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Confusions of a Patriot: Please help me understand?


Ian von Memerty is a Zimbabwean-born South African entertainer, actor, singer, musician, writer, director and television presenter.

At what point do great women and men, who have inspired millions around the country, myself included, stand up and lead us? I don’t ask this cynically or with any sense of superiority – I am genuinely confused! Because if they remain silent then I can only infer that they agree with the President. That they too believe that loyalty to the ANC is more important than loyalty to South Africa.

On November 9th, Jacob Zuma said that loyalty to the ANC was more important than loyalty the country. He then repeated that a week later. It was obviously unconstitutional, and a betrayal of everything that the ANC has preached and done for over half-a-century.

And since then I have sat and waited, confused and uncertain. Would someone explain it to me please? Why the silence from everyone within the ANC?

I understand they may have been distracted by the Nene–Van Rooyen–Gordhan chess game, and the bellows have been strenuously applied to the old racism flames, all of which have kept us preoccupied. The ANC has given us a legacy of extraordinary leaders. There was the great triumvirate of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, whose moral authority and integrity set the compass for our transition into democracy. And since then the party has brought forth a range of talent and ability that any party around the world would be proud of. Among my personal top ten, in no order of preference. (Yes. I admit that they may have all made miscalculations or mistakes in the past, so have we all, we and they are merely human – BUT they have been leaders)

  • Frene Ginwala, who as the Speaker of the House in our first democratic Parliament held that position with dignity, authority and scrupulous care for the constitution.
  • Cyril Ramaphosa, widely credited with helping to forge the internationally acclaimed constitution that is the basis of our democracy, and then went on to show a financial acumen that left me awe-struck, and very jealous.
  • Thuli Madonsela, lawyer, former trade unionist, acclaimed head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), who has remained quietly and absolutely in control in the face of some very heated attacks from her own party.
  • Trevor Manuel, one of the most successful finance ministers globally, and someone who is not afraid to speak his mind, as his recent open letter to his colleague Lindi Zulu demonstrates.
  • Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, who not only transformed Home Affairs while at its head, and after successfully leading us into BRICS, then broke through institutional misogyny and chauvinism to lead the African Union with authority (and who had the good sense to divorce JZ).
  • Pravin Ghordan, who oversaw the transformation of SARS into one of the most acclaimed tax services in the world, and was a capable and authoritative Finance Minister (Oh, and he is again!)
  • Barbara Hogan, former political prisoner, capable member of Cabinet, and brave enough to stand up and be the first ANC member of real status to say “Jacob Zuma must go.”
  • Kgalema Motlanthe, who handled the political minefield of being a transitional president with skill and dignity, and restored the country’s faith in our young democracy and political system.
  • Cheryl Carolus, favourite of Madiba, charismatic SA ambassador in London, and outspoken advocate of woman’s rights.
  • Reverend Frank Chikane, loyal and hard working member of government, who has risked the ire of JZ before by speaking out against what he believes are the betrayal of the principles of the ANC.

I have waited for any of these people, or indeed anyone in the ANC to contradict Jacob Zuma, and to say that loyalty to the country comes before loyalty to the ANC.

Mandela’s speech at the Rivonia trial is one of the clearest statements of ANC ideals ever articulated, aside from being one of the most inspiring speeches ever made in our country. It places the rights and dignity of the individual citizen, regardless of race, belief or gender, and the responsibility of the state and party to uphold those rights at the centre of ANC policy. So I ask myself, why has no-one of authority in the ANC come out in disagreement with the President’s immoral and inexcusable comment? Surely they don’t feel the same way? The ANC is more important than South Africa?

I realise that as an outsider I am not privy to the difficulties that being a politician entails. I also know that members of the ANC pride themselves on being disciplined and loyal members of the ANC – witness President Thabo Mbeki’s publicly graceful handover of power when the party recalled him. I also know that there are a myriad different loyalties and beliefs that a politician must balance. But of these, probably the three most important are conviction, expediency and ambition. It is unlikely that a politician could succeed without a strong dose of each of those qualities? But is loyalty to the party line (be it for reasons of fear, impotence, or the memory of what once was) – more important than the reason you join a part? At what point do these great men and women, who have inspired millions around the country, myself included, stand up and lead us? I don’t ask this cynically or with any sense of superiority – I am genuinely confused! Because if they remain silent then I can only infer that they agree with the president. That they, too, believe that loyalty to the ANC is more important than loyalty to South Africa.

And if that is so – then I am deeply troubled. Not only for the betrayal of the past ideals of a great liberation party, but for its legacy and its future. Every person in power knows change is inevitable. Since Mandela’s release in 1990 the ANC has been the most powerful political party in the country, and will continue to be a key player in South Africa for the foreseeable future. But the clock is ticking for the ANC. It is coming up to 26 years since that historic day, and history is remorseless – it just doesn’t stop. Change is inevitable.

Do these great South Africans want to go down in history as standing silent as the ANC lost its way? For those who carry the responsibility of our trust and respect to be part of the inevitable change that will come, they must stand up for the same principles that made them rise fearlessly at the beginning of their political careers. They all sacrificed and fought for freedom, they then all worked to entrench freedom and equality, and then they worked to redress the injustices and imbalances of the past!

WHERE are those people now? WHY are they silent? DM


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