Opinionista Sisonke Msimang 20 March 2014

Requiem for a dream: On loving and leaving the ANC

It could all be so simple/but you’d rather make it hard/ see loving you is like a battle/ and we both end up with scars/ tell me who I have to be/ to get some reciprocity/ see no one loves me more than you/ and no one ever will.

When I came home almost exactly eighteen years ago, this song played a constant loop in my head. I put it on when I got up in the morning, I brushed my teeth to it, I pressed play in my car and it came on, I got to work and played it in my headphones as I clicked away at my computer. I fell asleep to it each night. I lived in a fog, wrapped in a delicate blanket of misery, and this song was my soundtrack.

I was in love, and in the throes of a horrible break-up with a boy who was impossibly good-looking and hopelessly complicated. It was a torturous back-and-forth process (as break-ups tend to be when you are twenty-three) and this song was my solace.

And because we have all been there and understand the pain of it, I will risk the melodrama and say that in the last few years as I have grappled with events in South Africa, and with the conduct of the ruling party, I have often looked back at my twenty-three-year-old self. I have felt on some days, as I have scanned the headlines, as though I am walking away from a dramatic love affair in order to save myself even as I am uncertain about what I am walking towards.

So forgive me, but it does feel like I’m breaking up with the boy I love; the one who has loved me the most and for the longest, the one who has intoxicated me with his brilliance and his pathos. It’s hard to imagine life without him, even as it has become impossible to live with him.

This contradictory impulse is most acutely apparent amongst those South Africans who feel both betrayed by and indebted to the African National Congress.

I was born in exile and spent my earliest years as part of an ANC community. Maybe this is why it feels so raw. The ANC put food in my belly, a pen in my hand, and paper in my desk. The ANC gave me the tools I have used to make my way in this world.

So the long, slow slide into this moment on the cusp of elections, twenty years in, has felt heart-wrenching and deeply hurtful. I don’t think that this feeling is exceptional. Indeed, my story is the story of many, many South Africans – not just those who left the country. The ANC clothed us and raised us. No one loved us more the ANC, and we can’t imagine that any party ever will. In South Africa history is not distant, so we remain torturously in love with the idea of the ANC and what it did for us, even as we bemoan what it has become.

Is this just a silly game/ that forces you to act this way?/ Forces you to scream my name/ then pretend that you can’t stay/ tell me who I have to be/to get some reciprocity/ No one loves you more than me/ And no one ever will

Thuli Madonsela opens the Nkandla press conference by gazing at the camera and reminding us, in her whispery voice, that she is the Makhadzi; the aunt who serves as a buffer between the ruler and the ruled. She says that the Makhadzi “enhances the voice of the people while serving as the king’s eyes, ears and conscience.” He ignores her “at his own peril,” she intones.

She is saying, patiently and with steely eloquence, that she is still in love. Her voice shakes. This is hard. She is asking who she has to be to get some reciprocity. No one loves the ANC more than she does, and no one ever will. I watch her throughout the gruelling session, alternately composed and shaken, angry and hurt. It occurs to me that we are all Thuli.

We are all standing on the edge of a pool of tears, fighting fiercely for what we love. Wondering when they are going to get it, wondering why we still try, wondering how it would be possible to ever stop trying.

I watch her and wish that the miners who were shot down at Marikana had her persistence on their side. I wish they had her savvy and her determination working for them.

Instead the Commission happens somewhere in the middle distance. Cyril is the Deputy President of the party that oversaw their killing. He was the Chairman who sent the ‘dastardly’ email. He walks atop their corpses and we watch in quiet shame.

Oscar and Reeva and Nkandla and the state of the nation bury the ghosts of dead miners under a pile of headlines. But the memory of the wailing of widows will not leave us. There are some crimes that demand justice.

There is no peace without justice. No reconciliation without truth. We know this from our bitter war against racism. In Marikana there has been no justice, no truth, no peace.

I keep letting you back in/ How can I explain myself/ As painful as this thing has been/ I just can’t be with no one else/

The City Press reports that in Bekkersdal a 61-year-old woman, “who claimed to be a staunch ANC member, said the ANC had fooled people for too long and was reaping what it had sowed.” She claims to be a staunch ANC member because she is one. She loves the ANC and because of this, she can’t stand the sight of its face anymore. The people are saying, ‘We love you, but don’t come around here anymore’.

See I know what we got to do/ You let go and I’ll let go too/’Cause no one’s hurt me more than you/ And no one ever will

There are taxi ranks and squatter camps that bear the names of our national shame. Monuments to Marikana are scrawled into the soul of our nation. They take their place next to Chris Hani, Solomon Mahlangu, Andries Tatane – all of them killed shamefully.

The ANC has hurt us and we are remembering our pain as we always have. But there will be no RDP settlements called Nkandla. The people will not even joke like that. The people are on Makhadzi’s side on this one.

There was a time when the only hurt that we could collectively remember had been inflicted upon us by the apartheid regime. Perhaps what we needed was someone to remind us – Makhadzi, in her whisper soft voice of steel – that we have new wounds to tend to, and that our pain lies not only in the past, but also in the present.

Perhaps this admission is the beginning of letting go. DM


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Note from the Editor

Democracy in Africa? What democracy in Africa?

By Branko Brkic

"Let no-one enter here who is ignorant of mathematics" ~ Plato