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Johannesburg - If he could turn back the clock, Ronnie Kasrils would do it all again and encourage South Africans to use their vote to bring the ANC down.
Despite the ANC victory, there is still no knowing what impact his Vukani! Sidikwe! – or Vote No! – campaign had on Wednesday’s elections, yet the former ANC stalwart is confident he made the electorate sit up and think.
His only regret is that his campaign was understood as a call not to vote instead of what it really was: “a strategic way of bringing change”.
“We said choose a party you can feel comfortable with. Even if it’s just a one-person show, choose it, vote for it. Look at (the late) Helen Suzman and what she did as a lone voice in Parliament (during the apartheid era). But if you can’t find a party or person you are comfortable with, then we said you have the democratic right to spoil your ballot paper. A spoiled vote can also send a signal. But first and foremost it was a call to vote, a strategic vote.”
Kasrils spoke on Wednesday afternoon in the Johannesburg suburb of Parkhurst, where he used to live. Though the 75-year-old activist did not spoil his vote, he declined to say which party won it.
“I don’t want to be pigeonholed as being a UDM man or a red beret man or whatever, as labeling kills the conversation. But I can tell you my vote belongs to a party with a socialist orientation.”
What kind of a conversation did Sidikwe! spark?
“We have shaken things up. We have created a national debate about blind loyalty to a particular party. And in the process we got people thinking and talking and if it’s just that that we achieved, then that’s really something quite commendable and which I’m proud of.”
Though he was a staunch ANC man – and Communist Party member – during and after the struggle era, he allowed his ANC membership to lapse long before the launch of Sidikwe! this year.
“I became incredibly disillusioned with the direction in which the ANC was moving many years ago. During the Polokwane ‘putsch’ (in 2007), I saw this really ugly face of the ANC emerging. The way they gerrymandered that particular conference, and packed it with so-called members, voting fodder, was sickening. And I was approaching 70 and I just didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a stale organisation, which I felt was going downhill. I just didn’t have the stomach for what I could see was coming.
“But my disillusionment began long before Polokwane. I had my run-in from the time of the hoax e-mail saga (in 2005 when he was Intelligence Minister), and I could see how the State apparatus was being manipulated by Luthuli House and how elements within the State, and particularly with the intelligence and security departments, were no longer serving the State and therefore through the State, the people and the Constitution. It had become politicised and was serving other agendas, a personalised agenda vis-à-vis one Jacob Zuma.
“We had the rape trial (in 2005, in which Zuma was accused of raping the daughter of a family friend) and people were attacking me as though I had created a honey trap.”
“Of course not. Absolutely not. The imbecility of it all. If one wanted to create a honey trap – of using a young woman who was publicly declared HIV positive and was a lesbian. I’m not of that kind. I have absolutely nothing to do with that.
“What I saw happening then sickened me, the way members of the party outside government pilloried this young woman in the ugliest manner and I saw these were the people who came to the fore at Polokwane and that wasn’t the ANC that I had devoted my life to.”
Though retired, Kasrils has been outspoken on a number of issues over the years; from the Marikana massacre to the Secrecy Bill to the Nkandla scandal. But it was only with Sidikiwe! that his comrades really began to tear him to shreds. Justifiably?
“Absolutely unjustifiably. I think it’s a well-known fact that when people are bankrupt, in terms of substance of argument, and they have lost the argument and the debate, they resort to personal attacks. From Jeremy Cronin, to Gwede Mantashe to Blade Nzimande.
“Jeremy I think has really come out in his true colours as an absolute opportunist. I just feel very sorry for the man. A man with a fine brain who has descended to a point where he is still defensive of a state that has shot down striking miners in Marikana, pointing fingers of blame at vigilantes within Amcu and whatever else. It must be the only Communist Party in the world that does not condemn the police for shooting down striking miners.
“When Jeremy attacked Sidikwe! he reduced it to an embittered personalised position with Jacob Zuma and Nkandla. He didn’t even have the guts in his statement about us to mention Marikana. What does it say about Cronin? Absolutely disgusting. Disgraceful.”
In many respects the ANC still trades on its struggle credentials and the victory it helped bring about in 1994. Could this ANC, Zuma’s ANC, have brought down apartheid?
“This ANC is diametrically opposed to the ANC that was able to have the capacity and the moral high ground to maximize the unity of the people from the divergent backgrounds we come from.
“This ANC operates in the opposite direction, driving people away and in the process and becoming very ethnic.
“If you bring down apartheid, you build a new future in a real transition that maximizes the unity of people behind a real moral cause.
“I don’t see that moral cause today.” - The Sunday Independent