It’s early April, and a student union announced a cleansing, a literary purge of the books containing dirt and being more akin to puke than reading matter. Soon after, thousands of books were hauled out across the country and burned while crowds were shouting obscenities…
“… students threw the pillaged, banned books into the bonfires with a great joyous ceremony that included live music, singing, ‘fire oaths’ and incantations….”
They were joined nationwide by the party’s most fiery speakers denouncing the filth contained in the pages…
“This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know – Here the intellectual foundation … is sinking to the ground, but from this wreckage the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise…” bellowed one of the greatest orators, chosen to inflame the base, and keep it angry.
It was the proper beginning of a period that would damn the country to near- eternal damnation…
These events happened in April-May 1933, but could just as well explain 2019 AD. Then the student union was the German Student Union, the books were written by Jewish intellectuals and the senior leaders were future Nazi criminals against humanity. The quote was from a speech by Joseph Goebbels.
How did we, as South Africa, manage to find ourselves in a similar situation, some 86 years later?
Our colleague, Pieter-Louis Myburgh, who has written the smash-hit #GangsterState – Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture, scripted what would happen to his book.
In it, he chronicles how the ANC secretary-general and former Free State premier builds patronage networks by using state funds. On Tuesday, we saw evidence of the Gangster State at work and of Magashule’s network in full swing.
ANC members aligned to the ANC Youth League and to its student wing, the SA Students Congress, went on the rampage at a book store in Sandton, destroying copies of #GangsterState. Earlier, the ANC Youth League in the Free State promised a bonfire on 15 April where it would set alight what it called the “puke” book.
The two events were clearly planned and constructed. If you read the book, you will see how Magashule is a master of campaigns and while we have no evidence that he is behind the book-burning drive, it bears the hallmark of his politics:
“The ANCYL in the Free State Province would like to notify and invite society to a session where Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s puke disguised as a book about the Secretary-General of the ANC, Cde (comrade) Ace Magashule will be burned.
“We have arrived at this sober decision driven by our deepest sense of a need to maintain a clean environment free of garbage such as this one produced by this strat-com product,” read the statement.
It continued in this puerile fashion and provided details of its “fireplace” or bonfire at a dump site in Mangaung next Monday.
This is a structure of the ANC, a branch of its venerated Youth League, which has authorised and advertised the public burning of a book about a senior leader of the ANC. The book contains new evidence of serious maladministration and corruption by Magashule.
The campaigns to burn it reveal that either the book contains truth or why not simply provide evidence to show it is not true?
But this campaign is much bigger than the books that lay destroyed on the book shop’s floor. What does it tell us?
The ANC has run a reformist election campaign promising to clean up after a lost decade of corruption and State Capture. With its president Cyril Ramaphosa as a figurehead, the ANC is promising its voters a clean slate. Its members, like Mavuso Msimang writing in the Daily Maverick, believe that a strong mandate for Ramaphosa will enable him to lead the clean-up.
But is the ANC able to sustain its tenuous unity? How do you, if you are among the 60% of registered voters likely to make your cross for the governing party, know who you are voting for?
Are you voting for the reformers who have taken on State Capture in four different commissions of inquiry and in the party itself? Or are you voting for the fascists who burn books, the looters who continue as if there is no break, the captors who use young people as they did on Tuesday night to drive a campaign of violence and intimidation?
ANC unity is no longer a tenable thing; it requires simply too many torturous compromises. In the Free State last weekend, in the Ground Zero of the corruption he says he is fighting, Ramaphosa did not say a word; he walked on eggshells in Magashule territory, revealing in his silence how powerful the captors still are.
Ramaphosa and the progressives in the ANC need to stand up and condemn the burning of books in its name. They need to do so loudly and without the contradictions and back-pedalling that have become a hallmark of ANC communications recently.
And while the ANC, the same organisation that’s run by Magashule, did formally denounce the violent actions against Myburgh and his book later on Tuesday, it is doubtful that any action will be taken.
It is no small irony that the book disruptions and threats of burning happen in the same week in which the ANC NEC member Tony Yengeni threatened an opposition party mayor with the necklace, the instrument of torture used to burn people in the Eighties.
If only a slap on the wrist happens, we indeed will know that we live in a #GangsterState. And can it be as Heinrich Heine wrote about Nazis who burnt books that, “It is there, where they burn books, that eventually they burn people.”
It is up to the ANC to choose its future. We hope they choose to walk towards the light and not choose a path of darkness and medieval-style destruction. DM