Is it wolves, vultures or sheep? Seeing through the veil of electioneering
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By David Letsoalo
The so-called Heritage Month as endorsed by the South African authorities and the calendar is beyond us now. Officially. What this practically means is that whatever we rave about as celebration of our “heritage” is now buried, and will be unearthed next year.
It’s just a run of the mill with no tangible fruits to speak of. Truth be told, one wonders what the Heritage Month is all about. I have consistently expressed my frustrations about how we celebrate our heritage or commemorate our painful history in this country. Everything is piecemeal, incoherent and effectively done in instalments. How did we arrive here, where our struggle or history is so carelessly truncated?
Whilst on this “heritage” viewpoint, the manifesto launches, this past week, of the ANC and the EFF had a fringe lesson to the populace, precipitated by the choice of venues for the unveiling of their manifestos. The EFF event honoured the Mother of The Nation, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, in that their new head headquarters were named after this selfless warrior of the liberation struggle.
This act of honour could be expected because in paying tribute to her in 2018, the EFF had described her as “the stone that the builders rejected”, and the “first woman black President South Africa was deprived of”.
It is hard to believe that since 1912 the ANC has never had a woman president, and there are no signs this will happen in our lifetime. Of course, we do know this year has been branded “the year of Charlotte Maxeke” by the ANC. It only ends here, it seems.
But the governing party chose to launch its manifesto at the statue of Paul Kruger in Pretoria to remind us of that “part of our heritage” in a true rainbow style. It was a veiled swipe on the “Apartheid Statues Must Fall” activists. I must confess, it was such a sorry sight for some of us to behold.
The reality of the liberation struggle songs and slogans by a liberation movement watched over by the towering Paul Kruger at the Church Square in Pretoria was just unbearable. And the Young Lions’ song “Solomon” was obliviously sung there. But for those, like me, who see no logic in the rainbow nation discourse, this will remain an aberration.
Perhaps, it’s a pedagogic instance for many young people in the party to find out, in detail, who this Paul Kruger was. Perhaps, this will make them understand why the leadership of this rainbow country continues to sing Die Stem as their national anthem.
It will surely make them understand this would have pleased ancestors like Pik Botha, who died a member of the ANC in good standing! Since this is an election season, there must surely be a very strategic reason for the party of Solomon Mahlangu to launch its manifesto at the shrine of Paul Kruger.
My intention, however, is not to dwell on this manifesto issue, but to rather focus on the peremptory case for a vigilant, conscientised citizenry. It is lapses like these that make one pause and deeply reflect on how seriously we, as black people, take ourselves.
Incidentally, all this happened during the month we were commemorating the legacy of Steve Bantu Biko. This is the selfless freedom fighter who taught the black nation self-love, self-respect, self-reliance, solidarity and the need for mental emancipation. All these elements speak to the notion of Black Consciousness. But then, it’s election time; politicians can do anything to garner votes.
It is at this time of electioneering that our state of consciousness is particularly needed to shield us from the vultures that come in the form of selfish politicians who disguise as our saviours or shepherds. They definitely come as sheep whilst they are in fact the wolves that only care about our votes. However, the good thing about election seasons is that they show us that politicians can move mountains…as long as it is to their benefit. Can you imagine if this obstinacy was directed at serving the real needs of the people?
I wish I had the magic power to access the minds of politicians and observe, first hand, what motivates them. Last week, I made the point that it must take a heartless individual to have the gumption to approach the voters, election after election, to seek their votes whilst nothing comes their way in the form of service delivery. Of course, as I opined then, we should not expect liberation from these “democratic arrangements”. My logic is simple, if our leadership fails to provide services, what is it that should make us believe that they can liberate us?
The 27 years of the rainbow nation has ensured that we all are able to participate in the wheel of democracy and secure political office as black people. It becomes essential that we ask probing questions to uncover what has made black leaders fail to use this political resource to disrupt the status quo in order to harness economic and cultural power for the oppressed people of our country, Azania.
The business of elections has therefore become a mechanism to recycle leaders to line up for the feeding trough that comes with political offices in the different spheres of government. They are moments for most of these so-called leaders to embark on rhetoric, lies and oratory to hoodwink the unsuspecting and trusting black masses into giving their votes for narrow self-serving purposes.
I have heard so many politicians in the last week alone repeating the line of “servant leadership” as they campaign for votes. But for the past 27 years, what has been unleashed on the people has been misery, poverty, landlessness, hunger, indignity, inequality and unemployment.
The most conveniently remembered spaces during elections are the slummy black communities. I consider the “door-to-door” campaigns as arrogant mechanisms by the politicians to “invade” the homes of black people. Black communities suddenly become the proverbial fish ponds where these individuals fervently visit to fish for votes, by any means necessary.
It is painful that these neglected settlements are the sources of the votes that have catapulted these leaders into political offices. The sad logic, therefore, is that black voting power is used to enable leaders give proper services to the affluent ruling elite.
We need to be alive to the fact that dignity lie at the heart of humanity. Democracy also is premised on the assumption of agency or subjective posture of the voters. It is in this respect that it is said that democracy is the expression of the will of the people. A robotic individual, a non-human or object may thus not be expected to express a “will”.
This is where the unscrupulous politicians exploit the situation of voter-ignorance. The delivery of food parcels, T-shirts, grants and other hand-outs thus becomes the logic of the electioneering politician. My understanding is that such a situation is made possible by our desperately gullible and sheepish attitude. We are therefore a mere voting fodder which is practically easy pickings for the vultures. And this points to the reality that our people are undermined and disrespected.
There is a strong need to instil a sense of vigilance in our communities so that our people can thoroughly engage their leaders, especially during election seasons. This calls for discernment on the part of the masses. In the final analysis, it boils down to how seriously we take matters of polity and civic education. Central to these elements is political consciousness.
It is only a conscientised citizenry that can resist being bought with crumbs. For as long as the masses of black people remain gullible, our numbers will not bring us service delivery, let alone liberation. In other words, our majority will, tragically, continue to render us a cultural and economic minority.
I argue that only a conscious citizen can resist the trickery of the marauding wolves, vultures and hyenas that routinely descend on the vulnerable black masses during elections. Indeed, a conscious mind can see through the lies of imposters.
Consciousness exerts power. Amandla Ngawethu is presciently posited as Black Power. It is noted that this sort of power is premised on the solidarity or unity of the people. And this is not a new-found piece of wisdom. Many of our heroes, including Marcus Garvey, Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, Robert Sobukwe, Kwame Nkrumah, Samora Machel, Anton Lembede and Steve Biko have over the years advised on this matter. The message is consistent.
At this point in our history, Black people are thus challenged to go beyond party political lines and rally together for black advancement. Of course, this call is made with the full recognition that the oppressor will not sit and watch. History has clearly demonstrated that the oppressors will always find one or some within our nation to work against our cause in defence of anti-black agenda. That’s why the demise of our heroes has generally been executed with the involvement of an agent within the black nation itself.
Honestly, our problems, such as land dispossession, cultural emaciation, hunger and poverty are common to all of us; however, we are hyperbolically divided when it comes to a united response. We are blinded by the colours of our organisations, tribes and selfish interests at the expense of collective prosperity as the oppressed people.
We act surprised when our leaders betray us; and easily forget that we are responsible for our lackadaisical attitude on issues pertaining to our existence. What makes it even worse is that the politicians come to us time and time again, with the same monotonous set of promises. Yet, like a hypnotised congregation, we remain pliable and gullible.
If we were animals, that would be understood, but as humans it is so obscene and improper that we allow a fellow human being to tame us to a level of a sheepish condition. How then do we use the vigilance of our subjectivity to punish the political scoundrels?
In the end, I argue strongly that we are complicit in the commission of crime against ourselves, to paraphrase Steve Biko. And do we deserve any sympathy? No, not at all! Thomas Sankara advised that anyone who does not act against injustice or malfeasance deserves no sympathy. Somehow, this point is the last message that he left us with. More than 35 years later, this message still speaks powerfully to us today.
A Sepedi proverb, “mashemo a ba bohlale ke ditlaela” is an apt awakening line for us during the electioneering season. Indeed, following the logic of this proverb, we are convenient fools of the charlatans and hyenas. Beware!
David Letsoalo is a Sankarist, an activist and Law academic