The date 16 December conjures up terrifying images of war. While this day specifically commemorates the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838 and the formation of the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto weSizwe, on 16 December 1961, it also brings into sharp focus all other occasions when South Africans consciously took up arms and went to war. This, even as early as 1659, the year of the Khoikhoi-Dutch War.
It is for good reason that our first democratically elected government declared 16 December the National Day of Reconciliation. It is an opportunity to reflect and acknowledge how deeply divided and grossly unequal our society is.
We remember the ugly spectre of war and honour all those courageous souls who took a stand and dared to put the interest of all South Africans before their own. On this day we commit ourselves as a nation to learn from the mistakes of the past and to boldly unite across all divides to finish what our ancestors, forefathers, leaders and fallen heroes and heroines started. We have no choice because the ugly spectre of war is destined to repeat itself unless we learn.
The ANC ironically has decided to have its 55th national elective conference on 16 December. This day invokes such a range of deep emotions. We feel our nation’s pain and suffering while being inspired by the courage and fighting spirit of all those who have gone before. We will remain eternally indebted for their glorious legacies that must inspire us all to take a stand and fight in defence of our nation.
The irony is that the leaders of the 55th national elective conference dishonour the legacy of our fallen heroes and continue to squander the gains for which they fought so valiantly.
The masses of ordinary South Africans have no voice or legitimate presence at the ANC’s 55th national elective conference. We are relegated to the sidelines, mere onlookers and outsiders, external observers to the drama of destructive slate politics and party capture.
Instead, the 55th conference derives its mandate from only a few powerful individuals who have no regard for the lives of ordinary South Africans. This conference gets its ideas from expensive think-tanks, private-sector experts, spin doctors and marketing companies that reside outside of the organisation.
These elites make us believe that they are the embodiment of the ANC, and they know what is best for all the people of South Africa. The ANC has changed so fundamentally that it has no interest in the opinions of ordinary South Africans and uses the good name of the ANC only to foster greed and personal ambition.
The 55th national elective conference has no mandate from our urban or rural communities because 90% of ANC branches are dysfunctional or non-existent. At best, individuals have quickly convened branch meetings with the express purpose of endorsing slate leaders.
The NEC has failed to nurture, support and grow its grassroots structures and is desensitised to the bread-and-butter issues that confront communities daily. This explains the disconnect, the backsliding, the acute dearth of new ideas and leaders, the heavy reliance on recycling worn out personalities and the culture of imposing top-down decisions that have no empathy for the realities of ordinary people.
The 55th national elective conference does not derive its mandate from such powerful sectors in society as women, young people or ex-combatants. The Women’s League, Youth League and MKMVA were disbanded by the NEC and replaced with task teams or interim structures that have failed to establish legitimate democratic structures to honestly express the opinions of their once-powerful constituencies.
The conference has no standing if it cannot give clear expression to the aspirations of women, young people and ex-combatants. The representatives at this upcoming conference are at best slate-appointed individuals without mandates.
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The 55th national elective conference has no legitimate mandate from the most powerful sector in society, the workers. This conference will rely on the illegitimate leaders of their tainted alliance partners, Cosatu and the SACP, to represent unionised workers. Even though ordinary rank-and-file workers clearly expressed their views when they evicted the ANC president from the Cosatu May Day rally in 2021 and refused to avail their platform to the ANC national chairperson at the 14th congress of Cosatu in September 2022.
The 55th conference has no mandate on policy from ordinary South Africans. No meaningful policy discussions took place in communities. There were no real consultations held at branch level, nor at the highly publicised ANC provincial policy conferences that led up to the 2022 national elective conference. Any policy opinions expressed at the conference will be those of an aspirant elite, bankrolled by a few wealthy individuals.
The outgoing NEC did not seek the wisdom of a national consultative conference, as previous NECs have done. As was the case when the defining Kabwe consultative conference was convened in 1985 or the watershed Nasrec consultative conference in 1991. These consultative conferences were defining moments that helped to recalibrate the organisation and reconnect it with its founding values and principles. These broad consultative opportunities provided for thorough and deep introspection, honest reflection and renewal. The Morogoro consultative conference, for example, is often described as “a festival of ideas” and “a moment of self-reflection”.
The outgoing NEC has failed to protect the integrity of the organisation. It has failed to provide effective leadership in holding the president, the top six, Cabinet ministers and parliamentarians to account. The ANC was built on the solid foundation of morality and integrity. During apartheid it was respected nationally, on the continent and internationally during times of relative peace and under conditions of war.
The NEC has undermined the very soul of the organisation and diminished its noble character. How low has the bar of integrity been lowered to accommodate greed and corruption with its “first having to be criminally charged” step-aside rule? It is not in the nature or tradition of the ANC to water down its founding principles to suit individuals at the expense of the people and the country.
Honest and loyal members of the ANC are obligated to perform to two standards of morality and integrity. We are obliged to adhere to the laws of our land. But more importantly we are obliged to adhere to societal moral and ethical codes. Our sense of morality should derive from our values, principles, customs, beliefs, ethics and ways of being. How dismally have the leaders of the ANC failed on all these counts?
Alienated from the people
No doubt there has been resistance from within the organisation, from those precious few who strive to set a good example or who have tried to hold the corrupt among them to account. But the tried-and-tested leaders who have tried to stand up to the rot have effectively been sidelined from within, purged or have just given up and left.
The track record of the outgoing NEC shows that it has alienated the organisation from the people and does not have the capacity to forge unity by constructively managing sharp divisions. The NEC has abandoned all democratic structures of the organisation, has put morality and ethics on the backburner, and has committed the cardinal sin of putting the interests of a few wealthy individuals above those of the people of South Africa.
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The NEC is entirely responsible for not carrying out the mandate given to them at the 2017 national elective conference and has contributed to the phenomenal loss of respect, trust, confidence in and support for the organisation. The ANC in its current form has arguably become the single-biggest threat to democracy, economic growth and stability.
The 55th national elective conference is mandated – no, instructed – to honour the proud legacy of the ANC and all fallen heroes. Failing to do so at this defining moment will constitute a declaration of war against everything that the ANC and all fallen heroes have stood for.
South Africa is resilient and strong and has many favourable qualities. We have the international competitive advantage of having a large young population. We have a richly diverse population, riches beneath the Earth, a beautiful coastline, rivers and dams and the intellectual capacity to lead progressively in all areas of social life.
All we need is a new, strong and capable political leadership that has the depth to harness our immense potential and effectively manage the transition to a more inclusive, cohesive, just and prosperous society.
The 1994 social compact so beautifully crafted and inspired by the vision held by Tata Madiba has been shattered. All South Africans, on this coming Day of Reconciliation, are required to envisage a new vision for the future.
We must acknowledge that our current trajectory is unsustainable and threatens our democracy. Drastic steps are required to turn the country around and agility of thought, creativity and innovation must be utilised. We must stop being content with symbolic changes, or mere tinkering or trickle-down economics that only serve the interests of a few.
We must set clear timeframes to deal head-on with the fundamental challenges of restructuring the economy to allow greater access, restructuring the political system to promote inclusivity, and restructuring the very nature of our uncaring social system.
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South Africa’s salvation will not come through the toxic slate politics of renewal, but through the ballot box in 2024, when a whole new calibre and generation of leaders must step forward to honour the proud legacies of our fallen heroes.
December 16 2022 is a watershed moment where this generation is instructed to act courageously and decisively in defence of our nation.
A new social compact must be defined, and a new social, environmental and political movement must be established. Ultimately this new movement must find political expression in a new political party that is mandated to cleanse the spirit of our nation and work selflessly in the best interest of all groups in our diverse society.
The ANC as “accused number one” is highly implicated and incapable of leading any meaningful process to renew our vision, does not have the will to implement the recommendations of the TRC, is unable to truly act on the recommendations of the Zondo Commission, nor fix our broken political, judicial, economic and social systems.
South Africa has many beautiful and talented leaders with the necessary skills, track record, experience, moral depth and capacity. They would lead with passion, commitment, integrity and diligence to improve the lives of all South Africans. Do not let anyone tell us otherwise – South Africa has dynamic political leaders waiting to be found.
South Africa has a population of 60 million but only eight million of the 26 million registered voters cast their ballots in the 2021 local government elections. South Africans understand the power of their vote, as was demonstrated in 1994. However, 70% of registered voters did not feel confident in 2021 about any of the political parties on the ballot paper. We are well advised to cast our net well beyond the current crop of party-political leaders who have fallen far short.
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Many people may prefer to stay in their comfort zones and will resist change even if it could be positive or beneficial to them. Unfortunately, there is no easy road to freedom. Anything of value requires long periods of hard work, personal sacrifice and learning from the many failures that one may encounter along the way.
I do not know if our ancestors, forefathers, fallen heroes and heroines can hear me, but I would like to humble myself and ask for forgiveness. I should have done more, and sooner, to stop the rot that squandered those freedoms for which you paid the ultimate price. I do not recognise this animal that calls itself the ANC, but I commit whatever little I have left in me to fight only in your honour.
On 16 December we must join hands across all divides and collectively unite to fight for the interests of all our people and put our country first. We must honour our dead by showing respect for the living, and reclaim the gains that were achieved through sweat, the spilling of blood and the shedding of many tears.
On this approaching day of National Reconciliation let us observe a moment of silence. Let us honour our fallen heroes and recommit ourselves to the struggle for our freedom, so that they may truly rest in peace this night.
You light up the night sky, you give us strength and you show us the way. DM