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UDF40 celebrations must not be abused in an attempt to resuscitate the ANC

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Sunny Morgan is the co-convener of Debt for Climate, a global Climate debt cancellation campaign.

As I celebrate the founding of the UDF in 1983 and at the same time mourn its demise in 1991, I will be cautious in these celebrations that I don’t become an unwitting contributor to giving the ANC another win in 2024.

I have been married for over 36 years and every year we celebrate our marriage. We share gifts, I write love letters and we talk a lot! Mostly we talk about our dreams, our progress and how far we have come. It’s a time to chat about what worked, what didn’t and what is still left to do.

In a loving, but always realistic way, we examine our journey and celebrate our wins. Always committing to do better. We have a good life; our lives together are evidence of the hard work and effort we put into our relationship and that of building our family. So, on the anniversary of our wedding, we celebrate.

Had things gone the wrong way for us, and say we got divorced after eight or nine years, the story would have been different. No yearly celebrations, no anniversaries, no long conversations of a journey well-travelled. No celebrations at all.

There may have been the odd call to talk about what could have been, to revel in dreams and imagine a different outcome had we continued our journey. But alas, there would always be regret and disappointments about what might have been.

That is why I’m confused by the United Democratic Front (UDF) 40th anniversary. It was founded in 1983, but it shut down in 1991. That’s an eight-year string of the most important work. It was relevant, it was powerful and its place in the history of South Africa is assured.

It is correct and appropriate that we commemorate its founding. In less than a decade it made the biggest impact on South Africa at a time of great confusion and upheaval.

But I am cynical and suspect that those now calling for a revival of the UDF are in essence calling for the renewal of the ANC. It’s their attempt, misguided or not, that the history and legacy of the UDF can somehow save the ANC now.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Go Back, Give Back, Build Back’ – how to best honour the spirit of the UDF on its 40th anniversary

A cursory look at those who are calling for a revival of the UDF finds people like Reverend Frank Chikane, Popo Molefe, Murphy Morobe and Cheryl Carolus, all luminaries of the ANC, all members of the so-called Group of 100 Veterans and Stalwarts of the ANC. The once youthful, passionate and revolutionary leaders of the 1980s, are now in the twilight years of their lives, the youngest most certainly over 50 now.

A significant number of the main body of the UDF went into politics or business, a fair number found their way into the state bureaucracy. I opine that they feel somehow indebted to the ANC, or at best are nostalgic for the past when the ANC or UDF were in its heyday! They may even harken back to the days of the glorious movements of the people!

General election 2024

This year’s commemoration is different from the 20th and 30th-anniversary commemorations.

This time around the commemoration coincides with an imminent general election. The UDF, for better or worse, was a broad church of ANC-aligned affiliates. This notion may now be contested but in 1983, it would have been clear to most that its raison d’etre was the unbanning of political parties, release of the leaders, and elections for all; notwithstanding the original action was against the formation of the Tricameral Parliament the apartheid state was introducing in August of 1983.

In 2024 the ANC faces the elections as a political party in disarray, factionalism is rife, its track record in tatters, tarnished by allegations of corruption and a president out of touch with reality on the ground.

How convenient then, that the UDF, the organisation with a solid history, closely aligned with the ANC, is celebrating the 40th year of its founding. 

Why not tie this message to a revival of community organisation, street committees and active citizenry?

How convenient that this is the working model for ANC mobilisation too.

My question is why now?

I suspect that some in the UDF of old still feel that the ANC is the best or at least the better political option in South Africa and want to make sure that they do their part to see the continuation of the status quo. They want to do their part and hope that this will galvanise the electorate to vote so that it results in a higher turnout, especially those who have historical ties to the UDF or the ANC in one way or another.

A higher turnout of this type of voter favours the ANC of course. That is why they are now encouraging active citizenry, creating a moral imperative on individuals to do the right thing, so to speak. Something that other organisations like the Active Citizens Movement have been calling for some years now. 

So, as I celebrate the founding of the UDF in 1983 and at the same time mourn its demise in 1991 I will be cautious that in these celebrations I don’t become an unwitting contributor to giving the ANC another win in 2024.

We need a break from the ANC, its almost three decades of rule have been largely disastrous for the country. Its legacy will always be our liberation, its failures, our lived reality, so spare us, please.

If on the other hand, this is a genuine attempt to do something meaningful to prevent us slipping further into disaster, then the leaders pushing for the revival of the UDF must first and foremost distance themselves from the ruling elites, especially the incumbents.

If they can achieve that, then it may have a chance of success and must therefore be given the benefit of the doubt. DM

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  • Hermann Funk says:

    Considering that the UDF was fighting for a better SA for all, it is duty bound to make sure that the ANC is not staying in power. Otherwise they are just as incompetent and blind as Ramaphosa and his crew.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Sunny : it is a travesty that 91 resulted in a tripartite alliance of ANC + SACP + Cosatu while probably the biggest / broadest community player (UDF) being ended. The SACP was and remains insignificant. Cosatu had numbers but those numbers derived from its union mandate not necessarily a political mandate. How much structure and numbers did the ANC have? Nobody knows.

    Perhaps the people longing for revival of the UDF are the ones that are too embarrassed to support the ANC and now therefore now seek a new, honest home?

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Hi Mr Morgan

    I would just like to thank you for your contribution to a democratic and working South Africa during the time of the UDF – and also now in raising this warning.

    Sadly, the ANC will stop at nothing to cling onto power, regardless of the cost to our beautiful country and all our peoples, and we need everyone to be hyper-vigilant coming up to the next election.

    Thank you again.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Is there any evidence that those wanting the resurrection of a UDF type organisation have seriously ‘distanced’ themselves from the current corrupt ANC ?

  • Abel Appel says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. It is time for the ANC to make way for those parties or entities who are prepared to govern in the best interests of all. The present corruption and incompetence at every level of Government must come to an end in 2024.

  • praviennanaidoo says:

    This article is soooo off the mark…😱

    No one has called for the revival of the UDF.

    We have called for the revival of the UDF’s spirit (values, principles, ethos) and modus operandi (community and sector-based mass mobilisation)…✊🏽

    We are also calling for mobilising and supporting the strengthening of an active citizenry to make their mark at next year’s polls, amongst other things.

    The people – and no one else – must decide who governs them after the next general elections.

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