there are specific organisations and individuals who we expect would object.' I further mentioned the names of individuals, not the organisations. I said it is expected.

"How did I know this? I knew this because last year when we hosted Mr [Johann] Rupert, two days before the Chairman’s Conversation the very same individuals and organisations did write to Mr Johann Rupert to say he should not be part of the Chairman’s Conversation," said Mkhari.

The Wise Collective, in its letter to Ramaphosa, said the interview was “in poor taste”. The Soul City Institute, was equally critical.

“We believe that your appearance will give indirect endorsement to Mr Mkhari and further entrench the belief that there are no social consequences to violent behaviour by powerful men. We also believe that your appearance will minimise the nature of the problem and taint the credibility of the presidency in dealing with violence against women,” it wrote in a letter, dated November 26.

Mkhari told the audience that he was aware of this statement, and had offered to meet with the two organisations and the presidency. However, those meetings, which the presidency confirmed, were unable to resolve the impasse.

The presidency statement regarding the pulling out of the event read: "President Ramaphosa firmly believes that he, like every other South African, has a responsibility to do everything within his means to confront gender-based violence, and to do nothing that undermines the effectiveness of the national effort.

“This is all the more critical at a time when the country is observing the annual 16 Days of No Violence against Women and Children.”

However, it stressed that the withdrawal was not “an endorsement of the untested allegations raised by the civil society organisations, but a carefully weighed up decision taken in the public interest”.

Mkhari, ultimately, decided to cancel the event. "We absolutely respect the decision of the Presidency. We also acknowledge that leading a country of about 58-million people is not child's play, there are a whole lot of considerations and things at play that ordinary citizens like us may never understand," he said.

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