Opinionista Oscar van Heerden 17 March 2021

Speak softly and carry a big stick — together we can defeat the reactionary forces in South Africa

Today, 27 years after the 1994 elections, we are facing Entryism — ‘the infiltration of a political party by members of another group, with the intention of subverting its policies or objectives’. This is what has happened in the ANC. The ugly spectre of fascism returns.

It was American president Teddy Roosevelt who said, “speak softly and carry a big stick…” and I think we can learn something from it.

Towards the end of the year of my 21st birthday in 1993 in downtown Johannesburg, the ANC called me and requested that I, with a select few, form part of the ANC election machinery in the run-up to 27 April 1994. I guess I was afforded this privilege because I was involved in an organisation, the South African Students Press Union (Saspu), which concerned itself with media politics — freedom of the airways, freedom of expression, building community media structures such as radio stations, print media training at universities and so much more.

Years later, reflecting on why they enlisted us five youngsters in such an endeavour, we concluded that they needed some energetic young blood. People who could work long hours — and, boy, were they long. 

You would finish your day’s work having had to deal with yet another so-called “black-on-black” violence situation in some or other township, or a significant mass political gathering being addressed by Nelson Mandela or another leader of the movement, and still your beeper would summon you back to the Carlton Hotel at 2am because another press briefing or press conference had to be arranged due to another massacre that took place somewhere in the country, or another bomb had exploded in downtown Johannesburg or at the then Jan Smuts International Airport.

I remember meeting Mandela and the sense of comfort he used to give us. All will be well comrades, he would tell us. Starting every day with renewed vigour and commitment. We shall overcome, was the prevailing thought. 

Civil society in all parts of our country was playing its part in voter education and protecting its communities against the onslaught of state-sponsored Inkatha Freedom Party Zulu impis, who were murdering our people and turning townships into killing fields. All with the knowledge and consent of the National Party leadership.

We refused to allow this “black-on-black” violence strategy to derail our historic mission. We remained focused with our eyes on the prize — universal suffrage for all in our land. We would finally determine our own political destiny.   

It was a time of ethical leadership, honest politics, robust debates and disagreements. It was a time when our politics knew what had to be done. It was informed by ideology and convictions. It was a time when Mandela spoke softly but walked with a big stick. And, boy, did FW de Klerk know it. He was called out by Mandela. 

Madiba made bold that he knew of the state-sponsored violence and that De Klerk had better put an end to it. Mandela called out Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his murderous Inkatha impis fuelling the killing of our cadres and peoples. He spoke softly, but walked with a big stick. That big stick was the masses of our people. He knew that because he was true to his word and convictions, because he was ethical and principled, the people supported him and the ANC he represented at the time.

This is what everyone was about during that time; cadres, civil society and all Congress-aligned organisations had unity in purpose. 

First, fighting to dismantle apartheid, then to actively participate as change agents to realise the transformation project in our democratic dispensation with the ideal to eradicate poverty, inequality and unemployment so as to ensure a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.   

Listening to the tributes this week pouring in for my fellow Mitchell’s Plain comrade, Karima Brown, and what she fought and stood for, being arrested, tortured and hunted by the security police, I couldn’t help but think how far we have fallen from the ideals of 1994. 

I’m sure she would agree with me that the Struggle continues… we must fight all injustices, especially against our people. Rest assured, my dearest comrade, we will pick up your spear and continue the fight.

You can’t sit idly by and take a wait-and-see approach. Or worse yet, continuously talk of policy uncertainty. You must become active players in this political game or we all perish.

Now, 27 years later, we are facing Entryism: for those who might not know what this is, it is “the infiltration of a political party by members of another group, with the intention of subverting its policies or objectives”.  

This is what has happened in the ANC. 

The ugly spectre of fascism returns — “a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterised by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and the economy”. This is what the RET — radical economic transformation — faction is about.

Increasingly, race is being dangerously used by the EFF and the RET faction to whip up support, talking of attacking “white monopoly capital” and taking back the land from white farmers, questioning the involvement and sacrifices of “so-called” coloureds in the anti-apartheid Struggle.

We fought against apartheid fascism, we fought against narrow nationalism and tribalism, we fought against racism and sexism. You RET and EFF types will not take us back there.

Duduzane Zuma and Ace Magashule represent this dark future — a future that will throw us back into our rotten past of tribalism, racism and fascism. 

They fool the poor and their playing on their emotions about radical economic transformation is shameless. Where was this radical economic transformation when they were at the helm of the state? Instead, for a decade, they plundered, stole, corrupted and captured the state, all now being revealed in the Zondo Commission.

Shame on you all for wanting to trample on the legacy of Mandela.

And before too many of you say, yes, the ANC has messed up this country, to you I say, it is simply not true. Yes, we have rotten apples among us and, yes, we must rid ourselves of these, just like we have done in our past. The group of eight, Bantu Holomisa and his UDM, Terror Lekota and Sam Shilowa and their Cope, Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu and their EFF. It takes time, but eventually it will happen. 

The careful management of the ever-present race question in SA and why it has not exploded into an all-out race war is due in part to the careful stewardship of this ANC. Think the DA can manage it? Or the EFF? I won’t even mention the FF+.   

Anyone who still harbours the idea that we can survive without the ANC today is simply not being honest with themselves. We cannot survive without this ANC, even when your racist core tells you otherwise. What we must do, however, is rid ourselves of the bad elements in the ANC. 

As non-ANC members, whether as the private sector or simply an innocent bystander, you need to step up and become allies with Cyril Ramaphosa against these fascists and opportunists. 

You can’t sit idly by and take a wait-and-see approach. Or worse yet, continuously talk of policy uncertainty. You must become active players in this political game or we all perish.

We are going to need all hands on deck if we are to defeat these opportunistic types and all those who visited Nkandla for their own nefarious agendas.

I say again — Mandela spoke softly but walked with a big stick. 

That big stick was the masses of our people. He knew that because he was true to his word and convictions — because he was ethical and principled — the people supported him and the ANC he represented at the time.

We do all this, Mr President, so that you may continue to speak softly but walk with a big stick, just like Madiba. Show us why we must never abandon the ideals of 1994. DM


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All Comments 20

  • Really Oscar? In the same line of ‘Cyril will save us’. The empty husk that was Mandala’s ANC cannot be the vessel to take the country forward! Time for a new path and ethical leadership!

    • New path sadly unavailable to the electorate. Any constructive ideas would be welcomed. May the noose continue to tighten so the rot can be curbed.

      • Vote for a democratic opposition party. That is what is called “democracy”. This is gutless pandering to the anc “New path sadly unavailable to the electorate.” Vote them OUT!

  • A well-written, heart-felt, analysis of our current challenges. A Long Walk to Freedom was not a story of a journey that had ended but rather a tale of journey just begun. Getting control of the ANC back is important but even more needed is how do we prevent this from happening again.

  • A great read….and something I so wish could be reality.
    Sadly however, the same cruel agenda is happening today. Where once the Nationalist Party encouraged violence from the IFP, the ANC are using the EFF for the same purpose….ignoring and so encouraging death of farmers, EWC and threatening to tweet our Constitution to suit their own ends. Oh yes, CR walks softly, but sadly with no big stick.

  • Why has the ANC allowed Entryism? Is what the ANC is allowing constitutional? Remedies currently sought are for crimes against the State, its enterprises, failures of Government etc. The decision making power is within the ANC. This is the core problem and where remedial action should be sought?

  • Cyril walks a thin and difficult to navigate, line.
    I pray that he will succeed and emerge as an even greater statesman than Madiba. We must remember that Cyril was Madibas chosen son.

  • A great piece, but you omit the elephant in the room! The anc has always had fascist/communist and intolerant tendencies ie camps in Angola etc. From the moment they came into power, entryism was the order of the day. It is in their DNA, but now more callous and obvious.

  • As Rudd mentions, it is time for a new path and ethical leadership. We need a broad-based UDM and a split within the anc. The little good that is left joins forces with the UDM, whilst the putrid, stinking and rotten balance goes with the evil, corrupt and contemptible RET, EFF etc.

  • Oversimplified sugar coating. Even sans the RET cancer, CR is instrumental in keeping the big stick ready by increasing welfare state policies, poor education, vote buying, struggle rhetoric (EWC), cadre deployment + pandering to organised labour, public servants and tri-partites. I don’t buy it.

  • We do not see Ramaphosa getting the upper hand (no cabinet reshuffle). Leadership will not convince criminals and fascists. Ramaphosa is the lipstick on the pig, and is not doing the country a favour as he prolongs ANC rule. While we dread the moment, the party needs to split.

  • The argument that the anc has been captured /entered is rather lame. Who agreed to vote that Nkandla has a fire pool, for instance? The whole lot of the anc cadres in parly. Sorry Oscar. No sympathy here. Stop making excuses for the movement and face the sorry facts that the anc has ruined S.A.

  • Your solution outlined in the sixth and fifth paragraphs from the end of your excellent article is essentially what Steenhuisen is proposing. Non ANC supporters should rally round this suggestion.

  • The current crop of ANC “leaders” seem to be too concerned with protecting the feathers in their own nests than serving the general population of the country! The cries of “racism”, “apartheid” & “white monopoly capital” are merely convenient screens behind which the ANC cadres waste millions of tax Rands defending their corruption, inefficiency and greed in court through spurious legislation and endless appeals. Time to consider throwing weight behind Action SA and get rid of these thieving fools.

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