Johannesburg - The common refrain in the ANC circles, forums and platforms has been the catchphrase of “unity and renewal”.
It has almost become a passcode for any leader’s speech in search of relevance, in whatever platform; be it in the flimsy “public lectures”, conferences of the organisation and those of its so-called Alliance partners, and of course, during meetings.
However, there’s so much said or written about the “once-glorious” organisation of the Afrikan people, on matters of disunity, chaos, crises, fractures, and corruption. This is the situation even as they went to the national policy conference this weekend.
Frankly, the organisation has, through many phases of history, transmogrified into an inglorious movement which has become a vehicle for pursuance of personal agendas, rather than the principled project of liberating the natives of this land.
There, surely, can never be an Armageddon moment for the broad church (pun sharply intended)? There are a plethora of challenges that the party should resolve as a matter of urgency if the magical “renewal” and the elusive “unity” are to be attained.
But there is a big chasm, or a tight divergence that stands on the pathway towards this fantastical destination (unity and renewal).
Truth is, there are polarised motives and understandings of this slippery ambition. Although the call for “unity” is common, the motives are different. That is why the ANC road to “unity and renewal” is blurred by ambiguity and multiple explanations.
It all depends on which faction you are in. You only need to refresh your memory of the episodic 2017 Conference to uncover what “unity” meant for David Mabuza (now Deputy President of the ANC and country).
I see now the various factions attach their own meanings to the phrases “unity and renewal” of the organisation, while, in fact, the intention is not to renew it, but to entrench their factional interests in terms of controlling what has remained of the carcass of the once-glorious movement.
The reality, though, is that the ANC is no more, substantively speaking. Yes, the members are there, conferences are routinely held (as a ritual) and, indeed, Luthuli House still stands strong, albeit as a habitual site for its own employees not to be paid by their ruling party-employer.
So, there is no need for me to even suggest that there is a battle for the soul of the ANC. It would be a total misnomer and absurdity to speak along those lines when the substance (or soul) has long left the organisation.
In this state of paralysis, what is the ANC preoccupied with? Elections at various levels, factional battles and materialism.
In short, the ANC is obsessively busy with everything, but the liberation of black people. This is the era of each one for themselves and “it’s my turn to eat”.
The delicately infamous issue of step-aside policy or rule as a putative route towards unity is hugely ill-advised and thoroughly abused. It’s been made a convenient tool in the hands of some to pursue their factional motives.
It’s plagued by hypocrisy, inconsistency and a lack of integrity. Do you know that for some people, “renewal” means nothing more than purging their opponents? The notions of “the rule of law” and “integrity” are invoked only when those opposed to the hegemon of whiteness or capture of the liberation movement by white capital are targeted.
Hypocrisy is so deep that even those who benefited from the ANC policy of cadre deployment are not ashamed to now bash this necessary avenue for any ruling party serious of making impactful transformation of society.
Cadre deployment is the practical manifestation of political power. It is therefore a bit frustrating (and ridiculous) for the ANC to be debating cadre deployment. In my view, any discussion about this policy should not be about its relevance, but about how to impose it even more vigorously. But correctly!
I was thus elated to hear Ngwako Ramatlhodi, last Wednesday, buttressing this sentiment to say that cadre deployment “is not a problem, in my view, it’s when you deploy wrong people”. In the same breath, he pointed out that the “step-aside rule” is a problem when it’s applied wrongly.
He alluded to the fact that it “should not have eyes, it must be blind like (lady) justice”. So, the ANC policy conference this weekend would have been about all these peripheral issues. It must be quite embarrassing, for both the living and the dead, to observe that the ANC has gotten to that lowest point where the space for intellectual and ideological engagement has been incinerated in favour of debates about the Ankole cattle and so forth? It can’t be that the ANC of Seme is seized with these things, really!
Whither the ANC? This is a question that a friend has asked and answered for himself. I don’t know why he did that. But he argues that this is an intriguing question that has worried him in the last 25 years.
He correctly points out that this same question was asked by the likes of Richard Vernon Selope Thema in the 1930s and by the likes of Lembede, Ngubane and Robert Sobukwe in the late 1940s.
It is hard to say that the ANC has no capacity and willpower of refocusing itself on the substantial issues of the freedom struggle. The ideal of liberation has been put on the back burner in favour of the stomach.
Yes, it’s our turn to eat. It’s the force and power of the stomach that has made it so spectacularly easy for Seme’s organisation to be usurped by our oppressors, the Broederbond. And we are in big trouble, as black people.
My friend further argues (and I begrudgingly agree with him) that, having captured the soul of the ANC, its usurpers will within two decades “have no resistance when they work to take over the soul of the country”.
We have had a disappointing leadership that got distracted by the politics of selfishness and eating to an extent that black people have lost vigilance about crucial matters of their existence. It’s scary, but as things go, we are going back to apartheid rule! Whither the ANC? It’s gone to the enemy.
The problems of the ANC lie in the fact that the organisation has lost focus and veered off the road towards the total liberation of Afrikan people, and that it lacks unity (of Afrikan people). Instead it has individuals and leaders who bat for the race enemy in order to be affirmed by them.
It’s no wonder today, the suffering communities are only black, victims of murders and shooting and many other social ills are black people.
All these under a so-called black government! But, Frantz Fanon makes the point that a black person “selects himself as an object capable of carrying the burden of original sin. The white man chooses the black man for this function, and the black man who is white also chooses the black man”.
This is exactly what the 28 years of the so-called freedom under the ANC has been for black people. This is antithetical to Seme’s strong message of “race pride” or pan-Afrikanism in terms of which “African people have the pride in the African blood which runs through their brains”.
I certainly think our leaders have lost the consciousness propagated by Seme. A typical “black skin, white masks” scenario portrayed by Frantz Fanon indeed.
Seme emphasised the importance of unity. He asserted that “we shall be made slaves indeed unless we can unite and become a nation. If we desire unity then we must form the African National Congress into a solid and impregnable fortress for the defence of our Liberty, even on this Continent”.
However, the ANC of today is, as I have said, incapable of uniting itself, let alone the nation. It’s sad that members of the ANC know what to do in order to salvage what’s left of Seme’s organisation. And it’s such a simple thing; the problem, however, is that it’s a principle and truthful thing to do.
But, as you know, truth and principle are inconvenient.
To this extent, the present members of the ANC don’t seem to love the ANC, for if they did, they would forget about their stomachs and summon courage to kick white monopoly capital out of their fold. In honour of the founder of the organisation, Seme, and the likes of Lembede and AP Mda.
In the ideal sense, the ANC government, if it had consciousness, self-pride and respect of their own people, the natives of this land, they would have appreciated the harsh reality that the lives of black people or black communities are simply sites of disasters, if not dungeons of hell and pain characterised by poverty, hunger, crime, disease and deaths.
And such conditions should be treated as a state of disaster, and such determination should direct the nature of our response or intervention.
I was quite pleased that a YCL leader eloquently made this point with reference to the state of unemployment and poverty to say the government should adopt the same attitude it did when dealing with the onset of Covid-19.
However, that is a display of reactive leadership, a leadership that does not plan beyond the horizon of their noses. I argue that we should invest in our infrastructure and other human resource-related aspects if we need to be prepared for disasters.
In fact, former UN secretary, Kofi Annan, expressed this viewpoint quite presciently, “The value of the investment we made in disaster prevention is not tangible, but it is the disasters that did not happen”. Unfortunately, given the neglect of the last 28 years, we are forced to take the “firefighter” approach that the YCL leader alluded to.
I know this will not happen because the ANC has lost focus of the real mission of the freedom struggle, and is obsessively focused on self-serving practices, elections and so forth.
So, the classic question arises, once again: what is to be done? Pixley ka Isaka Seme would have, already in 1932, spoken to black people in this country thus: “The present is very bad indeed for you, but the future is bound to be worse for you and your children unless we all unite”.
Although Seme spoke in the context where the ANC then was the only liberation organisation, it is clear today that the way to liberation for black people is not the ANC way. Mayibuye iAfrika. Izwe Lethu!
David Letsoalo is a Sankarist, an activist and Law academic