The ANC: 100 years in the making

Time of article published Dec 8, 2011

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Next year marks the centenary anniversary of the ANC. This gives us an opportunity to pause and revisit the past and collectively add impetus to achieving a better future for all.

As one of the oldest liberation movements worldwide, with mostly profound landmarks in our country’s history, the ANC was established in Bloemfontein (Mangaung), in the Orange Free State, in 1912. South Africans of all shades, including from diverse ideological convictions, assembled the collective courage and commitment informed by an ever-vindicated declaration of “Freedom in our lifetime” to establish the congress movement.

In my view, the ANC has played a profoundly multi-layered role in our country’s history.

During that period of sorrow and hopelessness, the African majority were classified children of a lesser God. But the ‘people’ unreservedly believed the mould of apartheid’s servitude could be shattered and replaced with a legitimate preamble of “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white” which our country’s constitution embraces.

Under the ANC, a people’s assembly was convened in Kliptown, in the Transvaal, where the Freedom Charter was adopted in 1955. It encapsulates the universally treasured values of non-racialism, no-sexism and equality before the law.

Furthermore, the People’s Charter focuses on the ever-increasing human needs like housing, transport, education and employment.

This marked a milestone on the painfully long, uphill walk that eventually culminated in the adoption of a new constitution of 1993, which states: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”.

Notably, this notion is further entrenched in our Bill of Rights – a marvel of global adoration.

Since its inception, the ANC remains a vortex out of which esteemed leaders were produced who inspired the oppressed to fight fearlessly and without respite against apartheid-engineered forms of human indignity.

Indeed, Langalibalele Dube, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, to name a few, left footprints in the sands of our country’s history.

This archive of leaders with unparalleled humility includes leaders from other freedom-seeking organisations, such as Robert Sobukwe, Helen Suzman and Steve Biko, whom former president Mbeki described as an African patriot who “...lit our road to freedom like a burning meteor, shining brighter than the system that sought to minimise his humanity, along with that of people whose yearnings he symbolised” at the 30th commemoration in 2007 of Biko’s death.

Although these leaders are not a personification of perfection, they represent an epitome of humility – an indispensable attribute in successful leadership. They loved their people more than their status. They lived a humble life that was informed by respect and valued people beyond their political-party ambit. These leaders believed in the importance of sharing their experiences and future destiny with the masses. Their leadership intentions were always in tandem with the nation’s heartbeat.

In the trenches of struggle, the ANC boldly demonstrated a commitment in forming alliances with freedom-desiring formations. To advance this cause, it entered into alliances with the vanguard of the working class, CPSA-SACP, and the workers contingent, Sactu-Cosatu.

The ANC has embraced the spectrum of society. Ultimately, it could and can still be defined as a broad church as it is colloquially referred to in its pursuit of freedom.

This inclusive approach was reiterated by Mandela’s legendary approach after his release from 27 years in jail.

But the ANC cannot lay claim to being an icon of purity.

Certain challenges – past and present – have also played a part in its existence.

The ANC’s early days were entrenched in a patriarchal foothold. Women started to play a marginal role only in 1931 after the Bantu Women’s League was accepted as an ANC branch under Charlotte Maxeke’s presidency.

The chauvinistic ideology was displaced in 1943 when women were accorded active ANC membership.

Hereafter, a legend in gender matters, Lillian Ngoyi, became the first woman to be voted into the ANC highest echelons. As one of the founders of the Federation of South African Women, she played a pivotal role in highlighting an outlook of triple oppression of women: political, social and economic. Men experienced double oppression: political and economic. Notably, this gender aspect played a role in the epitaph of the struggle agenda and then resulted in the ANC infusing the non-sexist attribute only in its 1984 vision.

As a revolutionary institution, ANC Youth League was formed in 1944 for the younger generation to politically graduate into the ANC.

The primary aim was to develop a fountain of leadership to continuously feed the ANC to sustain the struggle.

As Albert Luthuli noted in 1959: “...even if I and others in the leadership of the ANC were to die, there are young men like Oliver Tambo who are now ready to take responsibility for the ANC.”

However, in our current political discourse, leaders are being ridiculed by the younger generation. Sadly, this is a testimonial betrayal of the original values that informed its establishment. While acknowledging that culture is a dynamic force, we still need to subscribe to the decorum of respect for elders. It should remain embedded in our tradition, irrespective of circumstantial temptations.

Also, today’s youth should shed the habit of blaming elders for their own mistakes because the youth leaders must understand, in order to lead the nation tomorrow, their leadership must focus now on self-discipline and to appreciate that “if a good reputation is like gold then having integrity is like owning the mine”.

Aspirant leaders should regard humility as a touchstone of leadership as we begin a new centenary from Mangaung in 2013.

In my opinion, internal struggles have been in the public gaze from the era when a handful of members left the ANC to form the PAC in 1959 which was followed by various exile problems and factionalism.

Ironically, after attaining a hard-fought democracy, factionalism has manifested itself.

This tendency, I can state, has recently assumed a sub-culture status in the congress movement and permeates all levels of other formations. For this reason, the road to the ANC’s Polokwane conference was strewn with political potholes, horrifying moons and vitriolic dreams hovering over our sleep.

An erratic change of leadership was suddenly introduced as a “new voice” in the ANC. Clearly, it was an egregious deviation from the ANC’s history.

In this context, the expected emergence of the UDM and sudden off-shoot of COPE classically tends to highlight the ANC’s uncanny ability to turn a selective blind eye. Likewise, the DA coming into power in the Western Cape, and the fact that it is steadily registering telling inroads into the formerly ANC-controlled municipalities, serves as another example of this “Ostrich syndrome”.

And, while we are not all active members, we always vote the ANC back into power: three consecutive terms. This signifies our unparalleled admiration for the ANC’s epic moment as a catalyst of freedom in 1994 and for some of us to qualify it as a timeless phenomenon of peace, harmony and prosperity in our lifetime.

Sadly, the ANC’s founding leaders, others that perished along the way of the struggle or who are incapacitated, will not be at the centenary celebrations.

However, they fully embraced the understanding that, no matter how gifted a person is, self-discipline is essential to reaching one’s full potential.

They vehemently resisted the temptation to be canonised into sainthood. High-office vulgarities and assuming the status of demigod remained a taboo.

I hope, it is an overwhelming sentiment, that those who would join this seemingly unending “long walk to freedom” are geared to address the ever-increasing human necessities from the ever-shrinking public purse.

It is my hope that they will embrace humility as a golden thread of their leadership attributes.

Notably, the centenary was characterised by sequential moments of opening the heart, healing the soul and changing South Africa.

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