Ben Turok, veteran ANC MP, has warned against a growing “narrow” African nationalism in the party and called for non-racialism and a strong parliamentary democracy that does not decline into a one-party state.
Less than a week before the party’s policy conference begins in Midrand on Tuesday, Turok said there was a need for the party leadership to encourage its members to read the documents of the 1969 ANC conference held in Morogoro, Tanzania.
These confirmed that “narrow black nationalism or chauvinism” were a “distraction from socio-economic transformation for a country like ours”, he said.
“Now some of our comrades nowadays don’t read that stuff. It is pretty vulgar and the ANC must do something about it. (Political) liberation without economic liberation is meaningless,” he said.
“This is tokenism in a sense.”
Turok was speaking at the launch of two books, Ruth First and Albert Luthuli, which are the first instalments in a Human Sciences Research Council series called Voices of Liberation.
A clearer definition of nation-building should not bury ideologies, but lead to a common thread in the ANC in terms of “what we want to see in the country”.
Turok criticised what he saw as an abdication of responsibility by the ANC in passing institutional memory on to youth formations.
“I’m a bit appalled by black students at UCT – and of course white students, but they are already corrupted,” he said.
“There is no doubt that the values imparted by (the SA Students Congress) and the (ANC) youth league are not the values I share or Ruth shared. The ANC is also culpable… in the style of its culture, the business connection stuff – it’s all very nasty.”
Turok said discussion at next week’s ANC policy conference should not centre on expelled youth league president Julius Malema.
Turok said he had three wishes for the country. These were that “we get a grip on corruption”, promote non-racialism, and ensure parliamentary democracy.
He called for corrupt officials to be prosecuted, and for an end to “narrow (racial) chauvinism”.
He said parliamentary democracy was “another paradox for the ANC”.
During the Presidency’s budget vote in Parliament, only 58 percent of MPs had been present.
“We used to have 67 percent present – and it doesn’t get more serious than a vote on the president.”
A healthy democracy needed opposition and criticism, Turok said.
“One-party rule is very, very dangerous. So let’s treasure and support multiparty democracy.”
Speaking about the paradoxes that characterised Luthuli and First as well as the ANC, Turok cautioned that today this was “where the centre almost falls”, because the centre was “not well-defined”.
“I think one has to say the two individuals were very different. Their values were very different,” he said.
“(Slain SACP activist) Ruth First came through a communist ideology, she was a convinced Marxist. (Nobel Peace Prize-winning ANC president) Luthuli was very devout and very ‘centre’ in his thinking.
“But that’s the nature of the liberation movement – the desire to achieve (democracy), notwithstanding the different ideological backgrounds they had.”
In a touching recollection, Turok spoke of an afternoon spent on Camps Bay beach with Luthuli and communist party leaders Fred Carneson and Sonia Bunting, before the ANC president addressed a meeting in Rondebosch in the 1950s.
He also recalled his three sons chasing First and her husband, lawyer and SACP leader Joe Slovo’s three daughters around Bram Fischer’s pool. Fischer was a member of the defence team in the treason trial of 1956-61 and a former SACP leader.
Luthuli, a fellow treason trialist, was a “humble and quiet person”, Turok said.
First was “outstanding, extremely bright, although rather staccato in her style”.
The author of the book on First, veteran journalist Don Pinnock, reflected on her famously opulent sense of style.
“People always said she was very fancy, that she had 30 pairs of Italian shoes, that she loved handbags. (Former Constitutional Court justice and friend of First) Albie Sachs said: ‘You cannot be held to what she was born into.’ How she dressed, how she looked was irrelevant,” Pinnock said.
Turok said he believed “very strongly” there should be a free press. He has taken flak from the ANC for abstaining from voting on the Protection of State Information Bill in November, and is facing disciplinary charges from the ANC for this.
Turok said members of Parliament’s ethics committee, of which he is chairman, used press reports to identify what to investigate.
“If we were without the press, we would be hamstrung.”
However, Turok criticised “sensationalism and distortion”, such as headlines that had “nothing to do” with the content of a report, as the “enemy of the press”.
On the secrecy bill, he said: “Ruth would be horrified at the way we are going.”
On the Traditional Courts Bill,
Turok said he thought the governing party had “got it wrong” with regard to the powers and influence accorded to traditional leaders. He called for a demarcation between the state and traditional leaders.