The F-word: Death has been good for Shiceka’s CV

2012-05-05 11:49

The warm and flattering tributes to the recently deceased former Cabinet minister Sicelo Shiceka prove once again that dying is good for a politician’s CV or public relations profile.

As it often happens with the objectively despicable, like PW Botha, death is to a politician’s image what it is to artists’ bank accounts – a career move to die for.

Putting aside the ridiculous notion that there is something called “African culture”, it must be cause for concern that people would need to lie about the dead in the name of culture or custom.

To say such lying is part of “African culture” is bizarre when you consider that there are 54 countries in Africa, let alone that each country – and its various communities – has its own ways of doing things.

The Masai, for example, leave their dead in the wild to be devoured by animals. Who is to say the Masai are less African than, say, the Zulus, because of how they dispose of their dead?

Even if there was this thing some insist on calling “African culture”, it must be declared unhelpful to have a custom that requires that people lie as a sign of respect – regardless of who or what they lie about.

It must evolve.

It could be said that, strictly speaking, those who eulogise Shiceka are not lying. They are telling a half-truth.

Like any human being, Shiceka had his positives and negatives. Indeed, Shiceka was a product of the student and worker movement.

As with many others of his generation, he sacrificed his youth in the fight for freedom.

To concentrate only on these truths while pretending that is all we know of Shiceka is to be dishonest. A memory that only recalls the positives because the deceased is African should not be relied upon.

Half-truths are half-lies.

That is why we cannot help but remember that Shiceka once used state resources to visit his jailed girlfriend in Switzerland – and lived it up while there.

We know from Shiceka’s aides – some of whom are loyal and disciplined party cadres – that Shiceka thought himself so important that employees who happened to be in the lift when he entered had to get out and wait for the next one.

We have been told by the same aides that he demanded that they stand up when he entered the room.

The Sunday Times and Times newspapers reported how villagers in his native Ngquza Hill were unimpressed with him because he had arranged that his house be the only one in the village with running water and that it was curious that the only tarred road in the entire village was the one that passed his house.

Shiceka’s struggle credentials and his commitment to freedom are not in question.

Unfortunately, he epitomises how many who, in their recklessness, fall in love with money or office and the intoxicating influence of power can blight their impeccable struggle credentials.

An honest way of measuring Shiceka’s life and times is not to only condemn him for being the megalomaniac he was. We also have to acknowledge that before he became that, he was once something worthy of emulating.

We have to say that his delusions of grandeur were at odds with his humble beginnings and probably incongruent with how those who knew him before he had power will remember him.

His death can acquire meaning if it makes at least one of his comrades, and many of our former heroes who have since forgotten, remember that the struggle they waged so bravely was not for their personal enrichment and to live a life of luxury paid for by the masses they once genuinely fought for.

It cannot achieve this if those like Shiceka keep thinking that they too will get away with eulogies of lies and half-truths for no other reason than that they are African.

» Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo

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