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Sat Dec 20 08:35:46 SAST 2014

ANC is running scared

Justice Malala | 12 November, 2012 00:48
Justice Malala
Image by: The Times

In the late 1980s, as the apartheid state collapsed under the weight of its own rot and the ANC prepared itself for freedom, a member of the party's constitutional committee submitted a paper for an internal seminar on culture.

The paper was by Albie Sachs, who later became a Constitutional Court judge and a celebrated author.

Towards the end of the paper, he made one of the most moving declarations I have ever read about what it meant, then, to be a member of the ANC.

He wrote: "We think we are the best (and we are), that is why we are in the ANC. We work hard to persuade the people of our country that we are the best (and we are succeeding). But this does not require us to force our views down the throats of others.

"On the contrary, we exercise true leadership by being non-hegemonic, by selflessly trying to create the widest unity of the oppressed and to encourage all forces of change, by showing the people that we are fighting not to impose a view upon them but to give them the right to choose the kind of society they want and the kind of government they want.

"We are not afraid of the ballot box, of open debate, of opposition.

"One fine day we will even have our Ian Smith equivalents protesting and grumbling about every change being made and looking back with nostalgia to the good old days of apartheid, but we will take them on at the hustings. In conditions of freedom, we have no doubt who will win, and if we should forfeit the trust of the people, then we deserve to lose."

In 1990, when ANC leaders started trickling back into the country to negotiate openly about the democratisation of our country, I went to a meeting at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The meeting was meant to brief United Democratic Front activists about progress in negotiations. The two leaders sent to do the briefing were Mathews Phosa, now the ANC treasurer-general, and Penuell Maduna, who later became justice minister.

It was a joy to be at that meeting. The two were challenged by the many activists there, who voiced concerns about the possibility of the ANC accepting a "sweetheart deal" from President FW de Klerk's National Party. Phosa and Maduna debated, parried and thrust, attacked and defended their positions. They were not afraid.

They were not afraid because they believed in the nobility of their struggle, the robustness of their strategy and tactics, and the logic of their arguments.

And so it was that Nelson Mandela, two weeks before the historic 1994 election, stood before de Klerk and debated with him. Mandela was not afraid of debating with de Klerk. History, logic, belief in the ANC's own ideas and positions - they were all backing him up.

Several times this week, Sachs's moving description of the ANC came, uninvited, to my mind.

It came to me as I listened to presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj accusing DA leader Helen Zille of racism because she referred to President Jacob Zuma's taxpayer-funded Nkandla palace as a "compound".

Racism? Is this w hat the ANC has been reduced to? When looting takes place in front of our eyes, the only argument the presidential spokesman can make is that this is racism? It was the same with Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi a few weeks ago when he suggested that criticism of this kind of spending showed a lack of understanding of "African" values and lifestyles.

Fear of ideas, of debate, has become a trend in the ANC now. In October, Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota was thrown out of parliament because he, quite rightly, asked why Zuma was defying a Supreme Court of Appeal order to hand over the spy tapes that let him off 700 charges of corruption. Why was he thrown out?

Is it because Zuma's defiance of the Supreme Court cannot stand the harsh light of a debate in parliament?

The ANC at its best was an organisation of ideas, led by men and women of principle who never shied away from propagating, challenging or defending those ideas. It was not about individuals.

Yet, over the past decade, slowly but surely, it has become an organisation scared to debate and defend its ideas.

Instead, the party is regressing into some sort of tribal clan, led by a chief whose word is law. The likes of Maharaj, Nxesi, the paranoid Blade Nzimande and others in the ANC exist to protect this patriarchal leader from proper scrutiny. The ANC has sadly declined to become an organisation bowing before a tribal leader, afraid of ideas and scrutiny, fearful of debate. It is a shell of its glorious former self.

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