Zuma twists facts on history – again

2012-08-25 13:26

The president’s selective memory reflects a blatant betrayal of our country’s record

President Jacob Zuma has become something of a revisionist-in-chief.

In turn, I have become something of a ­­fact-checker-in-chief.

In 2003, our esteemed first citizen claimed that June 16 1976 was an ANC event.

I knew that was not historically correct, and so I scoured the archives to find a renunciation of the June 16 uprisings in the ANC’s own official document, Sechaba.

The publication denounced the events as an act of youth voluntarism.

And so I listened to the president’s tribute to former ANC president James Moroka with some curiosity about how he was going to deal with this one – and he did not fail me.

Without any sense of contradiction, Zuma sang praises to Moroka – to which he is entitled – but distorted the man’s history in the process – to which he is not entitled.

First, Zuma tried to justify the ANC’s decision to participate in the government-created National Representative Council (NRC) through what we may call ­post-hoc analysis.

Here is how this analysis goes: the ANC participated in the NRC to demonstrate to black people that such a structure could not work.

And indeed when the structure collapsed the ANC could be satisfied that its experiment had been proven.

At high school we would finish the “brilliance” of such logic with a flourish – “quite easily done (QED)”

Zuma, however, left out opposition to the Native Representative Council by the All African Convention and the Unity Movement, who argued that participating in such structures was as good as going along with the apartheid government’s divide-and-rule strategy.

Here is how the All African Convention’s Mda Mda put the non-collaborationist stance in a meeting with the ANC in 1948: “Are we here to perpetuate the NRC and the Bhunga ... the Ballingers and the rest of them must have no place in our midst.”

The ANC was of course not satisfied with participating in the NRC but it also collaborated with the homelands.

The relationship between the ANC and Inkatha is now common cause and needs no further argumentation.
 
The ANC leadership’s consideration of talks with Kaiser Matanzima is not as well known.

While the ANC continued on this path, the black consciousness movement opposed any form of participation in such structures, which Steve Biko described as “toy telephones”.

Here is how Biko articulated the ridiculousness of the homeland structures: “Matanzima and Buthelezi can shout their lungs out through the phony telephone. No one is listening in Pretoria because the telephone is a toy.”

The collaboration/non-collaboration divide was too important to our struggle for the president to justify such collaboration through the back door channel of rehabilitating a deeply flawed political leader.

Second, the president said Moroka made the ANC “unhappy” by deciding to seek his own defence during the Defiance Campaign.

Now that is the understatement of the year.

The historical fact, which I am sure the president knows, is that Moroka sold his comrades out.

Not only did he seek his own defence but he dissociated himself from the leadership of the ANC and made what the historian Gail Gerhart calls “an obsequious plea in mitigation at the trial of the Defiance Campaign leadership”.

In his speech, President Zuma claimed that under Moroka collective leadership was strengthened.

Precisely, and that was because the organisation had found itself leaderless.

Compare President Zuma’s description of the ANC as a strong organisation under Moroka with the following description by Gerhart, and decide for yourself: “Responsibility for defining the ANC’s ideological position at the opening of the decade [1950’s] lay with its senior leadership, and in particular Dr Moroka, a liberal of the old guard with no flair for philosophy or strategy ...

"The result was a period of drift and realignment in the ANC during which none of the three definable ideological camps proved strong enough to impose its stamp on the organisation.”

I can understand why the president might not be keen to speak about a leaderless organisation just in case that gives some people in the ANC – and the ANC Youth League in particular – ideas about his own leadership, or lack thereof.

History, it is sometimes said, is the telling of the past from the perspective of the present, which often includes the distortion of the historical narrative to meet present challenges, and in this case that may have to do with the battles going on within the ANC.

But surely those battles cannot be more important than the integrity of our whole story.

In my book, Becoming Worthy Ancestors, Kwame Anthony Appiah writes that the archive of our history depends on present dispositions: “There is an inevitable politics of memory associated with every state, every identity.”

With the experience of how the apartheid state distorted history, Appiah concludes that “this [distortion] is not a fact that South Africans will need to have drawn to their attention”.

Alas, whoever thought that such a dominant party as the ANC would need such distortions about its history to keep its identity intact amid the present disunity and chaos.

I really thought the question of Dr Moroka’s role in the struggle was settled.

I am sure he was a good and decent man who had shortcomings that led him to make regrettable decisions.

I am sure the man’s soul would rest in peace if such shortcomings were openly acknowledged and accepted, and he was forgiven for them.

It is fine for Zuma, the ANC and South Africans at large to accept that no individual leader or organisation is infallible.


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