Opinionista Brij Maharaj 3 July 2017

The ANC ignores the Stalwarts’ advice at its own peril

In traditional African culture, the elders are repositories of experience and wisdom, who mentor and transfer their skills and experience to younger generations, and are respected and revered. An organisation that shows disrespect for its veterans will ultimately become a shadow of its former self, and is inevitably destined for the dustbins of history.

On 1 July 2017, Ghana, the first West African state to get independence from Britain, in 1957, celebrated its 57th anniversary since gaining republic status in 1960. Republic Day is a national holiday in Ghana, and it has been “dedicated to the country’s senior citizens and designated as Senior Citizens Day”. This was to honour, respect, and revere and acknowledge their priceless, immeasurable contribution in the struggle for independence, as well as in the nation building and reconstruction process thereafter.

KG Baiden, a retired Ghanaian civil servant, contended that the “value and experience of the aged cannot be quantified in monetary terms and must, therefore, not be allowed to go to waste. The nation stands to lose if these valuable assets are not fully utilised. In our part of the world, old age is not just a symbol of honour; it is also associated with wisdom, wise counsel and knowledge. The future course of any nation, therefore, cannot be clear without reference to the forebears in national reconstruction efforts. There is so much goodwill for the Senior Citizens Day celebration that it should be developed as an effective avenue for mobilising the elderly to contribute meaningfully to national development efforts. They should be role models to the youth through their moral character.”

Former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama paid tribute to the senior citizens on 1 July 2017:

Today is unique because it anchors the power we have as citizens and our oneness, as a nation. I acknowledge the selfless sacrifices of Ghanaians over the years and above all, I salute our senior citizens for their unparalleled contribution to our dear nation. Let’s forge ahead in unity, love for one another devoid of discrimination, and ensure utmost dedication to God and Ghana.”

Meanwhile, on the southern tip of Africa, the continent and world’s youngest democracy, veterans of the struggle for liberation in South Africa who were tortured, incarcerated, separated from their dear ones, and forced into exile for decades, were vilified for the very roles which were venerated and honoured in Ghana, by none other than the President of the ANC. Their “crime” – they expressed concern about the ethical and moral decay in, and decline of, the ANC.

A key concern, according to veteran Andrew Mlangeni, was that “a dominant group within the leadership – abrogate to themselves the power of the State to serve their own self-interests rather than the interests of the people of South Africa”. The veterans emphasised that they remained loyal, committed members of the organisation, and wanted the “ANC to return to its values and principles and to a leadership that is ethical, places integrity foremost and truly committed to the people and Constitution of South Africa”.

The veterans appealed to the NEC to act firmly against those who betrayed the historical ethical and moral values of the ANC by supporting counter-revolutionaries, especially the very serious allegations of state capture, in which at least one member of Zuma’s family and several Cabinet ministers and senior government bureaucrats are implicated.

On 1 November 2016, former President Thabo Mbkei wrote a letter to President Zuma, emphasising that these veterans represented “a very senior, outstanding and historic echelon of the leadership of the ANC and the national democratic revolution. Within itself, this collective contains invaluable, multifaceted and irreplaceable experience in terms of the struggle both to defeat the apartheid system and to construct a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. These cadres belong among that eminent succession of principled generations of revolutionaries which ensured the survival, growth, development and victory of the ANC, at all times loyal to the injunction that their strategic task was and is to serve the people of South Africa.”

The veterans had requested an extraordinary consultative conference where the stalwarts (including MK Council) would meet with the leadership of the ANC to critically evaluate the challenges facing the party, independent of the Policy Conference. This was because ANC branch delegates would not have been mandated to discuss the issues raised by the veterans. Zuma was critical of the veterans’ request because it emerged outside party structures. The ANC leadership refused to acquiesce to a veterans’ request, who boycotted the two-day consultative, which in many respects was a damp squib. Zuma responded that the veterans were not as strong as they believed, and that the ANC leadership did not respond to their public criticism because of party discipline.

In his opening address at the 5th National Policy Conference of the ANC, President Zuma acknowledged some of the challenges facing the party, especially to “cleanse itself from the negative tendencies … which have included patronage‚ corruption‚ social distance‚ factionalism‚ abuse of power and membership system anomalies …”. He mentioned corruption five times in his address, and there were three opaque references to state capture.

Predictably, in President Zuma’s address there was no reference to the elephant in Nasrec – the Guptas.

It was left to ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe’s brutal organisational analysis of a party in decline to question how one family is connected to the declining fortunes of the ANC (as reported in the Mail & Guardian): “It is correct to state that the Guptas can do business any time, anywhere with whomsoever, but the relationships with the families of prominent leaders attract the attention of the people. When there are benefits that accrue to families of the leadership, it is assumed corrupt in that the political leaders are assumed to have facilitated the accrual of benefits. The leadership of the ANC should never be taken by surprise when society reacts to such relations. In our case, we become dismissive and defensive about it.”

Rather than engaging in blatant denials, Mantashe called for ANC leaders implicated in dubious dealings to own up:

The series of emails that are being released in tranches each day are causing more harm… Where we must own up, individual comrades should do so … and then give a reputable explanation. Blatant denial lacks credibility in the eyes of society.”

Mantashe also lamented the arrogance of ANC leaders; decline of ethics; reluctance to acknowledge mistakes (which sometimes end up in court, and the complaints about judicial overreach), and the acquisition of wealth as the sole purpose for seeking leadership positions in the party.

Ironically, the issues raised by Mantashe were almost identical to that raised by the veterans who complained about “the ill-begotten wealth among some of our leaders at all levels and the resulting ruinous effects on the organisation’s moral and political fabric and on society as a whole”.

The ANC ignores the advice of the veterans and their potential to rehabilitate the party and set it once more on the path of righteousness, at its own peril. DM

Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity.