Don’t forget about the living while celebrating ‘dead bones’
The truth is that it does not matter what Chris Hani’s thoughts would have been about the current state of our politics in South Africa. Frankly, none of us know.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
April 10 2021 marks 28 years since the assassination of SACP general secretary Chris Hani.
That haunting image of his lifeless body lying in a pool of blood on April 10 1993 remains etched in our country’s collective memory.
And as we have done every year since then, we will see another commemoration to celebrate the life of Hani, who was also an ANC NEC member.
Once again, the SA Communist Party will emerge from behind the curtain to take centre stage to mark the day.
The same thing happened this week when the ANC marked the 150th birthday of Charlotte Maxeke, the social and political activist who challenged unjust laws against black people and tackled patriarchy within the ANC and other black solidarity movements in the early 1900s. Maxeke was unmatched in her commitment to realising the freedom of her people. Her activism was not motivated by the lure of high political office and its attendant perks.
Like Hani, she was deeply committed to the fight against racist laws that sought to keep black people as perpetual second-class citizens. Like other heroes and heroines of the struggle, Maxeke’s and Hani’s contributions are an important part of our country’s history.
Such is the ANC’s unmatched political capital. No other political party comes close to the governing party when it comes to its long list of past heroes of the struggle. Frankly, they could “celebrate” a different personality for each of a year’s 52 weeks.
This weekend, the rhetorical question – which has become synonymous with celebrations of past leaders – will again be asked: “What would Chris Hani do or think about the state of South Africa?”
And again some politician or pundit will venture an opinion – decrying the state of our domestic affairs while positing that Hani would likely not be part of the current crop of corrupt political elite.
But the truth is that it does not matter what Hani’s thoughts would have been about the current state of our politics in South Africa. Frankly, none of us know.
What matters is what we do as the current generation to leave a meaningful legacy for future generations – to produce such heroic figures who give their lives to the selfless mission to make ours a better world. Who are our heroes who will be remembered kindly by history? And this is not limited to politics. This starts in every little corner where we find ourselves, whether it be an NGO, civil movements, in sports, in the civil service or in business.
It is also about the kind of leaders we elect to public office. Also we are not a homogenous block with a common grasp or appreciation of our past. That’s why some will decry the “inadequate” celebration of someone like Robert Sobuke by the current ANC government.
That’s why celebrating the past, given our country’s history, will always be a controversial topic.
This is the point that former DA leader Tony Leon fails to grasp.
He referred to Mmusi Maimane as an “experiment” that went wrong – a deeply offensive insult, steeped in a racist mindset of blacks as lab rats that can be used in political experiments and discarded at will.
Leon took issue with Maimane praising the late struggle stalwart and “mother of the nation” Winnie Madikizela-Mandela while not apportioning the same praise towards his late father, Judge Ramon Leon, who died during the same period. His father, said Leon, had “left the DA money in his will” and was the founding liberal chairman of the Progressive Party, the precursor to the DA.
Basically, he wanted Maimane to place on a pedestal the same man who sentenced young Durban activist Andrew Zondo to death for his part in the Amanzimtoti bombing. It would have been counterproductive for Maimane, who sought to grow the DA’s black support.
But to Leon this was an affront to the memory of his late father. One doubts that Leon’s father made the donation so that he could get public praise. Leon Senior may have inspired some, but he was no Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who herself was a flawed individual.
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe succinctly captured this culture of celebrating past figures.
He likened it to a celebration of “dead bones”, which he also saw as a dearth of new thinking within the ANC, an organisation failing to reinvent itself and respond to the demands of the current period.
It is correct to celebrate those who gave their lives to the attainment of our freedom. But we should be wary of spending a lot of time praising “dead bones”, as Motlanthe warned.
We have far too much work to do for the living. DM168
Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors Forum.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.