We need a united front

2012-09-15 10:06

There they were, in all of their collective dignity – Ben Khoapa, Aubrey Mokoape, Peter Jones and Barney Pityana.

As far as I could tell it was a Steve Biko commemorative event at the University of South Africa (Unisa) which, by the way, is where Biko was studying law by correspondence at the time of his death.

These men were pondering the same question they had introduced to the nation 40 years ago – what is the state of the black world?

And in characteristic fashion, Pityana said something that is on many people’s lips but few dare to utter – or those who do utter it do so only via whispers in the dark.

Pityana started by acknowledging the problem before even beginning to advance any solution. He urged black people to first “admit to an enormous failure of leadership” over the past 18 years.

To be entirely accurate, other leaders were asking the same question at Marikana and at the funeral of Reverend Mgojo: “What has happened to us?”

Among those were Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and President Jacob Zuma.

Why Zuma should ask such a question when he and his party have presided over this “enormous failure of leadership” is beyond me.

The truth of the matter is that in the short period of 18 years, ANC leaders have squandered a golden opportunity to lay claim to moral authority in this country. Instead, they have actively denigrated our struggle and defiled our memories.

Our children only roll their eyes when we try to tell them about the feats of our struggle.

They invariably point to Zuma’s conduct to shut us up. And it’s very hard, in fact impossible, to argue against the truth of what they say. And so we find ourselves in a cul-de-sac.

The famed writer Ben Okri only partly got it right when he said: “The leaders that you have say something about the people that you are.”

He was partly right, because black people keep returning the same people to power, despite the permissive culture of corruption in the ANC.

Those were the pained words of ANC thinker Pallo Jordan speaking at a commemoration of the Bisho Massacre.

Jordan further argued that the ANC is “permissive about corruption because some of its own leaders and members are implicated in such corruption”.

But the meeting of these Black Consciousness leaders reminded me there is an entire group of leaders of integrity that the ANC has deliberately sidelined from the project of reimagining this country.

It is those men and women – led by a young visionary called Steve Biko – who pulled us out of the political and intellectual malaise of the 1960s when there seemed to be no way out.

The ANC elections in Mangaung will not change the fact that black people do not have the selfless leadership of the men and women gathered in Pretoria on Wednesday night.

Unfortunately, in choosing leaders, the ANC will keep fishing from the same corruption-ridden pond and it will keep catching the same corrupt fish.

What’s the value of that ritual when you are in a crisis of choice and conscience as a people?

It is time to cast the net wider in search of credible leadership – such as that of the men and women gathered at Unisa on Thursday.

Perhaps the ANC, if it still exists as a movement of values, not an alliance of interests, can take seriously Pallo Jordan’s words: “The credibility of the ANC today is probably the lowest it has been since 1990.

The ANC leadership has been stripped of its dignity.

The best advice one can give our movement, which seems caught in a hole, is: stop digging.”

Jordan traces the moral decline from the time in the late 1990s when the ANC leadership decided “to go along quietly as the denialism of a president played havoc with the health and lives of millions”, to a leadership that is now terrified of its own people.

At the launch of my book, To the Brink (and it does seem we are now at the brink), Moeletsi Mbeki warned of a potential civil war in this country. Some of us dismissed his warning as melodramatic and sensational.

But can anyone truly and seriously dismiss that now, in the wake of the tribalism that has gripped our political culture under the current ANC leadership?

My question is this: why can’t men and women of integrity in the ANC join up with men of integrity outside the party to ponder the question that Steve Biko raised some decades ago: “where to from here?”

The time for ideological battles between Black Consciousness and non-racialism is over. The country is on fire, and there is no one to put it out.

Why can’t the likes of Mbeki, Jordan, Pityana, Mamphela Ramphele and Zwelinzima Vavi initiate a new national dialogue in this country about how to fill the void of the present moment and respond to the generalised sense of discontent in this nation?

In the past, we had organisations like the United Democratic Front and the National Forum that sought to think about the bigger picture across narrow party political lines.

Even though these bodies differed from each other ideologically, they were each characterised by a sense of purpose – a sense there was something bigger than the individual interests of the leaders.

Steve Biko died trying to organise a black united front – but the challenge is bigger than just the black community.

We need a new congress under a civic leadership that brings people of all races and classes to a new congress of the people that can, from time to time, bring its weight to bear on those elected to public office.

»
Mangcu is the author of the recently published Biko: A Biography 

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