Defend Truth


There are cowards among us


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Today we have comrades who blatantly defend the indefensible, who support Jacob Zuma despite the fact that he ruined our country and actively allowed corrupt practices to take root.

Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was a South African operative of the military wing of the African National Congress, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He was wrongfully convicted of murder and unjustly hanged in 1979. Mahlangu’s trial started in the Supreme Court on 7 November 1977. I was five years old at the time. In its judgment, the court found that Mahlangu and his co-accused, Mondy Johannes Motloung, had acted with common purpose and that it consequently did not matter which of the two did the shooting and killing.

Mahlangu was convicted on all counts and given the death sentence. The court refused him leave to appeal. Before going to the gallows he reportedly said: “Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the fight. My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom, aluta continua!” 

Aluta continua: the struggle continues.

It continues with corrupt people at the helm of the ANC, with looters at provincial leadership levels. The struggle continues with many comrades defending the indefensible.

Dulcie Evonne September was a South African anti-apartheid political activist. She was assassinated in Paris, France on my 16th birthday, 28 March 1988. She was shot five times in the head with a .22-calibre silenced rifle. She was 52 years old. Before her untimely death, Comrade Dulcie had been investigating the trafficking of weapons between France and South Africa. This trafficking included nuclear materials. All this while there was a clear international ban on the weapons trade with the illegitimate apartheid state. She too paid the ultimate price for all South Africans. The cowards among us trample on her memory by not speaking out, by not investigating, as she did, wrongdoing wherever it rears its ugly head.

Even if that wrongdoing is in one’s own beloved party.

Basil February was a South African anti-apartheid activist and in 1964 he joined MK. He went into exile and received military training in some African countries and in what was then Czechoslovakia. After training, he was sent back to South Africa to lead a guerrilla unit. The unit was ambushed in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1968 while en route to South Africa. February put up a heroic defence against overwhelming odds to protect his comrades and give them time to escape. He sacrificed his own life to save his comrades and in so doing became one of the first young South Africans to die in the course of the armed struggle.

Bantu Stephen Biko was a South African who was at the forefront of the Black Consciousness Movement during the 1960s and 1970s. He was murdered on 12 September 1977. I was five years old. Influenced by the Martinican philosopher Frantz Fanon and the African-American Black Power movement, Biko and his compatriots developed Black Consciousness as the South African Students’ Organisation’s official ideology. The government saw Biko as a subversive threat and placed him under a banning order in 1973. He remained politically active and was detained by state security services. Following his arrest in August 1977, Biko was severely beaten and tortured, resulting in his death.

Ahmed Timol was a South African political leader and activist in the underground South African Communist Party. He died five days after being arrested, also following torture and beatings, on 27 October 1971. I was not yet born. Police claimed he leapt out of a window on an upper floor of John Vorster Square police station. They were exonerated at a 1972 inquest. A 2017 judicial review of the case declared that Timol had been murdered.

In a book about Timol, former president Thabo Mbeki described him as “the light in a darkening room… The apartheid regime… believed that they had broken the back of the underground. And then they found Ahmed. Mayibuye! They performed upon his body… a danse macabre of exorcism through violence. It was their own neurosis that spoke through every blow, because in him our revolutionary spirit was made flesh and they simply could not believe it. He was and remained, even after his death, the spectre that was haunting South Africa.”

Ruth First was a South African activist and scholar who was killed by a parcel bomb addressed to her in Mozambique on 17 August 1982. I was 10 years old. Ruth went into exile in 1964 and participated in the anti-apartheid movement in London. She took up a post as director of research at the Centre for African Studies at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo. She was assassinated by order of a major in the SA Police.

So, when taking stock of all these martyrs, heroes who died in the course of our struggle for our liberation and freedom, must we ask the question, what did they die for? Yes, some of us pretend to continue the Struggle, when in fact all we are doing is bringing dishonour to the memory of these fallen heroes. Don’t try to erase our memories.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be on the right side of history.

Corruption, stealing taxpayers’ money, plundering and pillaging at every turn. This is the lived experience of most of South Africa and I don’t want to be on that side.

Today we have comrades who blatantly defend the indefensible. Many support former president Jacob Zuma despite the fact that he ruined our country, actively allowed corrupt practices to take root, and allegedly committed all manner of crimes. Zuma must answer for these alleged crimes through our courts and if the state fails to successfully prosecute, he will be a free man. But there are some among us who do not want this constitutional, legal route to play out. They want to subvert the law. Why? What happened to “let the law take its course?”

The defence of Ace Magashule, the secretary-general of the governing party, is confusing to many. He hides behind the legally accepted phrase, “innocent until proven guilty”. This does not work from an ethical and moral standpoint. Surely, you actively engage in a process to clear your name if a journalist alleges all manner of wrongdoing on your part. Instead, young people tear up copies of the book containing the allegations at the book launch.

I could go on about how comrades defend the indefensible in the ANC. And give many many more examples, but we know all of them. Farms stolen from poor workers and communities, houses not built for poor communities, and, instead, the money used for personal aggrandisement. Civilian planes allowed to land at military bases. Visas and passports given illegally to special citizens. Mines sold for a pittance to the Guptas and so, so much more.

And the most cowardly of them all? The individuals in our organisation who know they have wronged the people of South Africa, the ones who have stolen from the people at the behest of the Guptas. They know that morally and ethically they cannot stand proud among us in the ANC or before our people, and yet they don’t resign, they don’t hand themselves over to law enforcement authorities. Instead, they fight. They fight to the bitter end because, somehow, we who are on the right side of history, are delusional. According to them, they have done nothing wrong.

It’s one thing, comrades, to argue that contesting each other at conferences is a democratic right, and the losing side can mobilise and organise to win back that particular loss. As democrats, we all agree with this. But, it’s another thing entirely to argue or remain silent about comrades who are actively plotting to undermine and subvert the ANC and some in its leadership just because you want to avoid facing your day in court, and by extension, prison. I remember a time when members of this organisation would face expulsion for such behaviour.

This cannot be defended. The judicial system is fallible, but it cannot be told to not fulfil its duty.

Did our Struggle heroes die for this? I can only conclude that there are cowards among us who dare not speak truth to power. They cower behind their jobs, their families, and behind irrational arguments of process and legality.

Speak out comrades, less we see how our country falls apart in front of our eyes. Contrary to what is perhaps popular belief, there are still good comrades in the ANC, but we will not shock them into action if we don’t lead by example.

The dictionary tells us that a coward is “a person who is contemptibly lacking in the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things”.

Have the courage, people. If for nothing else, for the sake of our children. DM


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