Let us heed Tambo

2010-01-31 10:29

By Tokyo Sxwale

WE ought to be reminded of the time-tested words of our former

president, Oliver Tambo. He has been echoed at different times by other leaders

such as former president Nelson Mandela and President Jacob Zuma in his view

that the unity of the ANC and our liberation alliance is sufficiently solid and

powerful to never be destroyed by our enemies.

An implosion, a spiral to self-destruction, can only happen where

the heightening of accumulated and unresolved tensions result from a situation

where normal and healthy internal contradictions degenerate into antagonistic

ones. Many great revolutions in more powerful states and societies across the

globe have gone down that blighted road. Nowadays our detractors and enemies,

wherever they are, are delighted with the public spectacle that we are rapidly

becoming. We in the tripartite alliance are haemorrhaging from self-inflicted


Throughout the history of our liberation struggle our meetings,

conferences and rallies have from time to time experienced heckling and other

forms of negative interruptions, including booing. Whenever it occurs such

conduct is usually nipped in the bud and addressed on the spot.

How has it come about that booing has caused animosity among

comrades, together with large and sustained headlines, to the detriment of the

stability of the ­alliance? Why has it not been nipped in the bud?

The booing by itself would be a non-event in normal circumstances.

What is distracting and destructive in the current environment are the rapidly

escalating levels of inter- and intra-alliance political tensions and other ills

that have come to characterise our day-to-day political existence. It would be a

grave folly and a gross failure of leadership were we to think ­otherwise and

not deal with the matter timeously, comprehensively and firmly.

Moreover, media reports have presented a distorted picture and sown

more confusion and widened cracks within the alliance. Some of the reports gave

the impression that the ANC was generally unwelcome at the SACP congress, booed,

driven out or walked out of the conference.

All this is false and must be rejected. All comrades from the ANC

who attended the congress arrived at different times and were by and large well

received outside the conference venue by delegates.

True to form, groups of comrades were toyi-toying, marching,

chanting slogans, singing and dancing. At no stage did we feel as though we were

entering a lions’ den. The plenary mood was festive and ringing with the sound

of revolutionary songs, especially those usually sung at SACP conferences.

Perhaps the song Asiyifun iAgenda ya makapitale, sung shortly before the

opening, gave a glimpse of what was to follow.

The song, quite a common one, rejects a capitalist agenda. What was

slightly concerning was the sudden high pitch it reached at the appearance and

entrance of comrades Billy Masetlha and Julius Malema. As we settled down,

comrade Malema quietly stated: “It seems as though we are going to be booed.”

The actual booing incident happened in the open session during the

introduction of guests and delegations. This session was chaired by comrade

Phumulo Masuale, the SACP treasurer. Various guests and delegations from China,

Korea, Angola and the like were being introduced as well as those from fraternal

organisations from within our borders.

These delegates and guests were all warmly received, including

those of us from the ANC national executive committee. Only when comrades Malema

and Masetlha were each introduced were they booed by numerous voices. Obviously

this was a bad happening but we can’t say that they were singled out. We felt

embarrassed at this humiliation foisted on them. They were obviously left

feeling unwelcome.

There are numerous incidents of this ­nature which can be cited,

even incidents concerning comrades like Madiba, who has also been subjected to

booing and heckling before. In such situations the common leadership practice is

for whoever is chairing the meeting or rally, or even a different comrade, to

promptly call the meeting to order and admonish whoever is indulging in such

conduct. What was missing was the admonishing voice of the chairperson of the

session. In this manner the incident could have been nipped in the bud and

­ended there and then.

During the lunch-break the aggrieved comrades sought the

intervention of comrades Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, and SACP

general secretary Blade Nzimande. Some of us in the national executive committee

were invited to a short meeting where we were briefed about discussions held

with comrades Mantashe and Nzimande. We understood that an undertaking had been

made to ­rectify the situation after lunch when congress resumed.

After lunch their intervention was more advisory than condemning.

It would therefore be fair to say they missed the opportunity to condemn the

booing outright. It would not be far-fetched to describe their intervention as

less than equal to the situation, clearly leaving the targeted comrades still

feeling aggrieved.

It is also untrue, as was reported, that there was a walkout by the

ANC collective from the conference. This would have been disrespectful and rude

to such an important congress of our alliance partner. ­Although comrade Malema

later left for his next meeting, comrade Masetlha stayed on and was even given

the opportunity to engage with the central committee report delivered by comrade


It is noteworthy that comrade Cassel Mathale, a national executive

committee member, had participated by not only sitting on the stage with the

central committee leadership but also by welcoming guests at the opening of the


All those of us who were present participated freely during

discussions and demonstrated our revolutionary respect for its


The afflictions of alliance unity are very serious and will not

easily go away. These can’t be wished away and are assuming other lives in the

tripartite structures on the ground. Small wonder that in Kimberly at the 98th

ANC birthday celebrations many comrades were on tenterhooks about the possible

booing and heckling of some speakers.

While our public standpoint, which is to close ranks, is a correct

one, we should not do so only to paper over the cracks of differences. These

ought to be dealt with in political discussions and debates to meet President

Zuma’s call for unity.

Ours is no longer simply a liberation alliance in exile,

underground or prison, whose main mission was the prosecution of the national

liberation struggle. We are now a governing alliance with duties and

responsibilities towards all citizens within the entire republic.

How long should our members and South Africans at large endure

these bitter public alliance differences where more energy seems to be spent

against one another rather than focusing on our detractors?

How long should the people endure a situation where day in and day

out national discourse is dominated by tripartite alliance bickering,

back-biting and butchering of reputations? We leaders of all three organisations

need to stem the tide of the free-for-all approach within the alliance.

The support we have in society must not be taken for granted. The

legacy of President Zuma and his team in the national executive committee as

well as in government depends on all of us tackling the challenges of

socioeconomic development as opposed to the wasteful consumption of our energies

in internecine battles.

We can only fail to heed this advice from Oliver Tambo at our own

peril. Ours, as comrade Jacob Zuma once pointed out, is a unique alliance – one

of a kind. It cannot falter in our hands.

  •  This is an edited version of a report on the booing incident at

    the SACP conference in December presented to the national executive committee of

    the ANC two weeks ago. It was written in response to a national executive

    committee request for a report on the incident that dominated political

    discussion in ­December

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