Nelson Mandela, giving his political report at the ANC’s 50th National Conference in Mafikeng North West 1997, decided to go off script towards the end. He juxtaposed advice to the newly elected ANC President, Thabo Mbeki, with a warning about the troubled 7th ANC President, JS Moroka.
JS Moroka had taken over as ANC President at a transitional moment of the struggle and had triumphed over a gifted President, AB Xuma. JS Moroka had been more accommodating of the more aggressive approach to the struggle adopted by the Youth League of Mandela and had supported the proposal for the Defiance campaign, which ultimately brought the country into a stand still.
The Defiance campaign inevitably led to the arrest of most ANC leaders, first among these Moroka as ANC President, Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others. When Moroka was arrested, however, his limits as a human being immediately reared their ugly head at the time his leadership was needed most.
By the standards of those days, Moroka was wealthy and the security apparatus thought they could capitalise on this. The Police went to him using a Suppression of Communism Act and said, “You’ve got farms, you’ve got productive land, you’ve got property, if you are found guilty, you’ll lose all your properties. Your associates here are poor people, they have nothing to lose”. (Dare not Linger, 2017)
The security forces sought to appeal to Moroka’s selfish instincts and they succeeded. Moroka would then prefer to have his own lawyers and refused to be defended with the rest of the ANC leaders. When pressed by lawyers that he (Moroka) and his team were demanding equality with whites, at least as told by Madiba, Moroka, having decided to go for self-preservation, replied that “there will never be anything like that”.
This was a devastating response from an ANC President who had, only two years earlier, at the ANC’s National Conference in December 1950, spoken of the last 300 years in which Africans had been unequal partners in a dishonourable contract of master and servant.
Madiba said that we felt like slumping in despair in our seats at the betrayal. The experience of being arrested was too much for Moroka. Betraying his comrades seemed a bearable option.
JS Moroka, unwilling to risk losing both his life and his wealth, decided to turn his back on the ANC and his comrades.
Betrayal has been a running theme from most comrades who have walked with the ANC’s 12th President, Jacob Zuma. In many ways, the Zuma betrayal is no different. There is a feeling that those who sought to devastate the state seem to have gone to the President, asking him to choose between personal enrichment beyond his wildest imaginations and the people. He failed the test.
Ironically, in the same speech in Mafikeng 1997, Madiba had also warned that leaders’ association with powerful and influential individuals who have far more resources than all of us put together “could lead to their forgetting those who were with us when we were all alone during difficult times”.
Madiba had lived long enough to see such betrayal even from some liberators he had personally admired and rubbed shoulders with across the continent. He was fully aware of the trappings of power. He wrote: “Freedom and the installation of a democratic government bring erstwhile liberators from the bush to the corridors of power, where they now rub shoulders with the rich and mighty. In situations of this nature some former freedom fighters run the risk of forgetting principle and those who are paralysed by poverty, ignorance and disease; some then start aspiring to the lifestyle of the oppressor they once detested and overthrew.”
Largely everyone who knows Zuma personally shares the same sentiments; that Zuma is a man who portrays himself to the workers as very simple, with only their interests at heart. Even with all the right struggle credentials‚ those who betrayed their people were nothing more than “skabengas” (thieves), Ronnie Kasrils said.
The SACP was the first to feel particularly betrayed by Zuma given their understanding of the would-be Zuma Presidency, visibly different from his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. Blade Nzimande had said that the opposition to former president Thabo Mbeki was centred on the struggle against centralisation in the presidency, but the movement is now clearly in a much worse situation. Nzimande understood that Mbeki’s centralisation of power, real or imagined, was in the interest of pursuing different policies that the SACP did not favour. What was much worse under Zuma was that this centralisation of power was done to plunder the South African state for the benefit of the President, the Gupta family and their business associates‚ including the president’s son‚ Duduzane Zuma.
Struggle icon Ben Turok said: “How can any person, let alone the President of a country and leader of a once proud liberation movement place himself in such a sordid situation … The feelings of betrayal are so widespread that the time may be right for a group of respected personalities from all sectors of society, social, religious, business, sports and academia, to lead a movement for the cleansing of public life and restoring of good governance.”
The overarching feeling has been that the paralysed criminal justice system, self-enrichment starting with Nkandla‚ Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta family, the plundering of state owned enterprises, have ended all pretence that the President ever wanted to govern in the public interest.
The simple man, with the interests of the people, turned out to be not so simple.
It would seem Zuma, as Moroka did, betrayed his fellow comrades and the people right at the time they needed him the most. DM
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