The members of the ANC could through the decades of the 107 years of its existence always be divided between those who are selfless servants of the people, and joined the ANC to sacrifice their lives in the pursuit of liberation and a better life for all; and those elements who joined the ANC in pursuit of their own advancement and selfish interests. This division between what can roughly be described as the ‘givers’, and the ‘takers’ is not unique to the ANC, because in every revolutionary movement this split manifests itself.
The ANC has been greatly blessed in that the majority of its members, coming from the poor, oppressed and working class, were selfless servants of the poor and oppressed, prepared to sacrifice their very lives for the cause of liberation in service of their people. This was especially evident during the long hard years of the struggle against the brutal apartheid regime, and the exile years when there was hardly any material gain to be derived from joining the ANC, and membership of our Liberation Movement was synonymous with the hard an uncertain life of exile, mostly in the harsh conditions of refugee and military training camps, with hardly any material comforts and the constant danger of being attacked by the forces of the apartheid regime.
With the unbanning of the ANC, and the return of our members from exile and their release from prison, and especially after the ANC became the governing party since 1994, a vast array of opportunities for employment/deployment and material advancement opened up for members of the ANC. While these developments are logical, and one can even say inevitable as part of the normalization of South African society, they also made it much easier for those who first and foremost are interested in their own self-advancement to join the ANC.
In fact for an increasing number of ANC members their membership became a path to self-promotion and enrichment. Every liberation movement that made the transition from people’s liberation fighters against an oppressive regime, to becoming the government itself face this difficult, perilous transformation. If it is not navigated with great wisdom and care there is a very real danger that the liberation character of sacrifice and selfless service can be lost, and that a crisis of identity arises that consumes the organization from the inside, with as an eventual result the loss of support from the masses and the subsequent loss of elections and governing power. History is sadly littered with many examples of the broken wrecks of former liberation movements that suffered this fate.
When faced with these challenges, as we are in the ANC, the role of our veterans who have gone through long hard years of the struggle, and who carry in the bone and marrow of their struggle hardened bodies the institutional memory of our struggle, becomes critically important. These veterans know, and indeed lived, what our struggle is truly about. Veterans have reached that stage in their lives where they should not first and foremost be interested in positions and self-advancement, but the preservation of the legacy of what they have dedicated their very lives to.
Their revolutionary wisdom combined with a lack of personal selfishness, and no need for self-advancement, should be the compass that will keep us steadfast on the revolutionary road of the long walk to freedom. As a Movement the ANC should be able to look up to them to guide us to avoid the detours of self aggrandizement. Thus, when the veterans fail us, it is more than failure, it is the denial of their very own lives and a treacherous betrayal of future generations.
The first signs of such betrayal usually manifest themselves in organizational indiscipline. The veterans of the ANC, with their long institutional memory of how the internal democratic structures and procedures of the ANC came about, why they are there, and how these structures and procedures have been used over decades to resolve disputes and safeguard the integrity of our organization, are the ones who should be the most disciplined. When people with such a rich guiding institutional memory fail to adhere to the organizational procedures and protections that they themselves have over years helped to establish, the Liberation Movement finds itself in the rapids of perilous and treacherous waters.
The last couple of years there have been deeply, and increasingly, disturbing manifestations of some ANC veterans behaving in this manner. Some ANC veterans have claimed for themselves the strange ‘right’ to speak out on public platforms against their own organization and its leadership. Sadly they do so while they know very well that there are avenues available to them inside the ANC, in adherence to the well established principle of internal democracy, where they can raise their concerns and – with the respect that there is in the ANC for our veterans – will get a very fair hearing.
As disturbing, is that these so-called ANC veterans who behave in this alien manner appoint themselves to be the spokespersons on behalf all ANC veterans, which they certainly are not. They have developed an adulterous love relationship with the White Monopoly Controlled (WMC) mainstream media, which hangs on every word that they utter, and give them the widest possible publicity. Perversely, those who should be the guardians and protectors of our Liberation Movement have turned themselves into vicious attack dogs, and allow themselves to be used and abused as such by the worst enemies of our liberation struggle.
The issue is not whether there are differences of opinion, and even differences of ideology within the ANC. Being the broad church that the ANC is, those differences have always been there. The issue is how they are managed and resolved. Those who truly love the ANC, rather than themselves, will raise their concerns within the internal organizational structures, and once such concerns have been considered and processed, subject themselves to the democratic outcome of majority decisions.
However, those who love themselves more than the ANC will obviously not be prepared to subject themselves to such organizational discipline. For them it is not about their love for the Movement, and its ultimate preservation. It is about their self-indulgent love for themselves and self-promotion. Usually such a transformation from selfless love for the Liberation Movement, to insidious self-love is accompanied by a change in the material conditions of the person who transforms him/herself into such a chameleon.
Karl Marx was correct when he stated that mostly people’s material conditions, and their accumulation of material wealth, determines their consciousness. In the instance of some of our veterans who have transformed themselves into proverbial loose cannons, the radical change of their objective material conditions from dire poverty to opulent wealth provides the key to understanding their strange counter revolutionary behavior. Having been the benefactors of the material largesses that White Monopoly Capital (WMC) so deliberately and selectively showered on some veterans of the struggle as they emerged from exile and prison, their political consciousness had been so thoroughly transformed (in fact the more apt word would be subverted) that they can no longer speak against white dominance in general, and specifically in the economy. Sadly they now reserve their comments for those they hate in the ANC, while they defend whiteness.
The past weekend this was nauseatingly on display when some of these self-appointed spokespersons for ANC veterans launched a vicious attack on the Secretary General, comrade Ace Magashule, for having simply stated the obvious that the Democratic Alliance (DA) is primarily a white party representing white interests, and that black people should not vote for umlungu (meaning an expression of whiteness – as in white consciousness – white domination and white interests). The 19 odd ANC veterans who attached their names to the statement attacking the Secretary General of the ANC, read like a whose who of the new black capitalist elite, whose business partners count among some of the most prominent WMC companies in South Africa.
At this critical juncture, as described above, where the very character of the ANC as a Liberation Movement is at stake, the majority of ANC veterans, who have not sold their revolutionary consciousness to the highest White Monopoly Capitalist bidder, have to stand up and be counted. There are a majority of, disciplined and quiet, ANC veterans whose revolutionary consciousness is in tact. The time has now arrived for us to stand up and speak out against this minority of materially transformed, and selfish, so-called veterans, who through the reactionary noise that they generate also besmirch our hard fought for revolutionary legacy. It is up to the majority of ANC veterans to reign them in and say: “Up to here and no further. NOT IN OUR NAME!”
Carl Niehaus is an ANC veteran, an NEC Member of MKMVA and National Spokesperson of MKMVA. He writes in his personal capacity.