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Kathrada Memorial: Stalwarts unite to fight for the hea...

South Africa

South Africa

Kathrada Memorial: Stalwarts unite to fight for the heart and soul of the ANC that once was

The battle for the heart and soul of the ANC is on to return it to the organisation of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada. Sacked finance minister Pravin Gordhan told Thursday’s Cape Town memorial for the late Uncle Kathy: “There are millions of activists like me who are still faithful to a Mandela, Sisulu and Kathrada ANC, and we remain hopeful that that ANC will still be the one that emerges from the difficulties we have.” Afterwards Jeremy Cronin, senior leader of the South African Communist Party which has called for President Jacob Zuma’s resignation, echoed this. “It’s our responsibility as SACP to do what we can to recover the ANC of Mandela, Sisulu, Kathrada,” he said outside the church that once sheltered anti-apartheid activists in the 1980s. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

There was that moment when Cronin, who had talked of the SACP’s “strong objection” to Pravin Gordhan’s sacking in Friday’s midnight reshuffle, looked at “Comrade PG” siting in one of the first few pews. “That’s not because we agree with everything done by National Treasury,” he said, causing a faint smile on Gordhan’s lips.

The SACP for years has been vocal in its criticism of the National Treasury as the holder of the national purse strings. But such ideological contestation appears now to have been thrown into the dustbin. The SACP last week called for Zuma’s resignation over the reshuffle.

And the SACP would stand its ground now, Cronin said two days after the ANC’s extended national working committee (NWC) closed ranks, accepted Zuma’s explanation that Gordhan was sacked because of an irretrievable breakdown in relations, not the “Operation Check Mate” so-called intelligence report, and also criticised the SACP for speaking out of turn on confidential discussions between the alliance partners.

While the resignation of Zuma would not solve all problems, it was a start. Cronin called for a commission of inquiry within three months into state capture, as recommended by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, and independent lifestyle audits for ministers, their deputies and those heading state-owned entities (including himself). He also announced that the SAPC had complained to the inspector-general of intelligence about the so-called “intelligence” document that was invoked initially by Zuma in the firing of Gordhan. “Who wrote it? Those who wrote it must be exposed.”

Although the ANC NWC indicated that this report had complicated matters, the real reason for the sacking of Gordhan was an irretrievable breakdown in their relationship.

“That’s not good enough. We are not told why there was an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship,” Cronin told the jam-packed St George’s Cathedral where an estimated well over 1,500 people crammed into pews, aisles and the floor.

Was the breakdown because Comrade PG refused to sign the nuclear deal, asked Cronin. Was it because he resisted pressure to intervene with banks to reopen the bank accounts of the Gupta-owned businesses? Or was it because Gordhan refused to budge over governance on the boards of SOEs?

“If these were the reasons for the ‘irretrievable breakdown’ in the relationship, then it is not acceptable for the ANC NWC to say blandly that they accept President Zuma’s grounds for firing Comrade PG. That would be a betrayal of all the values and principles of the ANC,” he said as “Skande! (Shame)” was shouted from the crowd behind him.

Later, outside the cathedral, Cronin explained that last week’s turn of events forced a public speaking out after 15 to 16 months of hard work behind the scenes to influence the direction of the governing party. If the SACP had not responded, it would be worse today.

“Speaking truth to power does not always have to be through a megaphone. But on its current trajectory (the ANC) is heading for serious splits,” said Cronin. “If we get fired for saying what I’ve been saying, so be it.”

Cronin, who is also Deputy Public Works Minister, admitted he was one of those at the party’s recent top-level meeting who said the SACP members in the executive should resign over the reshuffle. “My personal position (was) that we should resign… The instruction was to stay in.”

Added Cronin:

“We are not going to walk out of the ANC. We might be pushed.”

Also not walking out is Gordhan. “I’m now resting. I’ll see you on the 18th,” he told reporters after the third Kathrada memorial he had addressed in a week. He had told Bloomberg when asked if he’d resign like his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas: “No, no, not yet. Not yet.”

That’s the clearest indication that the former finance minister, now an ordinary ANC MP, will be in the National Assembly for the April 18 debate on the motions of no confidence in Zuma, brought by the EFF and DA.

Following the ANC NWC closing ranks behind Zuma, the ANC parliamentary caucus issued a statement that “the ANC in Parliament will vote against the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma by opposition parties…

“We reiterate that as ANC members of Parliament we derive our political mandate from the organisation… We will also not be supporting the call for a secret ballot in the motion of no confidence,” said the statement issued after opposition parties contacted ANC MPs for support.

It will be all eyes on Gordhan, as well as fellow sacked minister Derek Hanekom, and also the SACP members in Parliament to see whether they will vote against the ANC party line. If that happens, it would be unprecedented – and most likely incur disciplinary proceedings that, some claim, could lead to expulsion.

But the point about the battle for the heart and soul of the ANC would have been made.

On Thursday, speaker after speaker spoke out critically about corruption and highlighted the hardships of South Africa’s poor and vulnerable and lack of consultation with communities. The call for ethical leadership was made repeatedly. Or as student leader Fasiha Hassan put it: “We are done being pulled into your factional battles,” which was echoed by Vuyiseka Dubula from the Africa Centre for HIV Management: “Democracy is us. It is not for the few in government.”

The emphasis was on going back to grassroots and mobilising. Amid this, the ANC’s speaker, Nokuthula Nqaba, a Western Cape provincial executive committee member, proved tone deaf:

“I appreciate you saying you don’t hate the ANC. It’s individuals that created the mess,” she said, adding: “We are not in another country. We are with you in South Africa. We know exactly what is happening.”

She was booed off in what proved to be a fundamental misreading of the mood. This came in the wake of an ANC NWC closing ranks around Zuma and the latest in a series of carefully orchestrated media opportunities created for the president, on Thursday at the opening of the national local government summit. Eyewitness News posted a video clip on Twitter showing ANC ministers, including Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and newly-appointed Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi, singing in in favour of Zuma.

Photo: Pravin Gordhan was a centre of attention. (Photo by Shaun Swingler / DM Chronicles)

Across the country in Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral, Gordhan, who said he was “an ANC cadre”, spoke of a different ANC. Talking of selfless service, and servant leadership, he hit the mood on the head, as had Cronin before him.

Self-deprecating – “We are getting used to the idea of Comrade PG rather than minister PG,” he quipped – Gordhan paid tribute to activists of the past, and called for renewed activism by the youth, rooted in communities.

But it would be a long road to a South Africa of social justice, economic transformation and freedom, one that needed to be undertaken in hopefulness nevertheless. “We are running the risk of honest people not participating in the state. When a society reaches that point you know we handed the state over to a bunch of gangsters. We are not there yet. Let us not get there,” he said.

“Let’s not be naïve. It’s a struggle to remain a principled person in a principled organisation,” said Gordhan. “It’s going to be a hard 20, 30 years before we produce the South Africa we want.”

The fight is on. DM

Main photo: Jeremy Cronin South African Deputy Minister of Public Works and a member of the South African Communist Party speaks during the memorial serice for Ahmed Kathrada in Cape Town, South Africa, 06 April 2017. EPA/NIC BOTHMA

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