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The ANC’s Beyers Naudé Moment

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Marianne Thamm has toiled as a journalist / writer / satirist / editor / columnist / author for over 30 years. She has published widely both locally and internationally. It was journalism that chose her and not the other way around. Marianne would have preferred plumbing or upholstering.

On Wednesday March 29, Ahmed Kathrada was laid to rest in Wespark Cemetery next to a granite memorial to Afrikaner dissident cleric, Beyers Naudé. On November 3, 1963 Naudé, an influential Dutch Reformed Church cleric and a member of the powerful Broederbond, turned his back on his church and the ideology of Apartheid it sought to justify and promote. At Kathrada's memorial on Saturday, the ANC collectively experienced its own Beyers Naudé moment through ousted Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan who unequivocally broke ranks, calling on ANC members and South Africans to openly mobilise and oppose President Jacob Zuma. It is a defining moment with Gordhan serving as a lighting rod.

While Naudé gave his final sermon at the Aasvoëlkop NGK church in Northcliff in 1963 and in so doing turned his back on the broeders, Afrikaner nationalism and his own church, Gordhan at Kathrada’s memorial in the Johannesburg City Hall on Saturday turned towards the once-celebrated liberation party he has served for much of his life, the ANC, a party which, in an extraordinary week of ruthless political attrition, threatens to implode.

And while earlier, ANC alliance partner, the SACP, had called on Zuma to step down, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa politely rambled his way through his public objection to Zuma’s axing of Gordhan (and others) and ANC Treasurer General, Zweli Mkize’s strangely deferential statement on Saturday voicing his “reservations” with regard to Zuma’s late-night cabinet reshuffle, it was Gordhan who called it as it is and displayed clear leadership from within the movement itself.

The historical context of Naudé’s rejection in the turbulent 1960s of the church, the ideology and the “Afrikaner nation” that had nurtured him, in no way compares to where we find ourselves in South Africa 23 years after the country’s first democratic elections. But Saturday saw the ANC as well as the country at large (at least those who are engaged in the extraordinary events that are unfolding) reach its collective Beyers Naudé moment, rejecting Jacob Zuma’s corrupt orthodoxy in its totality.

If the deeply-troubled ANC was looking for bold, outspoken and inspiring leadership it was on display as Gordhan spoke. There are many who have, of course, spoken out against the anti-democratic forces that have currently captured not only the President, elements of the State as well as the ANC, but none have done it so unequivocally.

Hopefully Gordhan’s boldness will prompt others in the ANC – including those who have been newly-sworn in by the President – to follow and heed the call to recapture the ANC from those who have put it, and the country, up for sale to a fastest bidder.

“If you are asking me whether I am asking you to mobilise then the answer is yes,” Gordhan said on Saturday adding “it is very clear who is the problem and what is the problem.”

Naudé paid the price for turning on his church and “his people”. He was defrocked, branded an “enemy of the state” and banned for seven years but his heeding the prompts of his conscience inspired others to follow.

History will judge well Pravin Gordhan and all those in the ANC who are prepared to risk their political careers and livelihoods to uphold the ideals and values of the liberation movement they serve and to help end the profligate, nepotistic and destructive Presidency of Jacob Zuma and his acolytes.

The cost might be high but it will be worth it. In the end the ANC will survive, it will finally self-correct (although it may take time). The ANC will be able to pause – at this critical moment – and look back at what it has become since it was trusted, as the ruling party, with the country’s democracy and as it has struggled with the post-liberation sins of incumbency.

The work that needs to be done will be hard and those who are deeply-entrenched in the institutions the President has sought to capture, will not surrender without a fight. The rot is deep and wide and, as Gordhan said, joining the dots will reveal its horrifying depth.

This is the final boarding call for all those who wish to reclaim and reconfigure what it means to be free. And that, Gordhan said, included business and business leaders who needed to prove now that it [business] is willing to correct and heal the scars of the past and the unacceptable economic inequality that continues to ravage the present and which affects the lives of millions who have waited so long.

Our Beyers Naudé moment has arrived. The People Shall Govern.

Place your tray tables in the upright position, buckle up, knuckle up and go! DM

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