Dear Jessie Duarte and Mike Hastie, I will not renew my ANC membership; the party is no longer fit to govern
Dear Jessie Duarte, Deputy Secretary-General and Mike Hastie, Secretary of the Gaby Shapiro Branch of the ANC, I write in great pain. I ask that this letter be made known to the members of my branch and the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress.
I am 86 years old. It is possible that I am the only person surviving who addressed the Congress of the People on 26 June 1955. In fact, I was speaking when the gathering was interrupted by the police. As the years passed I realised the honour bestowed on me, and I now see this matter as also imposing a grave duty. I have to speak out, even if my voice is but a whisper in the thunder of the history of the African National Congress (ANC).
I will not renew my membership of the ANC. The ANC is no longer fit to govern or worthy of my support, exiguous as it has been. I no longer wish to be a member.
My contribution to the struggle has been small, compared to those whom I respect beyond words. There are many men and women who recognised me and who honoured me by calling me “comrade”.
But however trivial my role was, it was consistent and of long standing.
The African National Congress appears to regard its glorious and triumphant history as a reason for it to continue to govern. In its current state and conduct, it is dishonouring and defiling this history.
My late father, known as “Tolly” Bennun, drew me into the struggle and you will find his name in the ANC’s submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a comrade who died in exile. He designed the first detonators used by uMkhonto weSizwe. He was posthumously honoured in the Eastern Cape.
I was born in 1936, and as a schoolboy in 1951 I joined Joe Slovo, Ruth First and others in Sophiatown selling the Guardian and the titles that followed its banning. As a university student from 1953 I was an activist. I was a member of the Modern Youth Society in Cape Town and of the Congress of Democrats from its start. These formations must not be forgotten.
When I went into exile in 1965 my father and I joined the ANC the moment its ranks were opened to all South Africans and I was an activist in the African National Congress and the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the United Kingdom. When I returned to South Africa in 2000 I ensured that my membership of the African National Congress continued.
Whether or not I discharged myself satisfactorily as an ANC member is for others to say. Now, I join those whose dismay and disappointment at the present state of the movement causes them to step aside from the ANC.
I learned that an honest political activist can and must look critics straight in the eye and meet their comments and criticisms truthfully, proudly and confidently. I loved doing that, whether at dinner tables or when deployed to address meetings or in what I wrote and published. I felt honest and worthwhile, I believed passionately in what I was trying to convey, and I felt that I was trusted.
But I cannot meet this standard when I face current developments. I have no answer to the chilling findings of the Zondo Commission’s indictment of the political morality of the ANC. Daily Maverick summarises my view:
“So many members of the ANC’s NEC are implicated in so much wrongdoing (whether in the Zondo report or elsewhere) that it seems impossible to imagine the body developing a comprehensive response and essentially voting for its own jail term.”
My membership of the ANC gave me strength and dignity. For example, I shall never forget my experience, shortly after Nelson Mandela was released, at the Annual General Meeting of my trade union, the Association of University Teachers. I was deployed by the London office to represent President Mandela when he was awarded Honorary Membership of the AUT. The standing ovation was for all that the ANC and Mandela stood for, not for me, but imagine how I felt when I made my proud report to the London office. Imagine how I felt when I was deployed to address a meeting of Welsh miners, or of a local branch of the Trades Union Congress, or of some other formation which had pledged itself to support our struggle.
The recent reports of corrupt greed and grasping self-interest following the ghastly events in the KwaZulu-Natal floods have sickened me. Daily Maverick described “theft and corruption of disaster relief funding as a crime against humanity, a treason against the people”. I agree with this.
I choose the adjective deliberately and knowing the law when I ask: How did the African National Congress permit what I believe to be the treasonous conduct of Jacob Zuma and his supporters to flourish? Why did the Zondo Commission become necessary?
The current leadership is impotently divided on fundamental issues. For example, by what ANC principles does Minister Lindiwe Sisulu continue to hold her position? By what principles does Bathabile Dlamini attempt to defend herself? Are these principles different from the statement in the South African Constitution (Sec. 92(2)) that Cabinet Ministers “are accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions”? These are individuals who have sworn or affirmed that they would “obey, respect and uphold the Constitution”. Do they contend that they have done so?
The ANC has committed itself to strengthening and deepening democracy. But an ANC member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts has been suspended as an MP by the ANC because he asked President Ramaphosa to explain what he had said in a meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee about the misuse of public funds to campaign for leadership positions in the ANC. By what ANC policy is this correct?
This incident reveals further that someone who seeks a leadership position must expect to spend money to succeed. This cannot be what I thought is the political morality of the African National Congress.
Why does South African policy towards the Palestinians ignore the facts of their situation? The “two-state” policy has been rejected by them, yet is supported by the government. Why is no effort made to block South Africans from serving in the Israeli army? Why are Israelis admitted without visas, but Palestinians not?
A symbol of the ANC’s failure is the so-called “men by the side of the road”. The reference hides the bitter status of women in South Africa, who continue to suffer the triple oppression of being black, women, and impoverished. That the ANC leadership does not unite in outrage at this public shame has made me lose confidence in the ANC’s capacity to lead reconstruction. There is so much to be done, so many hands available and desperate to do it, and yet the ruling party appears to be impotent to address the issue.
One consequence of this failure is that the South African educational system has created its own obscene image: a school learner drowning in faeces in a collapsed toilet. We now have a school education system which is a disgrace when viewed against a Constitution which empowers a governing party to establish one which would be an enviable model and an inspiration across the world — certainly, at least in Africa.
The state of the public health service in South Africa is a nightmare. As the governing party, the African National Congress must be held responsible. As with the educational system, after the defeat of apartheid the time and resources have been enough to do better. So dreadful is the public health service that often those who resort to it endanger themselves by doing so.
The condition of the State-Owned Enterprises can be correctly attributed to State Capture, corruption and incompetence. But these factors took place under the eyes of the African National Congress government, which must bear responsibility.
Responsibility for these and other failures lies in the hands of the African National Congress. Who would join it with its present reputation and in its present condition? As a member, I have no confidence that it is fit to govern. As I am unable to respond with honesty, confidence and dignity to criticisms, I feel that I have no choice but to resign my membership.
If my presence and participation at the Congress of the People mean anything, then that terrible moment in my life has come when I must accuse the African National Congress of betraying what I hoped was the future for my country.