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The anti-intellectualism creeping into the ANC will damage the party more than any scandal, says Max du Preez.
Pretoria - The anti-intellectualism creeping into the ANC will damage the former liberation movement more than any scandal or infighting if not turned around.
It is bad news for South Africa’s political culture.
If anybody told me 20 years ago that a president of the ANC would publicly state that only “bright, clever” people would care about a scandal of monumental proportions like the spending of R247 million on one politician’s private home, I would have accused that person of gross ignorance.
It wasn’t the first time President Jacob Zuma referred disparagingly to “clever” black people.
In 2012, he told Parliament: “Even some Africans, who become too clever, become the most eloquent in criticising themselves about their own traditions.”
He has also repeatedly said black people who voted against the ANC would be punished by their ancestors.
Zuma has led this anti-intellectual trend in the ruling party. He has turned back the natural development and modernisation of traditional cultures in our society and established himself more as a chief and an African Big Man than the president of a modern, open democracy.
That is why he seems to think that there was “nothing wrong” with the spending of so much public money on his palatial Nkandla villa – shades of Mobutu Sese Seko, Felix Houphouet-Boigny and Robert Mugabe.
That is why Zuma has established a culture of fear in the ANC where any demonstration of dissent or proposal of new ideas is now widely accepted as a “career limiting” move.
The media has been identified as the “enemy”. Zuma and his key sycophants in the security cluster and the Communist Party run the party not unlike Joseph Stalin ran the Soviet Union Communist party from the late 1920s.
Consider this. The ANC’s support in Joburg decreased from 69 percent in 2004 to 53 percent this year, but grew from 31.6 percent in 1994 to 65.3 percent in KwaZulu-Natal this year.
The educated middle class is slowly abandoning the ANC.
Zuma’s anti-intellectual instincts have nothing to do with the fact that he doesn’t have much formal education.
Take the example of Walter Sisulu.
He only went to primary school for six years yet he was the brightest mind and thinker in the ANC in the 1940s, nurturing young intellectuals like Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.
Sisulu had a profound impact on the minds of hundreds of young political prisoners on Robben Island through his weekly lectures.
He was without doubt a formidable thinker and intellectual.
There is also no contradiction between being in touch and involved in traditional society and being a modern thinker. Albert Luthuli, ANC president before Tambo, was a good example.
He was a school principal and lecturer, yet he accepted the challenge of being the traditional chief at Groutville where he served until his death.
If there ever was a “bright, clever” black it was Steve Biko. We would all have been much poorer if we never had his remarkable intellectual contribution during the 1970s.
Zuma and his ilk should remember that the ANC has had an intellectual base and proud tradition of deep thinking and debate since it was founded in 1912. Four foreign-educated lawyers, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Alfred Mangena, Richard Msimang and George Montsioa organised the inaugural conference.
Newspaper editor John Tengu Jabavu and theologian John Dube were among the early strong ANC leaders.
Leaders of the first and very influential ANC Youth League were all bright intellectuals: Anton Lembede, whose writings are still valid today, 67 years after his death, Sisulu and lawyers Mandela and Tambo.
Intellectuals played a key role in the ANC over the decades; people like ZK Mathews, Ruth First, Bram Fischer, Yusuf Dadoo, Kader Asmal, Pius Langa, Pallo Jordan, Albie Sachs, Thabo Mbeki and Joel Netshitenzhe.
All bright, clever people.
Several of these were also leading communists. Sadly, the SACP of today, especially since Blade Nzimande took over the leadership, shows no sign of stimulating (or even tolerating) new ideas and thinking. It has become a blunt instrument of raw power with 50 shades of Stalinism.
But the history of “bright, clever” blacks goes back hundreds of years.
A good example is the extraordinary 18th century philosopher Mohlomi and his foremost student, King Moshoeshoe and the Xhosa war-doctor Makhanda, all of them daring and modernising thinkers and theorists.
The media, universities, institutions of civil society and political parties should all commit themselves to nurture and support young intellectuals rather than submit to Zuma and Co’s intimidation and dumbing down of our political culture.
We need more “bright, clever” South Africans to help figure out the way forward in these difficult times, not fewer.
* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.