During this centenary year of the people’s organisation (the ANC), when we are called upon to critically reflect on the past hundred years of its existence and determine a way forward to preserve the legacy of this gallant movement of the people, we must confess that the greatest mistake our movement ever made was to assume that the “cadre of the movement”, which is a product of this moment of history, was not capable of being changed by the new context where comrades are now in power with all the resources at their disposal.
Our experience now is that this moment is characterised by the pursuit of self-interest in the form of material gain for self rather than for the people.
This challenge notwithstanding, we actually believed, as we still do today, that the cadre of the movement which was produced by that “moment of madness” of the apartheid system was not corruptible, nor was this cadre capable of being compromised. In fact, I am one of those who defended the movement during the early part of our democracy, especially against critique from our international partners, civil society, and the international community.
I argued strongly that it (as I perceived it then) was not corruptible and that it was not possible to put such cadres on sale.
There was no way they could allow themselves to be bought to serve other interests than the interests of the people.
This view was based on experience: that at the height of the Struggle elaborate efforts were made nationally and internationally through all possible channels, including intelligence entities, to use money to lure comrades to abandon the Struggle and settle with the immoral apartheid design of our country. Even in their poverty they steadfastly refused to be bought or compromised. I argued that we were not on sale.
The classical cadre of the liberation movement could not be sold or agree to be put on sale, but now they are on sale and ready to be bought or bribed to serve their own interests or the interests of other agents (criminal) and foreign governments.
This they do at the expense of the poor we fought for and many died for.
Some easily claim that this was a problem of the “post-1994 new cadre” of the movement who need to be put through a political school to make them real cadres of the movement to emulate Mandela, Sisulu, and others.
The struggle today is not a struggle for the liberation of our people or a struggle for people’s power to pursue the National Democratic Revolution. It is a struggle for control of power to secure self-interests or to make sure that people commit crimes with impunity.
Some try to attribute the malice of today as being a result of the “sin of incumbency”. I agree that there is an element of the “sin of incumbency” which bedevils the character of the movement. But this does not fully explain the behaviour of comrades who are ready to be corrupt, corrupted and thereby compromised. We underestimate the reality that comrades are human beings (like all human beings) and are capable of doing things they know very well that they should not do, even things that are alien to the movement and its culture or things that are contrary to the policies of the organisation.
Whenever I see the reports about corruption, comrades who enrich themselves immorally and unethically, even at the expense of the poor, especially those who voted for them, my heart sinks and makes me to think particularly about all those who sacrificed their lives. My greatest worry is about those who are still alive like Mandela, Cathrada, Mlangeni, Madikizela-Mandela, Shope, Mompati, and many others. If my heart sinks the way it does when I hear about, and see, the trends that are bedevilling our movement, what more is it for those who sacrificed so much for the Struggle? I am sure that even those who are in their graves turn because of the behaviour of some of our comrades. I imagine that those who are still alive do ask fundamental questions as some of us do from time to time. One of these is “Was the sacrifice I made, made in vain?”, “Is this society worth the price I paid and some paid for with their lives?”, “Do these comrades who corrupt the system understand the price we paid for it?”
The best way to save the veterans of the movement from this pain, which could even cause them a heart attack, is to turn around the movement now before Mangaung by making radical decisions to clean up our own house and make sure that by the time we reach Mangaung we are able to elect leaders who will save the movement from the trajectory it is following.
In the name of uTata uMandela, and in this centenary year of the ANC, I want to plead with the leadership and members of the ANC that we cannot go to Mangaung as factions of the movement rather than the united organisation we know. We must never repeat Polokwane by electing a faction of leaders within the movement which can only make us poorer. We must ban factional lists and promote open discussions about the best leaders of the movement we can elect in Mangaung. Like Bloemfontein in 1912, let Mangaung be a sign of hope for our people that their organisation has been saved and is ready to serve the people.
This is where the legacy of Utata uMandela comes in. He has shown us the way and we must follow in his footsteps. If we want to know about the DNA of the ANC we just need to look at the legacy of uTata uMandela and his generation of leaders, including the departed. The DNA of the ANC will show that the ANC can only be about the people and not about itself and its members only. That the DNA of the ANC is not about the interests of those in power but about those of the poor, including the unemployed and marginalised. An ANC that is not pro-poor cannot be ANC. The DNA of the ANC does not allow for corruption or misuse of public funds and resources.
One comrade who was in exile and dealt with money told me that the ANC was a tolerant organisation that is ready to pardon its members, even the most deviant, but there was no pardon for misuse of funds!
The greatest challenge, though, is how the new generation of cadres will know about this legacy without access to this information. How can we preserve the DNA of the ANC if the younger generation struggles to even understand the roles played by veteran leaders like Mandela? How do we make information accessible to them? What is the state of our archives?
The first challenge is for us to collect all historical documents, statements, speeches, comments, articles, records, recordings, tapes, CDs, DVDs, etc, to be able to complete our story.
This will require us to reach out to the whole world, as the history of the liberation movement and that of our veterans like uTata uMadiba reached the uttermost parts of the world. I am often stopped and made to listen to some of the recorded speeches I made during the Struggle in foreign countries. Having listened one only realised how historically important these texts are.
The second challenge is that of preserving this information or documents which unfortunately fade away with time unless preserved in a particular specialised form. Four years ago I had an opportunity to unpack my boxes and files with old historical documents and material and I was shocked to find some of them already fading out or damaged.
My challenge to all of you today is for us to start writing our own stories rather than wait for someone to write it for us or interview us and then become the primary source for the information. I make this point strongly in my second recently published book entitled, Eight Days in September: the Removal of Thabo Mbeki.
We need to learn from our history to ensure that we do not lose the DNA of our liberation movement. The one thing we must promise uTata Mandela is that we will not leave your organisation to die or lose its DNA. We will do everything within our power to ensure that corrupt elements among us do not lead us astray.
n Chikane is former director-general in the presidency. This is an edited speech he delivered in honour of Nelson Mandela this week.