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A Tribute to Sindiso Magaqa: Let us not be the architects of our own demise

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

In this difficult time for the ANC, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of an organisation we are and what direction we want to move in. We must make an effort, as Sindiso Magaqa did, to rediscover comradeship and an intrinsic revolutionary value of love.

The first and only time I met Sindiso Magaqa was at the ANC 103rd birthday celebrations at the Cape Town stadium in 2015. I remember the pleasant emotion I felt on seeing him. Magaqa had become a face of an era, one characterised by a complete rejuvenation of youth and its own excesses. Magaqa and his generation captured a sense of the raised consciousness among young black South Africans largely unemployed and languishing at the margins of the mainstream economy.

I never got to speak to him on the day as I watched many comrades drooling over him and calling him and there was great excitement in the air. He was calm, bursting into laughter every time another of his comrades came to greet and reminisce. He was at the celebration, the way he had been all his life – warm, sharp and content in the company of his comrades.

Magaqa and his team were in May 2012 effectively removed from our political landscape which they had dominated with such devastating efficiency since their election in 2008. There was always agreement that the views they championed were critical and important but it is in the inflammatory and divisive manner in which they delivered their message which ultimately got them charged for sowing divisions in the organisation and bringing the ANC into disrepute.

There has been debate about whether the message would have been more palatable and less divisive if it had adopted a more reasoned approach. Perhaps, but the counterargument is that in our impossibly crowded landscape of socio-political discourse, the reasoned voice tends to go largely unheard, suggesting that controversy is de rigueur if one is to have any traction.

I know that as young people we deeply mourn his departure. He passed in the prime of life, when his acts and deeds were beginning once more to show that revolutionary touch. To loosely quote well-known oratory, it is not the tragedy of his death that we lament, but the tragedy of his life. We feel that death has been unkind. It was nipped in the bud in its first spring. Darkness descended at sunrise.

Magaqa served his time and returned to the grassroots politics thereafter, where he again encountered the one problem that is endemic to politics itself. Politics does not require a particular profession or set of skills, so more often than not, a contest and its outcome may feel unfair and unjust. That is no more pronounced than in the PR system at councillor level. 

First, the compilation of a PR list is what I call controlled democracy. Branches choose the names but ultimately higher structures decide on the final list. The level of bitterness I have witnessed out of this process is unmatched as people who were nominated by branches found themselves not on the final list.

I saw the danger of this when a friend found himself number 29 on the PR list and the ANC was only allocated 28 seats as per our electoral performance. I know he is a good man but I can’t imagine he did not hope one of those 28 names would be disqualified for one reason or the other so that he could come in.

This is the danger we are facing. Where people are at the cusp of better livelihoods and one or two names stand in their way. If it was true that Magaqa was also poised for a position in the ANC regional structure, then his problems doubled.

In the name of Magaqa, we must review our systems and make them more democratic, more open, so that when people lose, they do not feel there was underhandedness. The PR lists also need an overhaul so that people can be satisfied with its outcomes.

Today, the likelihood of Sindiso Magaqa becoming a leader of the ANC at the highest level has disappeared in a pool of blood. In the little time however he served at the highest level of the youth wing of the ANC, he dedicated his entire life to the ANC’s cause and vision, a cause for justice, a cause for the complete emancipation of African people. He suffered for it, and in September 2017, he died for it.

In this difficult time for the ANC, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of an organisation we are and what direction we want to move in.

We can continue to move in this direction we are in as an organisation, and further polarise our movement, polarise relations among black people and between black and white people or we can see the death of Magaqa as the final call.

We must make an effort, as Magaqa did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace this violence, and remove the stain of bloodshed that has spread across KwaZulu-Natal, with an effort to rediscover the comradeship and its intrinsic revolutionary value of love that has kept us a true family up to this far. The poet Aeschylus wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

To paraphrase comments made by Robert F. Kennedy (who also quotes the poet Aeschylus) upon the assassination of Martin Luther King,  the death of Magaqa must bring an end to divisions.

The death of Magaqa must bring an end to hatred for one another.

We need an end to violence and lawlessness.

We need love and wisdom, and compassion towards one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country. It is only when we are wise that we will not let ourselves or our comrades be the architects of our own demise. It is only through wisdom that we will not find pleasure in feasting on each other’s blood.

It is through wisdom that we will build our young leaders into worthy senior leaders of the organisation.

To be selfless in what we aim for.

To unite rather than divide.

To look for the best in one another at all times, across all racial divides.

To place the organisation’s interests above our personal interests.

To work together to destroy corruption.

To unite against unemployment.

To unite the organisation and the country.

In many ways, we had accomplished this in the quality of comrade Magaqa and his generation. We knew that if others in the leadership of the ANC were to die, there were young men like Magaqa who were ready to take responsibility for the ANC. Magaqa represented that kind of youth that gave senior leaders comfort and joy about the future of the organisation.

In the saddest turn of events, this was not to be.

Sindiso, you have an incredible story to tell when you reach the Pearly Gates. Tell them that we made it, the whole nation bent the horizon and created new possibilities, tell them that you were right at the centre of it, every step of the way, tell them that South Africa, the gift that the country is, is a miracle that it is today because of the collective among which you were an anchor that kept the miracle alive.

Tell them we are a nation that maintains our sights on the kind of South Africa we want, while looking squarely at South Africa as it is, that we have acknowledged the sins of our past and the challenges of the present, without being trapped in cynicism or despair.

Tell them of the profound shift in material well-being of the previously oppressed, the shift in racial relations, all this you have witnessed in your lifetime.

Things have got much better, I hope you will tell them; tell them, still, that better isn’t good enough.

Go well dear comrade. DM

Editor’s note: Following publication, this article has been amended to include attribution.


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