The real numbers: What would Mlangeni think of the state of our democracy?
By Pali Lehohla
JOHANNESBURG - Last Wednesday, South Africa bowed in pain as Andrew Mlangeni, the last surviving Rivonia trialist, passed on a month after he celebrated his 95th birthday. In a different country, Mlangeni and his ilk would be celebrated the same way that Italians still remember Horatius Cocles’ legendary defence of Pons Sublicius Bridge in ancient Rome. Former president Thabo Mbeki told the ANC’s elective conference in Polokwane that the party needed to pay tribute to its past leaders, activists and comrades-in-arms who had passed on. Mbeki counted among others, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Wilton Mkwayi, Ray Simons, Adelaide Tambo, Eric Molobi, Dumisane Makhaye, Edgar Ngoyi, Norman Mashabane, Frans Mohlala, Yasser Arafat and many others. He was aware that despite the growing malaise towards the party’s centenary celebrations in 2012, the ANC needed to honour those who paid the heaviest price for us to enjoy the freedom we currently have. Centenary celebrations should not be just a moment in time for the party, but a mobilisation of the whole nation towards a future. Late president Nelson Mandela, who was still alive when Mbeki addressed the Polokwane conference, proudly honoured ANC Youth League founding president Anton Lembede when he took his oath of office. Today Mandela, the first accused in the Rivonia trial, and his cohorts can justifiably ask of the whereabouts of the baton they passed on to us. Mlangeni joins other moralists who sacrificed for the freedoms we have today. But the question is on what pillow is his head rested? Will it be on the Zondo Commission and the revelations of a country that is different from the one he envisaged? His luminary revolutionary credentials should have set South Africa on a path to a freedom that we all could be proud of. Not one where the graves of the stalwarts are literally desecrated by the greed of the current – the greed that has no limits in the form of VBS plunder in which many political parties have had a hand. Today, the dreams of widows and old poor women who had the wisdom, vision and an action plan on how to set themselves on a long journey to economic freedom, have been squashed into a nightmare. South Africa should see an ascendency of material betterment in Polokwane. The current coronavirus epidemic has just accelerated the momentum of decline. We have behaved like an alcoholic son who has plundered and squandered all his parent’s worth only to wail and cry at the time of their demise. That is why we have to ask ourselves what the true meaning of mourning our loss as Mlangeni leaves us. He might just be forgiving if we show respect, remorse and remedy to the Venda mothers and grandmothers who died and those who live with their hopes squashed by greedy party operatives. Then maybe Mlangeni will have the courage to talk to Lembede about the difficult prospects of “Freedom in our Lifetime”. May His Soul Rest In Peace
Dr Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa.