South Africa has a beautiful, rich, diverse heritage. We have a complicated and complex history that in a thousand confrontations fused nationalities and ethnicities; we have great writers, from Tiyo Soga through Alan Paton to Es’kia Mphahlele and Njabulo Ndebele: our complicated and complex history that in a thousand confrontations fused nationalities and ethnicities; we have caves decorated with ancient and expressive rock paintings; and we have our mines, places of fear, fortitude and unfairly distributed fortune fortune.
We also have one of the world’s most inspirational liberation movements, the African National Congress. We share its heroes, both known and unknown. The liberation struggle gave us names, historical days and an overarching dream. For most South Africans it became a moral fibre which we knit into our lives.
Consequently, even those outside the ANC feel deep pain in watching the splintering and shenanigans within the ANC. We feel apprehension at the selfish rampage of the few people who are defacing of our heritage. We experience unease as we recognise that much as many leaders of the ANC, painstakingly and at great personal cost, built our social cohesion from the 1960s, it only takes a handful of people today to bring about the opposite effect.
Something becomes a part of a heritage when time and history mark it with belonging. The ANC has both: it commenced life in 1912 as a liberation movement in a little church outside Mangaung. Through song, heroes and dreams it rallied millions and its flag was carried over the liberation line. The ANC belongs to all of us. Defacing the ANC is like defacing a rock painting.
But ironically, when it came of age in 1994 as an ordinary political party it embarked on a trajectory that has made it increasingly tawdry.
Heritage Day 2012 was thus a timely occasion to lay a claim to the ANC as part of our shared heritage and to try to protect that heritage from ransacking and spoliation.
How do we do this?
First, let us say that this is a tragedy because in material and spiritual ways the liberation of South Africa is far from complete.
We should all feel free to express an opinion on politics and for a start that means we need to stand up to the loud schoolyard bully boys who would turn the ANC into vehicle that is being driven primarily for the advancement of their own ideologies and interests; interests which obviously are not the same as the national interest.
For example, as we saw at the recent Congress held by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, one of the most vitriolic bullies is General Secretary Blade Nzimande. Nzimande appropriates our heritage for himself. Judged by his speeches, he regards it as his mission to constantly cajole, corral and marshal; to claim for himself and secondly his party an exclusive leadership role; to assert a monopoly of the right road to liberation. But instead of convincing South Africans by articulating a plausible vision for the much-needed social revolution, he finds neo-liberals under every bed, makes enemies of friends and leaves the nation’s real enemies at liberty to ransack the present and the future.
Take for example his warning that the Alliance should beware of people campaigning for social justice in education or health, his misleading allegation that non-governmental organizations cherry-pick issues that they can use to damage “the revolution” and the “liberals under the bed” claim that many NGOs “are captured by particular class interests, not least those of their often (imperialist) donors”. These serious allegations – baseless but presented as truths – were designed to keep the ordinary Cosatu member suspicious of all but the party.
But hold on comrades: this warning is hypocritical in the extreme when it is not disclosed who funds the Communist Party — or the ANC, for that matter. If it turns out that the SACP is heavily funded by the Chinese government, or mine owner Patrice Motsepe, what should we make of that? NGOs and Cosatu should be commended for showing where their money comes from — why can the SACP or the ANC not do the same? What are they hiding and why?
Nzimande tells organised workers that “it is imperative that we close ranks” so as to continue to advance “the revolution.” But for millions and millions of people the revolution has stopped. To very many on the very large margins of society it looks like the rising tide of equality and security stopped just after it passed Nzimande Crescent.
And it is because the revolution has stopped that there we now see an unravelling of the social cohesion created around the dream of liberation that was advanced by the ANC.
This was perhaps inevitable because it was always a flimsy cohesion. It depended on the poorest of the poor unselfishly but temporarily putting aside their claims for a dignified life and trusting in the national promise. There was a hope that our heritage would make the future.
In nearly 20 years it has not done so. Grotesquely, many things have been allowed to get worse. It is therefore not surprising when “the people” once more stand up and demand to be part of the nation. It reflects a growing distrust that the compact is not going to be honoured – that the poor are not going to get their share of the pie. Strangely the dignity people demand is nothing more than an accumulation of little things: toilets, good schools, freedom from fear, electricity, a doctor or nurse who treats you and treats you with respect. Marikana was a cry for dignity because you cannot feel yourself to be part of a nation without it.
The Massacre of Marikana (for it was a massacre), will make August 16th as much a part of our heritage as Sharpeville, Soweto and Bisho. Sadly, there is a real danger of many more Marikanas. On a smaller scale they are already happening: according to the 2011/12 police crime statistics, there are three violent service protests every day, leading to more than 3000 arrests (or nine a day). We may not like the form of these protests, we may abhor their use of violence, but underneath them is a discontent that is rooted in intolerable living conditions, made psychologically unbearable by the rancid stench of inequality.
But the killings of Aug. 16 obscured something more profound, something that is also connected with our heritage and national psyche, for Marikana was also a revolt and an uprising.
Several weeks ago City Press carried a picture of 34-year-old Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki, more commonly known as ‘the man in the green blanket’. It is hard to look at this picture and not see the dignity, the outrage, an almost primal welling-up of emotion of the slave who now has no choice but to break his chains. For reasons we don’t know, Noki rose to a position of leadership in the strike. With facts that may still be established it may turn out that Noki was singled out and murdered by the SAPS Tactical Response Unit. We don’t yet know.
Yet, using apartheid-worn methods, people in our press and our politics are making Noki the problem, the enemy. Why has nobody asked about the life story of this man? Where was he in 1994 at the age of 16? What did he dream of on April 27? Where was he ten years ago? How did he live, laugh, make love and work? Many insights might be gained from finding answers to these questions. Understanding and celebrating Noki – adding him to our pantheon of heroes – may help us understand the mood of the nation.
So, with Heritage Day 2012 now behind us, it is time to resolve that tomorrow we will reclaim and take ownership of all the parts of our heritage, including the ANC. We should appeal to the overwhelming majority of honest members in the ANC – and the public service — to make their voices heard, and promise them our support as a society. For at this point, there is no other party capable of re-establishing a common purpose and programme that is able to transform South Africa, and create an country that is inclusive, values all its citizens and brings dignity to our workplaces, schools, hospitals and communities. DM