WITH regard to Prince Mashele’s recent comments about the ANC, his writings, mainly in the media, appear after the 52nd ANC National Conference in Polokwane in 2007. They are mostly a reaction to former president Thabo Mbeki not being re-elected for a third term, and further being recalled as SA president. My apologies to the former president, but that is the true reflection of the character of Prince Mashele’s articles on the ANC.

Second, Mashele’s reactive tendency is alarmist – death is the common thread. Shortly after Polokwane, he penned an article that saw him being invited to Mahlambandlovu, Tshwane, in early 2008. I attended the session during which he argued that Polokwane signalled the death of the ANC.

In September 2008, President Mbeki was recalled by the ANC through its internal mechanism. He had to resign because it was the ANC that appointed him in that position through its internal mechanism, contrary to what Reverend Frank Chikane wants us to believe. Mashele and Chikane worked in the Presidency with President Mbeki as head of the government and the state.

Reacting not only to the recall as an exasperation, but also to Polokwane as the premise, a group that formed the bedrock of organisers for the re-election of Mbeki in Polokwane splintered from the ANC and formed Cope. The ANC’s demise never came.

To the contrary, it was Cope that entered the path of living under the shadow of death, early in its infancy. The South Gauteng High Court assumed the responsibility of Cope’s highest decision-making body. Others have since been running away and returning to the ANC.

In favour of being an organiser of negative perception against the ANC and its leadership, particularly President Jacob Zuma, Mashele framed positive views – the so-called independent political analysis about Cope based on the so-called values that “distinguished” it from the ANC. Well, history dealt that a blow.

An example of Mashele’s alarmism of death: “Polokwane sounded a death knell to our country’s culture of accountability and respect for the rule of law. Again history has dealt a blow to this so-called independent political analysis. Government as led by President Zuma has taken accountability and respect for the rule of law decisions which were not taken when Mashele and Chikane served in the state. Appointment of a commission of enquiry into the so-called arms deal and the release of the so-called oil-gate report are but two examples.’’

As if that was not enough, Mashele saw the death of the rest of our society. Well, our society still lives.

But very quickly Mashele forgets about his death of our society. He writes about President Zuma and society. What does he say?

There are many myths in Mashele’s toxic articles against President Zuma. For now we take but two, concerning the intellect and education.

Addressing the question of what an intellectual is, in 1942 Mao Tse-Tung wrote: “But we all know there are many intellectuals who fancy themselves very learned and assume airs of erudition without realising that such airs are bad and harmful… They ought to be aware of the truth that actually many so-called intellectuals are, relatively speaking, most ignorant and the workers and peasants sometimes know more than they do.”

I am afraid Mashele’s articles place him in this category of the so-called intellectuals.

Mashele suggests that by simply attending school you become an intellectual, that President Zuma is not an intellectual and is, therefore, uneducated.

To the contrary: attending schools and universities that are cut off from the practical activities of society and then considered to have a stock of learning, Mao proved, does not automatically make you an intellectual.

What is important, Mao wrote, is to be good at applying the knowledge imparted both in life and practice. But that is not enough for an intellectual.

Most important is to be involved in knowledge production and not be trapped in ready-made book knowledge prepared by predecessors in summarising their experiences. To be involved in knowledge production, an intellectual must combine theory and practice.

Desktop criticisms such as the ones assembled by Mashele do not make you an intellectual either.

No doubt, schooling, particularly when not isolated from the practical activities of society, plays an important role in education and developing intellectuals.

But this is not to say, contrary to what Mashele wants us to believe, that people who could not attend school, college or university should be seen as uneducated. For example, while it took at least 12 years to teach Mashele, who was flanked by teachers who probably also taught him how to hold a pen, to read and write, President Zuma is able to read and write without having experienced the the same. President Zuma achieved that by himself under tremendous circumstances, unknown to Mashele’s life and practical experience.

President Zuma’s intellectual capacity is well known, but not to ignorant people, and, similarly not to Mashele. This is not only the question of the role President Zuma played in the liberation struggle underground and in exile, which Mashele dismisses as something that cannot be proven. On the contrary, it can be proven and it has been recognised.

Following his return from the underground and exile, President Zuma was elected in various capacities in the ANC leadership. Those who are not ignorant know that President Zuma served simultaneously as ANC national chairman and KwaZulu-Natal provincial chairman. They know, too, how this came about and what organisational changes it brought to the ANC. President Zuma’s intellectual contribution helped bring an end to violence in KZN and Gauteng.

President Zuma engages on complex questions that our intellectual prince is far from grasping. President Zuma is a strategist and an organic intellectual, a point that Mashele dismisses with absolutely no substance and substantiation.

As an organic intellectual, President Zuma belongs to the ANC-led national liberation movement in which, together with others in the membership and leadership collective, form part of the thinking and organising activists. Were we to list President Zuma’s intellectual achievements, we would fill pages and, in fact, even books.

Some of those who Mashele call intellectuals still have to account for their intellectual credentials about Polokwane, which Mashele’s partiality decries.

Also, to argue as Mashele does that ANC members are intellectually undeveloped is wrong. Likewise, to suggest that they are uneducated in the formal sense is also. Mashele still has a long way to go to match the qualifications and credentials of many ANC members.

n Mashilo is Young Communist League Gauteng provincial secretary. This article originally appeared in the Umsebenzi Online