As I was coming from a January 8th celebration event on Wednesday, a young man that got into the lift with me at my apartment building, responding to my ANC golf shirt and cap, called me “Mr. Money Bags”.
Intrigued, but also somewhat irritated, I asked him why he called me that. Oh, he said, but you ANC guys are the people loaded with money.
In the nature of chats in lifts, the conversation ended when he reached his floor and I was left to link this exchange of a few words with a conversation that I had a couple of months ago with another young man, a member of the ANC Youth League.
Bulging with the baby fat of youth, helped along by the good life, I wondered why his clothes were a few sizes too small pronouncing every curve and roll.
But what intrigued me even more was how the young man managed to turn himself into a walking display of expensive brands - Gucci belt, Louis Vuitton sneakers, Emilio Zegna shirt, True Religion jeans, Tom Ford sunglasses - I could not help but wonder what brand his underwear was, and if there was a way to display that too, I had no doubt that he certainly would have done so.
He was wearing all these expensive branded clothes like badges of honour. They were telling everyone, who even bothered to give him a fleeting glimpse, “I have arrived”.
The question of course is, arrived where and to what?
The answer came in what was for me a rather startling exchange with this overfed young ‘brand ambassador’ (no young lion here). I asked him what he concentrated on, business or politics. Without batting an eyelid, he responded nonchalantly: “Is there a difference?”.
For this young man who was either not yet born, or running around in diapers, when we had our first democratic elections in 1994, the ANC is nothing else but a conveyor belt to make money.
I doubt if he knows anything about our liberation struggle history. A quick quiz session about the history and policies of the ANC would probably leave me aghast, and him blank and irritated.
However, I have no doubt that he could teach me a thing or two about how to arrange that a lucrative tender can come one’s way.
These two encounters, together with numerous others that space does not allow me to recount here, personifies the vulgarity of the death of ideology in our beloved movement.
Let’s call a spade a spade, ultimately this is exactly what the death of ideology is - the pursuit of money at all cost, and the conspicuous consumption thereof, is fast strangling the ANC from continuing to be a liberation movement with pro-poor ideologies and a commitment to the empowerment of the majority of poor black South Africans.
The ideological commitment to a just and people’s centered government, committed to the implementation of the Second Phase of the National Democratic Revolution, is being replaced by the selfish gratification of ‘me myself, and I’.
In recent years this has nowhere been more nauseatingly visible than during the January 8 celebrations. Conspicuous consumption, and straight down debauchery have become the order of the day for much of these celebrations.
Bars and luxury restaurants are packed to the brim with revelers who think nothing about running up astronomical bills for ridiculously overpriced champagne and single malt whiskeys, Cuban cigars and all kinds of exotic food.
One night bar and restaurant bills of over R 50 000, or even R 100 000, are proudly photographed and posted on WhatsApp groups, and social media.
These social media posts scream: “Look at me, I have arrived. I am the big man!”
Every year young women are driven in mini-bus loads to the various different cities where the January 8 celebrations take place, and this year again it is no different for Kimberley.
Mostly they are poor and desperate, looking for an easy way to get out of the poverty they feel trapped in. While some ANC comrades, knowing all too well these dynamics, shamelessly and cynically exploit them.
Increasingly the days of reveling, before and after the January 8 Rally, can be characterized as an alcohol and drug fueled punani binge.
Sadly this was even formally recognized, and apparently sanctioned, by the MEC for Finance, Economic Development and Tourism, Comrade Maruping Lekwene, when he declared that he was convinced that it was ‘in the public interest’ to change the conditions of the holders of liquor licenses, so that they could from the 9th to the 11th of January sell alcohol on a non-stop basis.
It was only because of the anger and public outcry of the ANC Women’s League, who complained that this will reduce the anniversary celebrations to a drinking spree, that the notice to that effect that the MEC had already published in the Government Gazette, was revoked. However, the attitude reflected by this incident has not been challenged adequately.
Last year’s January 8 celebrations in eThekwini brought us not only the nauseating photos of exorbitant drinking spree bills, which really are nothing less than a slap in the face of the majority of poor South Africans, but it also brought WhatsApp ads calling for young women to prostitute themselves.
One such WhatsApp message said that 10 women were required for R7 000 each to spend the night at a villa in the luxury coastal estate of Zimbali.
In another social media post a young woman student declared that ANC comrades are “so generous”, and that having come to the ANC celebrations she made enough money to pay her university fees for the whole year.
All of this is also reflected in what has been an increasingly disturbing trend with regards to accreditation for the main anniversary rally. While many ANC veterans who have dedicated their lives to the liberation struggle battle to get accredited, and when they do eventually get some low level accreditation, are relegated to the worst seats in the stadium, young women, who were not even been born in 1994, are in their numbers given VIP accreditation.
Once again, most of them, if they are asked any questions about the history and policies of the ANC would be floored. They have no interest in the ANC, except for what they will receive from the ANC men who arrange their VIP access accreditation.
Among the accreditation staff they are talked about as “leadership stock”, who must be accredited at every cost.
I have seen what that cost is in the crestfallen devastated face of a veteran, and ex-Robben Island prisoner, who was brutally pushed away by security staff and blocked from entering a VIP lounge, while a ‘pretty young thing’, waving her VIP accreditation, breezed past.
I ask myself how far have we already degenerated our beloved liberation movement, when young women are literally bussed in to be abused and to satisfy the sexual appetites of lecherous so-called ‘comrades’. How can we as the ANC, with any semblance of credibility and legitimacy address the critical issues of patriarchy, misogyny and gender based violence, when there are those among us who refer to women as ‘stock’, as if they are cattle to be delivered to the slaughterhouses of our sexual depravity - which we cynically dress up as liberation celebrations? Is this what it had come to, that the ANC is literally being prostituted?
The past week I went back into the audio archives of Radio Freedom, and I listened to the January 8 Statements that President OR Tambo broadcasted from exile. While doing so I remembered how I listened, together with fellow comrades in Alexandra township, with bated breath to some of those statements in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. How we were literally hanging on the lips of our comrade president, and how we took in every word and made it our own.
Those Statements were filled with ideological clarity, revolutionary purpose and resolve. They literally gave us our marching orders.
Today I ask myself, do many of those who will arrive perpetually late at the rally, blurry-eyed and hungover from a previous night of debauchery, even hear - or care for - the January 8 Statement that President Cyril Ramaphosa will be delivering? Will there be ideological clarity and revolutionary purpose?
Where are the likes of those young cadres who listened to comrade OR on Radio Freedom, and got our marching orders?
Can the ANC regain its revolutionary heart, or has it been lost to a lesser time characterized by the death of ideology and selfish self-gratification?
These are issues that on the eve of this year’s January 8 Rally we are grappling with, and the questions I ask myself.
In asking them, I do not at all say that there are not many good and deeply dedicated comrades still in the ANC. However, as a loyal veteran of the ANC, I feel it is my revolutionary duty to raise these issues, and to challenge myself, and every ANC member, about what we are doing with the rich historical revolutionary legacy of our beloved liberation movement.
It was Comrade OR Tambo who in exile revitalized the importance of the ANC birthdate on the 8th of January, as the critical day on which the ANC does introspection, and speaks with ideological and revolutionary clarity, as the leader of society, to the people of South Africa.
We owe it to his legacy, and the legacy and sacrifices of so many thousands of liberation fighters who have laid down their lives for our liberation, not to debase this important day.
The time has truly come that we must denounce the selfish, self-serving, debased and hedonistic tendencies that threaten to destroy the oldest liberation movement on the African continent.
Let me conclude with one last point: As I was mulling over the need to talk out about these very disturbing issues, without sugar coating them, and mentioned to some of my fellow comrades that I intend to write this article, I was warned that I should not do so.
I was told that there are those among us who will take offense, and will try to use me raising these issues to attack me.
That they will question my loyalty to the ANC, and even try to drive me out of the movement that I have dedicated my whole life to.
I find it deeply disturbing and sad that such fears could even exist. It shows how far we have degenerated along the slippery slope of intolerance and self-delusion.
I had to ask myself whether I should allow such fears to prevent me from speaking out, and the answer was crystal clear: as a loyal member of the ANC, I am duty bound to raise my concerns.
I do so, not in any way as an attack on the ANC, which is my home, and the only family I really have, but out of loyalty and love for the ANC I grew up in.
The ANC, to use the words of comrade OR Tambo: “Which carries the historical revolutionary task on its shoulders to lead our people to achieve their own liberation”.
* Carl Niehaus is a veteran of the ANC, a former member of the ANC NEC, and currently a member of the NEC of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) and national spokesperson of MKMVA. He writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.