Would Hani and Slovo today be accused of Neo-liberalism and Counter-revolution?
- Jay Naidoo
- 25 Feb 2013 01:10 (South Africa)
There was a time when fighting for the right of our children for textbooks, water and the right to a toilet in our schools was revolutionary. When standing up and condemning teachers who sexually assault our children in our schools was courageous. When we stood up and spoke against wasteful expenditure and corruption of government ministers and public officials and it was the right thing to do.
Today, hardworking social activists fighting for these rights are called neo-liberals and counter-revolutionaries. I have heard that in certain corridors of power, that’s what I am called also. I want to set the record straight.
My discussions with Joe Slovo and Chris Hani often centered on what meaning democracy would have for the people.
I remember being with Joe Slovo, in the first few months of the new government in 1994. We were in a noisy community meeting in Langa, being criticised for slow delivery. We had travelled together in one car. We laughed. We knew how important it was that development was owned and driven by the people. Clearly etched in my mind are Joe Slovo’s words: “The people have a right to bang on our doors. It keeps us as politicians on our toes. We must never ever forget why we are elected. We are servants of the people, not their overlords.”
I quote him: “It is indispensable for the working class to have an independent political instrument which safeguards its role in the democratic revolution and which leads it towards an eventually classless society. But such leadership must be won rather than imposed. Our claim to represent the historic aspirations of the workers does not give us an absolute right to lead them or to exercise control over society as a whole in their name.”
I remember debating with Chris Hani about the nature of the development state. His wisdom was eminently real today: “We need a strong and robust civil society. We need a strong and independent SACP that is in alliance with the ANC and Cosatu. It must drive the state in the direction of meeting the fundamental needs and rights of our people. But while we are an alliance, we must be independent to challenge the government if necessary. It is our revolutionary duty. Development is driven from the bottom.”
Today I am astounded when I hear our revolutionary leaders being quoted in defence of mediocrity. I think of what these comrades that I worked with closely would say today.
Would they accuse as counter-revolutionary social activists fighting for the rights of our children to quality education? Would they say it is okay that our girls miss a week of school every month while in menstruation because there are no toilets? Would they say it is democracy that there are 300 mud schools in the Eastern Cape, 19 years into our new government?
Would they have stayed silent when, day after day, we hear of scandal after scandal of corruption and misuse of state funds? Would they have said it is okay that 12 million people go to bed hungry every night?
No. Those are not the revolutionary leaders I knew. They would have spoken out without fear. They would have supported NGOs who go to court to force government departments to deliver services such as textbooks or ARVs, to which citizens have a constitutional right.
In more recent history, we fought against the model of the “big leader” and the “all-knowing state”. We know the consequences of that style of leadership. It led to South Africa becoming the epicenter of HIV/Aids. Over 350,000 of our fellow citizens died for no other reason than the foolishness of our denialism and political arrogance. We must never allow this to happen again.
The Joe Slovo I knew shunned dogma and rigidity. He held strong views. But he was analytical and rational. And he knew that embracing criticism made him a better communist. He often said that the most important lesson he learnt, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was that no strategy was cast in stone and would hold for all time. “We live in a dynamic and changing world. We must adapt to that living reality. We must never make principles out of tactics. We must never be afraid of admitting our mistakes.”
Simply put, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani would recoil with horror the language of anti-majoritarianism and the coarse labelling of those who hold different views as neo-liberals and counter-revolutionaries.
The failure of the Soviet Union, Slovo believed, was never the consequence of the actions of Stalin alone. It was political and sycophantic elite who defended his worst excesses because they benefitted from the “terror, brutality and judicial distortions associated with Stalin himself”.
In my deep discussions with Slovo and Hani, they reiterated their conviction that the trade unions and civil society should never become the conveyor belt of any political party, especially when we won democratic elections and were the governing party. “That is why I will not join the new government. We need a strong party that would be unafraid to challenge even the ANC government,” Hani often repeated.
“We do not regard the trade unions or the national movement as mere conduits for our policies. Nor do we attempt to advance our policy positions through intrigue or manipulation. Our relationship with these organisations is based on complete respect for their independence, integrity and inner-democracy.”
When I hear the constant refrain of attack on civil society organisations such as Section27 and Equal Education that fight for the rights of our people and our children, especially of the working poor and unemployed in our townships and rural areas, I am outraged.
We must oppose this language of old-style commandism and sectarianism with all our energy. We must be fearless in confronting those in power whether in government, labour or even civil society who want to take us back to the rule of fear.
Our freedom was won by ordinary people standing up and saying: “We have had enough. We want our freedom. We want the right to choose our leaders. We want these leaders to serve the people. We are not giving you divine rights to rule over us. Serve us with humility. Not political arrogance. Our fight was for the human dignity and social justice of our people, not your privilege and comforts.”
Joe Slovo said: “We need to continue the search for a better balance between advancing party policy as a collective and the toleration of on-going debate and constructive dissent.”
Joe Slovo and Chris Hani died believing that citizen activism would outlive them and defend the social justice and human rights they fought for.
That is what I will continue to do. I ask that if you admire them, you do the same.
I rest my case. DM
- Apartheid 2.0: The Gospel according to the 1% super rich
- International development: Murder, one log frame at a time
- Blood, Power and Betrayal
- The night of the long knives
- The global food system is broken; here's how to fix it
- Africa's tomorrow depends on empowering its people today
- Ebola: Fear, Paralysis, Solidarity, Justice
- The UN General Assembly week, New York: A cacophony of noise and hope
- Hiking the roof of Africa; my journey to the depths of myself
- Visualising the end of inequality – a new path to negotiation
- After the platinum strike: We dare not fail now
- Letter to the next generation
- Formal vs. informal economy: Bridging the gap
- Connecting the dots: Building workers’ unity and workers’ power
- Democracy in distress: Are our elections bought and our votes sold?
- May Day 2014: Cosatu's tough choice of the politics of workers unity or politics of political parties
- COSATU: In the eye of the storm
- Twenty years of SA democracy: A new fight must begin
- Kibera: Hope and human dignity rising in the slums of Africa
- The rise and fall of Cosatu: From vanguard to sacrificial lamb
- A leader I would vote for: Botswana's former president Festus Mogae
- A leader I would vote for: President Pedro Pires of Cape Verde
- Op-Ed: A giant stumbling through the minefield of political division – my appeal to the Cosatu workers
- A leader I would vote for: Joaquim Alberto Chissano
- A leader I would vote for: President Mujica of Uruguay
- That Lula Moment: A question of leadership and integrity
- Following the money: Work with citizens to make our money work for all
- Checkmate: The rise of radicalism
- Lords of the Niger Delta: The Shell legacy of profit before people
- Protests, police and cowardice – our State of the Nation
- New stones for my Madiba rosary
- The final journey and the legacy that will always live in our hearts
- After the tears, the hard work of building the world that Mandela believed in
- Mandela's gone. But he will be with us, forever.
- Bekkersdal: The turning point in SA municipal politics – time for a line in the ground
- Africa Rising? Whose Africa?
- The scramble for the Arctic and the dangers of Russia’s race for oil
- Africa's future is clear: Youth, Technology & Broadband
- Child mortality is our human rights failure of the 21st century
- Technology can wipe out the cancer of corruption
- My open letter to South Africa
- Amputating the soul of our children
- The vision of the Invisible Children
- A humble billionaire, asking tough questions
- Cry, the beloved country; cry, the beloved federation
- Humanity at a crossroads: Fighting for climate justice
- Wanted: Ancient wisdoms to heal our planet
- The taste of power: its sanctity and its perversion
- When the town I loved burned down, or, when Heaven was visited by Hell
- As our Constitution lives, so does Mandela
- Bangladesh: Losing some battles, but winning the war
- Rana Square – the Ground Zero of workers’ rights
- Small-scale farming: simple, successful, sustainable
- A global debate needs local voices
- When will Africa be led by the needs of its people?
- The faultlines in our society: Why are we so angry?
- Nigeria: Africa's best hopes and worst fears
- Our ancient African heritage holds the key to our future
- To build a better world for all, we need a new narrative, new energy, new commitment
- A culture of service and tolerance: Lessons from Chris Hani
- Open data platforms: a tool to revolutionise governance
- Aluta continua: Why the fight for quality healthcare can’t be over
- ‘I raped her because she belongs to me’
- Would Hani and Slovo today be accused of Neo-liberalism and Counter-revolution?
- An open letter to my fellow South Africans: I am ready. Are you?
- A trip to Limpopo: The Forgotten Land
- 'I have a right to a toilet - it's human dignity'
- Matric pass rate: On the road to Nobody
- The challenges of today are South Africa's opportunities of tomorrow
- India: The ongoing tyranny of the caste system
- To my generation: Listen. Listen very carefully.
- The Lula moment and this country of ours, South Africa
- African youth: Fulfilling the potential
- Africa’s 'leadership crisis' - we have more agency than we think
- Think climate change isn't your problem? It will be when you can't eat
- The wuthering heights of disenchantment
- An open letter to Cosatu
- Democracy for all: Marikana signals our second chance
- Can't you hear the thunder?
- A new age, a new role for foundations: redefine development
- Video series - great women of SA: Emma Mashinini (I)
- Mother love: Time to add decency and respect to women's hard-won rights
- GAINing ground: The beauty of one good idea
- Education: a morass of mediocrity
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part V
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part IV
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part III
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part II
- Celebrating Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us
- Mandela day: time for the next generation to take control
- The school of sexual predation
- Rio+20: We're not colonies anymore
- Prayers to the rain gods
- Our foreign policy gets more foreign as time goes by
- Not a moment to Spear: Why, in a time of crisis, that painting is irrelevant
- Ma Emma: The true spear of the nation
- Araku - the truth, the inspiration
- An infinite vision - The story of the Aravind eye hospital
- Get up, stand up South Africa!
- Our future lies in the mothers of nature
- There's a Light in the Get Kony Campaign
- Empowerment lies in women in Indian villages talking to those in African villages
- Dear President Zuma
- Adequate food is essential component of social justice
- Durban to Rio could be our Road to Damascus
- The Grinch who stole hope
- The Grinch who stole hope
- iMaverick, Monday 28 November
- Africa at the crossroads: Let's talk Brazil
- The secrecy bill: Welcome back, Magnus Malan & Adriaan Vlok
- The powder kegs of unmet expectations in our midst
- iMaverick, Wednesday 19 October
- Finding one's humanity where little else remains
- Food security: A matter of war and peace