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As commentators, we seek justice, not revenge — that’s a big difference

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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.

There is a narrative going about that we analysts and commentators are deliberately fuelling factionalism in the ANC. That’s nonsensical — they do this just fine on their own. The fact that contestation, which has existed in the ANC forever, has become a zero-sum game is hardly a fault of ours.

It has come to my attention that some people out there are — conveniently, if you ask me — of the opinion that some pundits, analysts and thought leaders write and promote ANC factional drivel and hence contribute to such factional battles.

In his essay, “A Defence of Poetry” (1821), Percy Bysshe Shelley claimed that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. This has been taken to suggest that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral power — in a vague, unthreatening way, of course.

He was talking of people who can imagine and conceive of an alternative reality, given the nightmarish, catastrophic realities most of us have to come to terms with currently. In other words, to be such a person is to be a poet, an artist of living, says Cornel West.

To you in the ANC who make these claims we say, we don’t have a minute to hate! We will pursue justice for the rest of our lives. West states: “You see, that’s being a hope. In Reinhold Niebuhr’s book, Moral Men in a Moral Society, he says that ‘any justice that’s only justice soon degenerates into something less than justice. Justice must be rescued by something grander and deeper than justice, namely love.’ Love, justice, not identical but indivisible. Martin Luther King says, ‘justice is what love looks like in public’.”

You see, when we observe culprits stealing from the public purse, corrupting the system because of love for money and atrocious forms of venality; when we cry out, defend our democracy and our Constitution, we do so from a place of empathy and compassion. Ultimately, all of the actions we take in moments like this to lift up our shared humanity will move us along the path toward justice. Because they are, fundamentally, acts of unconditional love.

You see, Dr West tells us that hope is existential, but integrity is quintessential. Ethical leaders are what we require all round. And not a situation where everybody is for sale, everything is for sale. This is so bad in our current society.

Commodification, securitisation and then, of course, racism, the order of the day. How does it play out? Ordinary people who cannot straighten their backs. They walk with a bent back saying they can’t do anything to change the status quo. King said: “Whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.”

So, wake up, straighten up and walk forward.

The ruling party, the ANC, is not perfect, and yes, there are bad apples on both sides of these factions. No one, especially not me, would suggest that it’s a clear line between good and evil, it is certainly not a black-and-white matter — but no one can equally deny that the right grouping won at the last elective conference. A different outcome would have meant a very different result, both in leadership and State Capture, given the fact that the losing group was the main proponent of State Capture and corruption in the main.

So, when we write, analyse and discuss, it is informed by this reality and not because we hate certain individuals or personalities. After all, what is the role of the analyst in our society? We gather, interpret and use complex data/information to develop actionable steps that will improve and optimise results. In other words, we look for trends or areas for improvement in any given situation.

And by writing about it, by exposing it, we facilitate discussions, debates and hopefully progress on a given issue. We attempt to forecast and understand political trends and to inform the public about them. We do this because, in our small way, we want people to straighten their backs and contribute to the revolution.

It would be a mistake to want to take revenge on others because, as the old Chinese proverb goes, “before setting out on revenge, make sure you dig two graves”. It’s a vicious circle that will never end and one in which I’m afraid the current ANC already finds itself.

So, we don’t hate, it’s not about revenge. No, good people, we are poets, we are artists who seek to transform our society into that which no one can imagine, that alternative reality. Lest we walk with our backs bent and don’t awake to straighten them.

Or, as Robert Herrick (1591-1674) states in his poem about constant change/transformation, Why Flowers Change Colour:

“These fresh beauties, we can prove,
Once were virgins, sick of love,
Turn’d to flowers: still in some,
Colours go and colours come.”

Let’s keep on changing colours, let’s keep on writing and let’s keep on thinking and conversing and not get waylaid by nonsensical persons telling us that we fuel factionalism in the ANC. They do this just fine on their own. The fact that contestation, which has existed in the ANC forever, has become a zero-sum game is hardly a fault of ours.

That’s what Dr West calls revolution and I’m inclined to agree with him: “It’s a transformation of self, and community and society and there is no transformation without this dialectical interplay of love as a form of death from which hope emerges in the form of action.”

So, the next time you are of the opinion that we want to pursue revenge, think again. We seek justice, plain and simple. We want to walk with our backs upright and tall and our heads held high.

This is why we defend democracy. DM

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  • Justice must be served and the rule of law restored. Otherwise you have anarchy and the rule of the jungle where the politically connected and well-heeled (through corruption and theft) are untouchable and act with complete impunity. Zimbabwe, Venezuela etc are prime examples – criminal states.

  • But your version of Justice, whether it be the Zuma Faction version or Cyril’s faction, still a version of justice you are propagating for the sake of your own preferred version of justice. There’s no discussion in opinion columns, except the writers and the three people who comment.

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