Opinionista Lebo Keswa 18 October 2015

Plaatjies’s poor attempt to silence the truth

Thami Ka Plaatjie abused struggle stalwart Rev Frank Chikane in an embarrassing article. We will wait a long time before he can concede that the issues Chikane is raising are part of why the African National Congress may well be facing defeat at the local polls next year.

It always pains me when I have to correct an elder but here we go again. Abuti Thami Ka Plaatjie was at it again at the weekend in an embarrassing article entitled ‘The sheer silence of Mbeki’s lamb’ (Sunday Independent, 11 October 2015) abusing a struggle stalwart, Rev Frank Chikane, who it must be said is nothing like him. Let us remember that Plaatjie is a rehabilitated Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) opposition leader who came running to the African National Congress (ANC) with his tail between his legs after the PAC proved to be no vehicle of the patronage that he now enjoys. He does not have anything that we can remember him by. Unlike the good reverend who, served three presidents as a director-general and has been a leader in society and the church for decades – always visible in leading our people both before freedom and afterwards. He made it his business to actually run this country for the most part of the 20 years of our freedom. This sterling contribution actually gives him a licence to speak out whenever he feels the need. I am not even touching on the fact that he has been in the ANC all his life and is not a Johnny-come-lately, as Thami Ka Plaatjie should be rightfully labelled.

I thought it may be important to lay those preliminary matters to rest before we examine what Plaatjie’s beef with the reverend really is. To attempt to deal with all his ranting about the so-called silence of Chikane would be fruitless. So I will deal with essentially two matters: the right of ANC members to speak out freely – especially people who have paid their school fees so to speak – and the focus of the ANC on the messenger instead of the message when it is criticised about things which Chikane points out could very well sink the ANC in elections.

In order to build a new society all of us need to contribute to discourse in our country. There is no one who is excluded by virtue of being defeated in the recent party elections. This is true both within parties and outside parties such as in the National Assembly. It would be wrong if because you were favouring a different candidate you were to be condemned to eternal silence. Similarly it would be wrong for the smaller opposition parties to be denied a voice in Parliament because they are few. But we now know where Plaatjie’s bosses get their advice about how minorities don’t matter in a democracy.

As human beings we will always have our preferences and indeed those preferences will always colour our views of the world. This is the beauty of democracy. To be in power does not mean all your views are correct. Thami (hope you notice the title ‘Abuti’ is missing) is essentially saying that because Chikane was “quiet during Mbeki term” on various matters he must now shut up for good. This is a misunderstanding of democracy. It takes away the right of the reverend to change his mind about how he must engage with the leadership of the ANC. It takes away his freedom to continue to express his views even if those views are consistent with an era gone by – in the view of his detractors. This would be a total abomination of democracy. Thami himself changed his political views about the relevance of the PAC as a vehicle for social change. I don’t see anyone condemning him for whatever horrible things he may have said about President Jacob Zuma when he was an opposition leader. Today he is the best blind spokesman of all the wrong things that are happening in the ANC. He has therefore lost his moral courage and not gained it as the reverend has. He is inviting all of us to keep quiet and forever hold our peace if our past was not as critical. This theory seems not to apply to him. It makes him a hypocrite.

Without declaring his prior romantic relationship with the public protector, he launched into an embarrassing tirade on these pages last year against her on behalf of the mob in the ANC that seeks only to undermine her. His article was an embarrassing collection of insults and not analysis or debate and this is becoming a trend as far as he is concerned. By attacking those who show up Zuma as being a morally weak leader for the ANC he seeks to buy himself political capital at the expense of the future of the ANC. Remember this is a person who now works for a minister of state – we will wait a long time before, as head of research, he can share with us some of the research that shows why the ANC membership is declining. We will wait a long time before he can concede that the things Chikane is raising are part of why the ANC may well be facing defeat at the local polls next year. This makes him a charlatan who is singing so loudly for his supper that no one can make out the lyrics. We can only hear the sound of his grovelling and see the colour of his brown nose.

I can tell him without fear of contradiction that the ANC scarcely needs people like this. What the ANC needs is true introspection. Not introspection that is faked on podiums and in conferences but one that can embrace people like Chikane who are bold enough to challenge the current leadership to do the right things when no one is watching. What is very sad is to see people who fought for freedom trying to muzzle others from speaking out by sending lap dogs to intimidate them and ask them to “leak their wounds” of the era gone by. This is not in sync with building the unity that the national general council was bleating about. It is clear to me that if the ANC allows this kind of discourse then it can forget about rebuilding this once glorious movement. I am sure there is something Thami is good for. So far his public showing has been that of defending the indefensible – taking the job of spin doctor for the rogues amongst us instead of a trusted and useful adviser for the ANC, listening to the voice of the people through research and outreach, an area that he is supposed to be leading.

It is totally embarrassing that I should have to spell out the obvious to the head of research for our movement. The leadership of the ANC must not encourage these kind of tactics. The response of Gwede Mantashe to the paper by Chikane was also in the same vein of dismissiveness and an accusatory tone. He expects a paper presented to dozens of ANC structures to remain under wraps when the national executive committee meetings he presides over leak to the press before the last item on the agenda is discussed. I wonder what is different in this case. The reality is that the truth spelled out in the document is the real issue, not the leak to the press. The ANC has to hear the wake-up call before it is too late. Chikane and other brave voices must keep talking and ignore the noise.

Remember Thami, there are things you cannot say, at least “not in our name”. DM


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