Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency/ANA
JOHANNESBURG - The passing of the Mother of the Nation, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, delved into our inner-consciences and the grief was, and continues to be, palpable in South Africa.

Her passing revealed our nakedness and our profound inability to survive our apartheid past as a wounded nation.

The grief emitted a plethora of finger-pointing in all directions - marking in a way our under-prepared state towards becoming a nation that can heal, survive, thrive and, indeed, ultimately transform.

This is a dangerous state to be in and any declarations and commitments sparked by the national, but divided, meaning of our grief unfortunately remains barren.

Whether true or not, the fact that there are publishable reports that there was a feud as regards family and party on how the matriarch of the nation would be honoured suggests the parlous state of our polity.

This may possess a grain of truth, however, given our history on how we attempted to honour each of those who passed on.

This is from the booing that occurred at the memorial service of President Nelson Mandela to the barring of some highly placed members of the ruling party from attending the funerals of Makhenkesi Stofile and Ahmed Kathrada, among others. Mama Winnie was not pleased with the state of our democracy and she was open about it.

Johannesburg. ANC 54th National Conference (ANC Elective conference), Johannesburg Expo Centre, NASREC and date 2017/12/ 15 Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela at the ANC National Conference in NaSREC picture Ayanda Ndamane/African New agency/ANA

This brings me to Polokwane, where the then-president of the ANC, Thabo Mbeki, asked the party three times about what divides us.

On the third ask, there was a rising voice that said and pointed fingers at him saying “You”.

In the fullness of time, evidence points to the notion that “indeed the mob had spoken”. Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him.

As he continued in his speech, Mbeki had cast his moment to the current.

He captured this as the “centenary celebrations” of the longest-living political movement of the people and asked again a profound question of how, at that moment, we would honour them.

He provided guidance as to how we should honour them by elaborate references to the commitments made by his predecessor, president Mandela.

He also used his own tenure and highlighted the significance of focusing on this honouring as providing prospects for ridding the party of what divided it.

It is important to quote the question he posed during that honouring:

“Again, the 52nd national conference will have to ask itself a very direct question and answer this question honestly and frankly: does the ANC have the will and capacity to lead our country and people over the next five years in a manner that will enable the nation to celebrate our centenary in 2012 together, paying heartfelt tribute to our movement for what it has and would have done to sacrifice everything for our liberation; and, using that freedom to lead the national offensive to accelerate the advance towards the creation of a South Africa that truly belongs to all who live in it.

“This 52nd national conference of our movement must answer this question through all the decisions it will take. All of us must continue to march together as true comrades to implement the decisions we will take at this last ordinary national conference before we celebrate on January 8, 2012, the centenary of this great movement of the people, the ANC.

“On that day, we must be able to stand together as a united movement for revolutionary change, confident that the heroes and heroines who perished for our liberation and placed in our hands this irreplaceable repository of the hopes and aspirations of the masses of our people, the ANC.

“While we live and have even an ounce of strength in our bones, all of us, genuine and loyal members of the ANC, must act in a manner that truly confirms that the ANC lives: the ANC leads”

Mbeki concluded by saying: “If I may, I would like to reiterate the suggestion I have made - I formally propose to the delegates that this national conference should give itself time to discuss these matters that are of central importance to the very nature and survival of our movement as truly a people’s movement.”


You see, the government had painted four scenarios by 2003 and these were monitored continuously.

They were Skedonk, Muvhango, Dudisanang and Shosholoza.

The outcome of the Polokwane Conference opened the door for Muvhango - a scenario that opened doors for laundering politics and the civil service.

This ultimately gave birth to Skedonk - the highest level of political and economic failure, which is the junk status we have today.

So accurately predicted was this period under Muvhango and Skedonk that Mbeki had these restless and troubling questions in Polokwane.

Now we can ask the questions in hindsight - a perfect sight.

How have we honoured them - those who paid the ultimate price in this significant period of our history?

Lest we forget and make further deadly mistakes, the Skedonk scenario went further to say the ANC would have to go back to the nation in shame, confessing how it spoilt the country’s fortunes. It would go seeking their forgiveness - and then perhaps the nation could make its choices.

Collen Maine, the Saul turned Paul, seems to have understood the necessity of walking this path of confession ahead of everyone else - that many would be advised to walk voluntarily. Many would and should learn that public power is borrowed power.

Mistakes of omission occur even within the best of families. But refusing to answer the strategic question of how we dispensed with borrowed power is not an error - it is purposeful commission of arrogation of public power.

We should not rush to making pledges as this will hide from the facts of arrogation of power.

Let Mbeki’s questions in Polokwane be the energy settling the dust.

That will perhaps grant us the capacity and a chance in hell to heal, survive, thrive and transform.

Our grief now for our beloved Winnie, the Mother of the Nation, reflects none of the answers to these questions that pointed not only to the 100 years, but to how, in a different scenario - a Shosholoza scenario - a consolidation of the Struggle would have honoured the passing of stalwarts as a glorious moment.

It would salute the passing of an era with pride because of significantly changed material conditions of a people.

The passing on of the Mother of the Nation has granted us a second chance - let us not waste it.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.