On Sunday, the day Dali Mpofu’s defection to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was revealed by City Press, ANC and SA Communist Party (SACP) veteran Ronnie Kasrils was addressing the launch of a National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) research and policy institute. Kasrils, who used to write poetry for the liberation movement from the 1970s using the name “ANC Khumalo” to conceal his identity, was a founding member of the ANC military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and later served on the ANC’s politico-military council. He was a member of the SACP central committee from 1986 and the ANC national executive committee from 1987.
ANC membership does not get more thoroughbred than that. Yet Kasrils’ criticism of the ANC over the past few years has been harsher than most opposition politicians.
In a piece he wrote in The Guardian in June titled “How the ANC’s Faustian pact sold out South Africa’s poorest”, Kasrils had a scathing assessment of the ANC government and what he termed “a descent into darkness”. Kasrils, the former intelligence minister, resigned from government following the recall of Thabo Mbeki in 2008 and has clearly been disgruntled ever since. But his caustic comments sting because of his history in the ANC.
“The ANC’s soul needs to be restored; its traditional values and culture of service reinstated. The pact with the devil needs to be broken,” Kasrils wrote. He condemned the “gross inadequacies and inequities in the education and health sectors; a ferocious rise in unemployment; endemic police brutality and torture; unseemly power struggles within the ruling party that have grown far worse since the ousting of Mbeki in 2008; an alarming tendency to secrecy and authoritarianism in government; the meddling with the judiciary; and threats to the media and freedom of expression”.
Most “shameful and shocking”, Kasrils said, was the Marikana massacre. “The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 prompted me to join the ANC. I found Marikana even more distressing: a democratic South Africa was meant to bring an end to such barbarity. And yet the president and his ministers, locked into a culture of cover-up. Incredibly, the South African Communist party, my party of over 50 years, did not condemn the police either,” Kasrils wrote.
He echoed these sentiments at the Numsa event on Sunday, saying the Marikana massacre was worse than Sharpeville as the events last August were pre-mediated. The Farlam commission of inquiry was “deliberately being stalled” so that the strong emotions about the massacre fade away, Kasrils said. He also expressed his disappointment that the ANC government has done nothing to help the Marikana victims and families.
The question to be asked after all this is: which party will Ronnie Kasrils be voting for next year? Kasrils did not break away with other Mbeki supporters to form the Congress of the People (Cope) in 2008. Despite his anger at Mbeki’s recall, it was possibly too much of an emotional leap to join another party due to his history in the ANC.
Kasrils is not alone. Over the years since infighting and factional battles have torn the fabric of the movement, there have been a growing number of ANC leaders and members who feel alienated in the organisation. They cannot identify with the new character of the party, the abandonment of traditional values, the selfish pursuit of wealth and power, the fleecing of the state, the disrespect for the taxpayer and the wanton disregard for the majority of the population who elected them.
Of course, there are those who only feel this way when they are in the losing faction and lose access to power and resources. But there are many who have a long and proud history in the ANC but cannot make peace with the organisation in its current form and character.
Walking away from the ANC can be a difficult life decision for people whose families are tied to the organisation or who actively participated in the liberation struggle under the banner of the party. Many people left their families behind and had their lives destroyed because of their commitment to the organisation. Some had direct contact with the ANC’s heroic leaders and cannot disassociate today’s organisation from its icons. Thousands of comrades and loved ones were lost in the war against the Apartheid government and political violence in parts of the country; and a decision to leave the ANC can be perceived as a betrayal of their memory.
The ANC evokes profound and complicated emotions for those who grew up in the movement. The ANC’s flag and images of its banned leaders carried generations of South Africans through Apartheid’s brutality; they symbolised courage, hope and selflessness. It is an organisation that is now close to 102 years old. Nothing can compete with its history and penetration into the hearts and minds of millions of South Africans.
Yet the ANC in 2013 is far removed from the ANC of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. ANC people who feel this way deal with the dichotomy in different ways. Some choose to go on with their lives and disengage politically; others throw themselves into social work and work at the grassroots so that they keep their distance from the leadership. Some choose to focus on their own enrichment or survival; many continue fighting factional wars inside the party and the alliance.
Some, like those in the leadership of Numsa, think they can replicate the ANC outside the ANC. A few convince themselves that this is just a bad phase and the ANC will self-correct.
Some are waiting to teach political education to new members who know nothing about the ANC and use the organisation to advance their careers or business interests. And some take on mediation roles in other African countries and pretend not to know what is going on in South Africa.
Dali Mpofu chose to walk away. The ANC’s reaction will sting for those who can read the undertone: “He will have to live with his decision”, meaning, “It will hurt him more than us”.
With over 1.2 million members, one person defecting to the upstart EFF, even if it is a big personality like Mpofu, would not register on the ANC’s radar. But what Mpofu’s announcement does do is make others, who like him felt alienated in the party, ask themselves uncomfortable questions.
Can I in all good conscience be able to vote ANC next year? How will I live with myself if I vote for another party or don’t vote at all? What would the party ancestors say if they could see the ANC in its current form? Am I a coward for wanting to free myself from the mess? Can the ANC be redeemed to its former glory? Will I lie in my coffin without the ANC flag over it?
The other dilemma would be: where do they go or who do they vote for if they make a conscious decision not to vote ANC in 2014? For ANC leaders and liberation fighters, the Democratic Alliance’s politics is too alien to consider. Cope might have been an option had it not fallen to pieces with internal strife. Agang is too Mamphela Ramphele-centric, which is completely contrary to the ANC collective outlook. Ramphele also does not have her roots in the congress movement, so ANC people might not relate to her.
This leaves the EFF. For those wanting to return the ANC to its original, untainted, pre-government form, Julius Malema’s party might be hitting the right notes in its policies and outlook. However, for senior ANC leaders who were schooled in party discipline, the hot-headed, confrontational, radical group of red beret-clad young men, with a leader facing a corruption trial, might not represent their values and politics.
So they are stuck.
There are many, many broken hearts out there with no place to go.
Their predicament will be exacerbated as the election approaches. A few might successfully disengage or hide away, but others might be called on to campaign for the ANC. Some might attend ANC campaign events to keep up appearances.
Some people might be able to overlook their disillusionment and succumb to their love for the ANC during the election campaign. ANC people tend to close ranks when the organisation comes under attack. As 2014 will be the ANC’s toughest election yet, it could very well result in people returning to the fold to defend the organisation.
Mpofu made the jump but says: “It’s not easy.”
“I respect the decision of those comrades who have decided to stay there. My only prediction is that in the fullness of time, they will see that they are just hanging on to the sentiment and the name.”
The “fullness of time” might turn out to be in a few months when the comrades are standing alone in the election booth. The test will be whether they can ignore the images in their heads of violent service delivery protests, of unemployment queues, of the sprawling Nkandla estate, of the endless corruption scandal headlines and of policemen shooting mineworkers at Marikana.
Those images might make a single cross the most difficult thing they have ever had to do. DM
Photo: While the ANC’s national elective conference gets underway a boy poses by the Bloemfontein cooling towers, covered in the faces of past ANC leaders. Greg Nicolson. (Mangaung, 15 December 2012, Free State, South Africa)
"Have you ever noticed how ‘What the hell’ is always the right decision to make?" ~ Terry Johnson