South Africa

My Comrade, My Enemy: The ANC’s world of comradely make-believe

By Ranjeni Munusamy 12 August 2013

Comrade Ben Turok has received death threats and fingers are being pointed at Comrade Dina Pule and her boyfriend, Phosane Mngqibisa (whom she maintains is just her “comrade”). Comrade Jessie Duarte has thumped Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi for the sexual encounter with a staffer at the Cosatu offices. Comrade Irvin Jim hit back that Comrade Jessie is “a fool of a very special kind” to dismiss the possibility of a conspiracy against Comrade Vavi. The ANC Youth League has castigated Comrade Jim for the attack on Comrade Jessie, stating that he has “anointed himself as a private militia to sniper” against critics of Comrade Vavi. Yes, we have long passed the point of utter absurdity, but apparently Alliance relations are intact and all this crossfire is just comradely banter. By Comrade RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

When it comes to the façade of comradeship, it is hard to say when the apex point of ridiculousness was crossed. Perhaps it was when Comrade Thabo Mbeki was humiliated by his party and “recalled” as state president and later celebrated as one of the ANC’s 12 heroic presidents. Or maybe when Comrade Jacob Zuma was fired as deputy president of the country and shunted by the ANC leadership, but still sat at the top table during national executive committee meetings.

Perhaps it was when Comrade Julius Malema, now leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, was on the skids in the ANC – insulting Zuma but still calling him Comrade President. Malema was “Comrade Julius” as he exhausted the full gambit of disciplinary procedures allowed by the ANC constitution, and then eventually tossed out of the organisation, never to be referred to officially again.

In the ANC and its Alliance, it would seem that you remain a comrade even in the most bitter of battles and in the face of ignominy, and only cease to be one when you are completely out of the fold. If you accede to the party’s will and fall on your sword, like Mbeki and former Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale, you keep the title of comrade. If you decide to “divorce” the ANC, like the Congress of the People gang did, you revoke the title – although some Cope people still refer to each other as comrade. The United Democratic Leader Bantu Holomisa, who fought in the trenches alongside the ANC, is no longer a comrade. Sicelo Shiceka, who was bathed in disgrace for abusing his position in Cabinet, died as a comrade.

The term “comrade” is used around the world in left-wing organisations to refer to colleagues, allies and fellow activists working towards the same revolutionary goal. While there are equivalents in many languages, there is no substitute for the sense of brotherhood and respect the term elicits. During the South African liberation struggle, the term comrade united people across the region and around the globe working towards the common mission to defeat Apartheid. A comrade was someone who was completely selfless, dedicated and willing to pay the highest price for the attainment of freedom.

There was – and among the older generations of combatants still is – much romanticism around the term. Many comrades fell during the decades long war with the Apartheid government, others excelled and became legendary figures of the liberation movement. Loyalty, self-sacrifice, community activism and trust were the essence of a comrade. And the bonds forged in struggle made people comrades for life.

But democracy and freedom have redefined the term and what it stands for. It also removed the common goal which united all comrades in the alliance. These days it is difficult to tell comrades and adversaries apart.

Union members march against a Comrade Minister, demanding her removal as Basic Education Minister. ANC and SACP leaders decide that some of their comrades in Cosatu are too biting in their criticism of the government and therefore they need to be curtailed by whatever means possible. ANC members and leaders compromise their principles and the integrity of their organisation, and even kill, for state tenders.

The 101-year-old ruling party is split into a multitude of factions over positions of power and access to resources. Comrades go head-to-head in elective conferences, in deadly and destructive battles for power. ANC vs. ANC is no longer just a headline but has been on the court rolls when political processes fail to resolve conflicts in party structures. Relationships built on trust and comradeship over time and painful experiences are sacrificed for patronage, power and privilege.

While the ANC was distinguished through its leaders and members fighting for the greater good of their fellow citizens, communities all over the country erupt in disenchantment as their representatives let them down through corruption and delivery failures. South Africa’s anger is built on broken promises and unfulfilled dreams.

And a year ago, someone in the ANC government gave instructions to policemen to shoot to kill mineworkers at Marikana, people who would ordinarily be addressed as comrades in their union meetings and election rallies. The comrade responsible has yet to own up or be identified.

Former Communications Minister Dina Pule was last week found guilty of lying to Parliament’s ethics committee about her relationship with her lover Phosane Mngqibisa and the mountain of benefits he acquired as a result of her position in government. Pule can face criminal prosecution for the web of lies she spun. She betrayed the trust of her party and President Zuma by abusing her position and lying about it, showing contempt for Parliament and the taxpayer. But the ANC has yet to condemn her shameful conduct. She still languishes on the ANC benches in Parliament as an MP, and was last week appointed to the portfolio committee on transport. The ANC has yet to answer how Pule can now be entrusted to exercise oversight of the transport sector after being so thoroughly compromised.

It also emerged last week that ANC veteran Ben Turok, who chairs the parliamentary ethics committee, and Fazela Mohamed, the registrar of members’ interests, both of whom investigated Pule, received death threats. The Sunday Times has revealed that the police are probing claims by a man who says he was hired by Mngqibisa to allegedly arrange Turok and Mohamed’s murders. If these claims are true, it would show Pule and her lover’s utter desperation to cover their tracks to the point of wanting to kill.

The ANC in reaction has threatened “stern action” against whoever is responsible and said it regards “such conduct to be un-ANC”. The statement from the ANC headquarters does not say whether it has summonsed Comrade Dina Pule to provide an explanation for her disgraceful behaviour, intends to charge her under the disciplinary code for bringing the party into such disrepute and to query whether she is in any way involved in a plot to assassinate one of its veterans. Instead the ANC has left it to the police to investigate. With regard to the findings against Pule, the ANC said it is awaiting a decision from Parliament on the ethics committee report.

So Pule remains Comrade Dina as she continues to wade her way through the sordid mess.

Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi might not be so lucky, though. The Cosatu general secretary has had crosshairs on his forehead way before he decided to have a dalliance with a junior staffer in his office. Vavi was facing an internal investigation into allegations of impropriety levelled by some leaders of Cosatu affiliate unions. Cosatu’s central executive committee is to meet on Wednesday and will also discuss a report into a withdrawn complaint of rape against Vavi.

Vavi’s enemies in the federation, as well as in the ANC and SACP, have so far failed to silence or sanction him. But as a result of the rape complaint and the details around his relationship with the complainant, Vavi is possibly and inadvertently admitting to misconduct for having sex in the workplace. The round of public crossfire between ANC deputy general-secretary Jessie Duarte, metalworkers union Numsa’s Irvin Jim and the ANC Youth League shows the amount of pressure in the alliance around the Vavi issue and the vested interest from all sides in how the matter plays out. There is nothing comradely about the battle in Cosatu, even though everyone involved tries to maintain the pretence.

The title of comrade used to be a mark of respect, a term of endearment for a person who shares your political values, activism and goals. Now it is simply a farce, and people who use simply for the sake of it make a mockery of the comradeship which conquered Apartheid and built legends.

The term in its pure form now belongs to the past, to a time when the people who carried it knew what it meant and respected it. The ANC holds on to its language and traditions of its glory days because its history remains its biggest asset. But the glory days are long gone and so is the spirit on which comradeship was fostered. Something else has taken its place, eating away at the fabric of the Alliance and our society at large. What we should call each other is the least of our problems. DM

(This story’s been published with help of Comrade Branko and Comrade Marelise. By the time you read this, it will be promoted on Twitter and other networks by Comrade Styli, Comrade Simon, Comrade Khadija, Comrades Greg 1 & 2, Comrade Thapelo, Comrade Rebecca, Comrade Stephen, Comrade Paul, Comrade Richard, probably even Comrade Brooks, and many other comrades from the Daily Maverick alliance.)

Photo: Mangaung 20 December 2012. ANC delegates sing and dance as the NEC is announced – a clear sweep for Jacob Zuma’s supporters. Photo Greg Marinovich / NewsFire

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