Joe Matthews died for the ANC and IFP

2010-08-24 00:00

THE death of Joe Matthews signals the end of an era marked by the triumph of peace and reconciliation over conflict and acrimony. It should inspire us all to emulate the example that he set in public life over six decades.

His person stood in contrast to the simmering tensions between the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Over the weekend, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi is reported to have told an extended National Council of the IFP that the internal troubles are all the work of the party’s enemies in the ANC. For this reason, he expressed doubts that the reconciliation between the two parties would advance, suggesting that he would not be keen to talk to the ANC under these conditions.

By blaming external forces for the IFP’s troubles, Buthelezi is shifting responsibility away from his leadership collective. Of course, it is not completely unlikely that some in the ANC are taking advantage of the internal squabbles in the IFP in order to weaken it. But then to suggest that the internal critics and “rebels” do not have their “own” issues with the IFP leadership that has led the party through a decade of political turmoil, but are stooges of the external enemy, is hard to accept.

It is difficult to believe that the idea that the IFP needs an infusion of youth leadership is an external invention. It is difficult to accept the arguments made by some within that if the IFP is to arrest its decline, it will need a wholesome change of leadership originating outside the party. So, those who see in Zanele Magwaza-Msibi a suitable successor to Buthelezi on the basis of her performance as the mayor of Zululand, take the cue from ANC handlers.

Actually, the statement suggests that many of the IFP members who are behind internal reforms are so gullible and disloyal that they actively pursue the ANC’s campaigns inside their own party. This does not only exaggerate the capacity of the ANC to infiltrate IFP structures and indoctrinate educated young members, it also means these many members’ commitment to the IFP was always weak. It means the battles that many of these young people have fought with ANC-aligned youth structures for control of many university campuses were mere pretences.

Matthews was a long-standing member of the ANC before crossing over to the IFP, a move he always saw as part of his principled approach to politics. Principled politics also meant that this move was not a declaration of war or the end of friendships with his old comrades. In fact, he maintained contacts with ANC veterans even as he worked hard to strengthen the IFP’s legal department.

He served as a deputy minister in both Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s ANC governments on behalf of the IFP in what was a dose of maturity on the part of both parties. His 80th birthday celebrations last year brought together bigwigs in the ANC and IFP, business and civil society in amazing harmony. He was loved by both ANC and IFP veterans.

In this sense, he represented a political culture that has yet to take root between the ANC and IFP, especially in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the culture that would have enabled the two parties to bury the hatchet and work together to build a bright future for their common constituencies.

Given his own involvement, together with the likes of Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Buthelezi, in the efforts of the ANC Youth League to re-energise the ANC, Matthews should also epitomise a willingness to allow bottom-up change and the exuberance of the youth in the IFP. Being the inquiring mind that he was, he would have spent the last few years lamenting his party’s choice of suppression in response to calls for internal democracy.

The best tribute to Oom Joe is not nice speeches, but an energetic pursuit of the values and principles he lived for. This includes a mature political response to internal change dynamics in the IFP and a genuine reconciliation between the ANC and the IFP. For ANC members, Matthews’s death should awaken a culture of tolerance and principled politics.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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