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The bling and sleaze of ANC’s Kimberley invasion dishonours the memory of OR Tambo

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Sello Lediga is an author and the Chairperson of ActionSA in Limpopo. His latest book, South Africa’s Transition from Apartheid to Democracy, will be available in September.

The ANC’s annual January 8th Statement gathering is a proud tradition that Oliver Tambo began in 1972, but it has been desecrated into a disgusting political orgy in which the political elite and its parasitic business class seal deals.

Like a foreign invading army, when the African National Congress chooses your province to celebrate its birthday, you are in serious trouble indeed. The leadership of the invaders fly in large numbers to your rural and poor province; thousands of vehicles, big German sedans, buses and combis congest your pot-holed small roads; the foreign army comes colourfully dressed in designer caps, expensive golf shirts and cheap T-shirts, symbolising the class position of the invaders.

For the whole week, the optics of the province are transformed. The president of the ANC, his ministers, premiers, MECs, mayors and the parasitic business elite book all the hotels, lodges and common households for six days. For at least one week, the local economy booms. The African National Congress is in town.

This January, and in anticipation of the invasion of the province of the Northern Cape, the over-enthusiastic MEC for Economic Development issued an order authorising bars, shebeens and other drinking holes to conduct business for 24 hours for the duration of the invasion, suggesting that drinking and partying would be high on the agenda. This is a political leader who understands the priorities of his organisation. Wherever the South African ruling party goes to celebrate the January 8 Statement, alcohol flows like the Nile River, money exchanges hands in networking sessions, and sex is available in abundance.

It is an annual ruling party jamboree that is always awaited with glee by the parasitic black bourgeoisie, the party faithful from all provinces and the grants-dependent poverty-stricken rural folk who expect their share of the spoils, a standard menu of a colourful T-shirt, free food in a hired bus and rubbing shoulders with the ruling party elite. For six days it is a razzmatazz of party leaders making new scientific discoveries about the poverty and squalid conditions of the people and eventually promising interventions through accelerated service delivery and “a better life for all”. The fact that there is a provincial government and municipalities mandated to provide services is conveniently forgotten as the masses come face to face with the national party leadership that runs the whole country. The leadership is in town.

The origin of the January 8th Statement dates back to 1972, 12 years after the ANC and other resistance movements had been outlawed by the racist apartheid regime. After more than a decade of exile with the armed struggle going nowhere and four years before the Soweto explosion, the president of the African National Congress, Oliver Reginald Tambo, delivered the first birthday statement of Africa’s oldest liberation movement. An annual solemn call to arms which Mondli Makhanya of City Press captured as follows:

The statement used to have great meaning when the ANC itself had great meaning. In the decades of banishment, the January 8 message from the ANCs then president, OR Tambo, was eagerly anticipated in the army camps, exile operations in foreign capitals and inside the country. Announced on Radio Freedom (broadcast by the ANC from various independent African states) and distributed in pamphlets in the dead of night throughout the land, it was a source of hope, inspiration and direction in dark times. Those who heard and read them hung on to Tambo’s words as though they were a page from an apostle whose gospel writings were left out of the New Testament. The day was sacred. Even after 1994, people and the markets waited with bated breath for Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbekis statements.”

Makhanya, contrasting the old days of Tambo and what would happen at the Northern Cape 2020 celebration of 108 years of “the glorious movement” concluded:

“This weekend, Kimberley will be invaded by skimpily clad slay queens who make their annual pilgrimages to the Durban July, the Sun Met, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and other blingy events. They will be out to nab themselves a free-spending somebody who will be able to make the year ahead a little easier to bear. Fine liquids will flow, ridiculous bills will be flashed on social media and a jolly good time will be had by all. Inside the stadium, (Cyril) Ramaphosa will attempt to inspire his party and South Africans in general. He will try to make us see the brighter side of things. The slay queens and their benefactors – sitting somewhere far from the stadium and not caring a jot what the President is saying – will pop open another bottle of pricey bubbly and giggle erotically. Elsewhere in the land, nobody will care much.”

In another insightful piece written by ANC veteran Raymond Suttner titled “ANC anniversary during a time of crisis,” he critiques January 8 as follows: “Nowadays there is no reason to expect new insights or fresh thinking from the ANC. This is not because the leaders of the party are lacking in intellectual skills. What has happened is that the ANC has slipped into decay.”

To rub it in, and from an unexpected quarter, Carl Niehaus, one of the ugly faces of the ANC, took a swipe at January 8 and crass materialism in a hard-hitting reflection of the state of his organisation in this way:

As I was coming from the January 8th celebration event on Wednesday, and responding to my ANC golf shirt and cap, a young man in the lift called me Mr Money Bags. This encounter personifies the vulgarity of the death of ideology in our beloved movement. Let’s call a spade a spade, ultimately this is exactly what the death of ideology is – the pursuit of money at all cost, and the conspicuous consumption thereof, is fast strangling the ANC from continuing to be a liberation movement with pro-poor ideologies and a commitment to the empowerment of the majority of poor black South Africans.

The ideological commitment to a just and people’s centred government is being replaced by the selfish gratification of Me, Myself, I. In recent years this has nowhere been more nauseatingly visible than during the January 8 celebrations. Every year young women are driven in mini-bus loads to the various different cities where the January 8 celebrations take place and this year again it is no different in Kimberley. These young women are poor and desperate, looking for an easy way to get out of poverty they feel trapped in. They are shamelessly exploited by some ANC comrades. Increasingly the days of revelling, before and after the rally, can be characterised as an alcohol and drug-fuelled punani binge.”

You got it. Not from a reactionary anti-ANC lowly newspaper man; not from a conservative and ageing ANC veteran; you have heard it also from comrade Carl, MK veteran located in the office of Secretary-General Ace Magashule. The solemn statement of Oliver Tambo has been transformed into a shameful, immoral and meaningless jamboree of the ruling party, although some leaders of the organisation defend to the death their right to host the event in the manner it is done today. They argue that it is their annual opportunity as the national leadership to scrutinise the work of their errant and often dishonest provincial party leadership.

Strangely, they are dismissive of the wild partying that is associated with the event, pointing out that those who engage in these jamborees are not doing it with the consent of the leadership. This is no different to a school principal who after his learners have been accused of running riot on a school visit argues that the school management takes no responsibility for the shameful and riotous conduct of their learners.

I am struggling to understand why the ruling party chooses to paralyse government for the whole duration of an annual party that is increasingly turning notorious. If Tambo could do that in one two-hour speech, why does the current leadership need six days to achieve the same objective? What is it exactly that the ANC does and achieves in this week of madness and show of wealth and power? Does the current ANC leadership believe that invading a poor city with big SUVs, bodyguards, money and T-shirts reflects positively on the image of a pro-poor liberation movement?

The issue I am battling with is whether the ANC leadership takes all these constructive criticisms about what January 8 has descended into seriously at all? Does the ruling party still possess some modicum of moral conscience to introspect and review this annual event that has generated into a drunken brawl? Has this disgraceful conduct ever appeared on the agenda of the NEC or will it do so in the future? I actually wonder if the ruling party compiles an official report on the January 8 events since its unbanning or even since it came to power 25 years ago? This should make interesting reading indeed.

My take is that a proud tradition that Tambo started in 1972 has been desecrated into a disgusting political orgy in which the political elite and its parasitic business class seal deals. The highlight of this event is not the rally but the gala dinner that takes place a day before the celebration rally. This dinner excludes ordinary members and is the sole preserve of the party elite and parasitic business.

It is at this dinner that the ANC president talks to business to continue to support the ruling party. It is at this dinner that the Who’s Who of South Africa display their sartorial elegance: black suit, white shirt and bow tie for the men, while the women are flamboyant in their power suits, high heels and Brazilian hair. It is the evening of Blue Label and Moët. It is this business and political elite that is the main and sometimes exclusive beneficiary of black economic empowerment that shuts out all other historically disadvantaged people. It is at this dinner that proximity to the leadership is proportional to the price of the table. It is at this dinner that a determination is made as to who will receive the main tenders in the next financial year. This is government and business in perfect harmony.

This annual January jamboree went to the sleepy province with vast undeveloped areas and the smallest population, the Northern Cape, home to Sol Plaatje. Although led by the most progressive ANC leader with a PhD (the most educated ANC provincial chair in the country), the 24-hour liquor scandal and the discord between the Plaatje family and the provincial ANC leadership detracted from the celebrations.

The Northern Cape people are not used to seeing this conspicuous display of opulence in which TV star ministers are driven around by drivers in expensive black suits, mayors guarded by bodyguards and large crowds of people spending money like it was going out of fashion. It must have been quite a rare spectacle to see so many people in black, green and gold paraphernalia singing, dancing and toyi-toying in their backyards. It must have been a culture shock just seeing how much money the visitors showed off.

In their state of eternal poverty, the people of the Northern Cape need answers as to how they can live in such squalor while the ANC displayed such opulence. In Galeshewe, the ANC deputy secretary-general lambasted her own government for failure to provide services to those who vote ANC to power every five years. Kimberley itself, the capital of the province, is so dirty it must have been an embarrassment to Ramaphosa and his NEC.

If the ANC is serious about remaining the ruling party, the manner in which it celebrates its birthday needs serious scrutiny and review. I have never in the last two decades seen such outrage about the celebration of January 8. I would really advise the ANC leadership to put this matter on the agenda of the next NEC and genuinely review this disgusting spectacle. I think on this one, the two factions that are in mortal combat should find common ground for the sake of the legacy of Oliver Reginald Tambo. DM

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