Max du Preez tests the revolutionaries of the present ruling alliance against the standards set by the United Democratic Front.
Durban - The ANC and its alliance partners, the SACP and Cosatu, maintain that “the revolution” is not over.
They call one another comrade and refer to their members as cadres. Critics are called counter-revolutionaries. They toyi-toyi and sing Struggle songs, 20 years on. They refer to their head office as Revolutionary House. They say only the first phase of the National Democratic Revolution has been won; the rest of the revolution still has to be fought.
Sure, the struggle for a more equal society, the empowerment of the powerless and the relief of crippling poverty are far from over, so, for the sake of argument, let us agree that we still need a revolution.
Now let’s test the revolutionaries of the present ruling alliance against the standards set by those who should probably take the greatest credit for forcing the apartheid state to the negotiating table: the United Democratic Front, formed exactly 30 years ago last week. And let us use the characterisation of the UDF of one of its leaders and most energetic activists, Pravin Gordhan, a picture that corresponds with my own experience of the UDF.
Gordhan writes in the Sunday Times: “The UDF spirit and values are as relevant for us today in the struggle against poverty and unemployment as they were when we fought apartheid.
“The UDF was imbued with the spirit of volunteerism and robust debate. Its character was one of inclusiveness. It understood that people, rather than money, were key to the success of their campaigns and its activist core believed in hard work, sacrifice and integrity.”
Gordhan adds: “As we remember the UDF’s contribution to or struggle for democracy and social justice, we need to reflect on how we can still hold on to the democratic culture of the UDF. The ‘monetisation’ of activism can seriously undermine the democratic values we want to embed in our national conduct.”
Volunteerism. Robust debate. Inclusiveness. Democratic culture. Hard work. Sacrifice. Integrity. People rather than money. Non-racialism.
Now let us apply these criteria to the new, post-apartheid “revolutionaries” of the ANC alliance. Shocking, ne?
The commander-in-chief of the new revolutionaries is a patriarchal, homophobic ethnic nationalist whose personal bills were once paid by a shady businessman who was sent to jail for doing it.
The commander stands accused of abusing the state machinery and intelligence bodies to stay out of jail and to discredit his political enemies. More than R200 million of state money was spent on this revolutionary’s private villa while he already has three other mansions at his disposal.
His friendship with a wealthy Indian clan, probably mostly motivated by financial contributions, led to an incident that compromised our national sovereignty, security and pride when they treated our country as a private fiefdom.
His chief sycophant and leader of the SACP, the party once led by real communists such as Moses Mabhida, Bram Fischer, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani, is a strutting egotist and petty factionalist with suspected Stalinist tendencies and very expensive tastes.
His favourite pastime is to conjure up new enemies of his fake revolution, and he has found many: imperialists, the West, racists, capitalists, neo-liberals, ultra-leftists, anti-majoritarianists and more.
Under the leadership of this new brand of revolutionaries the education of the black youth, the one sure way of liberating them, was criminally mismanaged.
Under their leadership, police brutality has again become a common phenomenon.
They have created a culture of corruption and billions of rand that could have been spent on land redistribution, job creation and poverty alleviation disappeared into private pockets.
Some revolutionaries. Not one of the characteristics I highlighted above applies.
I think a more appropriate description of our rulers would be: a self-enriching, power-hungry and largely corrupt elite; an opportunistic alliance of right-wing nationalists, greedy capitalists, cushy trade unionists hell-bent on keeping the unemployed out of jobs and pseudo-communists in love with power and money.
Not all of them, to be honest. But most of them.
This sick charade distorts our national discourse. Most commentators and public intellectuals find themselves trapped in this narrow construct and play along with the fantasy, pussy-footing around the real issues for fear of being branded counter-revolutionaries, reactionaries, racists or the running dogs of the enemies of the masses.
In the process most of us stick to the lexicon of a revolution of a threatened, oppressed people facing powerful external enemies, even when we criticise those in power.
The danger is that the new ruling elite gets away with betraying the real revolution by cynically invoking the suffering, sacrifices and symbolism of the past instead of governing properly and in the interests of all the people.
The real enemy of the real revolution is within.
Viva, comrades, viva. A luta continua. Each one teach one. Awulethe umshini wami. Et cetera.
* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.