ANC twists Robben Island history

2012-04-04 00:00

ON the eve of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, a couple from my home town Kimberley and I visited the iconic museum of political prisoners in Azania — Robben Island. What I am about to share with you readers is both mind-boggling and shocking.

Before I drop the bombshell, allow me to share this positive observation. The bus tour on Robben Island was a memorable event. The tour guide was a pleasure to listen to. He had the history of the island at his fingertips and told its story in an entertaining manner.

He gave us a moving but factual account of the incarceration of Professor Robert Smangaliso Sobukwe and talked with passion about world history and how international events impacted on the Azanian/South African context during and after apartheid. One felt that you were getting your money’s worth.

What was striking about this leg of the tour was the balanced political history we received from the tour guide. As an academic and political activist, I was overjoyed to find a tour guide who not only had a great sense of humour, but also courage to dispel the myth peddled by the ruling ANC that only prisoners from its ranks filled the prison cells of Robben Island. We came to know that our narrator-tour guide, a Mr Mohammed, was a member of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and an ex-Robben Island prisoner. Needless to say, our bus tour of Robben Island ended on a high note.

However, the same cannot be said of the tour of the prison cells.

We were taken to F and B sections of the prison. This time around we had another tour guide, also an ex-Robben Island prisoner, a certain Mr Nhlabati, a trained cadre of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ruling ANC. He took us through how life was inside prison and explained eloquently what the prison number meant. He touched on an important issue of identity — the prison number became the new identity of prisoners. Needless to say, this was dehumanising.

The prison tour guide then went on the offensive and bombarded us with history centred exclusively around ANC prisoners. Tourists were made to marvel at the likes of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and Tokyo Sexwale. No mention was made of prisoners from other components of the liberation movement, namely, the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM)/Azapo, PAC, Unity Movement/Apdusa and Swapo from Namibia.

It was as if only ANC cadres were incarcerated on Robben Island. This to me is a confirmation of the ANC’s subtle mission to rewrite the history of the liberation struggle in Azania/South Africa. It does so by suffocating heroic stories of other components of the liberation movement. Otherwise how does one explain what happened at Kliptown on March 21, 2012?

Instead of acknowledging the leadership role of the PAC in the marches and protests against the pass laws throughout the country on March 21, 1960, resulting in the massacre of scores of black people in Sharpeville and Langa, President Jacob Zuma chose to popularise the Kliptown/Freedom Charter. This is hypocrisy par excellence.

Another example is the bastardisation of the story of the June 16, 1976, uprisings. The ANC under the guise of state functions has now renamed this significant event Youth Day. The June 16 uprisings were inspired, organised and led by Black Consciousness Movement organisations. It is a historical fact that in 1976 both the ANC and PAC were banned and operated in exile.

This is the history the ANC is attempting at all costs to expunge from the annals of Azanian/South African political thought and literature. It is worth noting that during the bus tour, Mohammed did mention that as a result of the June 16, 1976, uprisings, approximately 1 500 prisoners injected new life into Robben Island prison. In more ways than one, the uprisings of June 16, 1976, were the tipping point in Azanian/South African politics.

The Black Consciousness Movement, pioneered by Steve Biko and his comrades, gave this country the greatest gift, a human face. Black Consciousness calls on black people to take their destiny in their own hands, to take the cudgels of the struggle and be productive citizens of this country. By suffocating the history of the Black Consciousness Movement and other political formations in the liberation struggle, the ANC attempts to deny South Africans and the world the richness and depth of Black Consciousness

Back to the prison tour guide. Under Nhlabati’s guidance we went to the prison cell of Mandela. Once again we had to endure ANC indoctrination until I could not take it anymore. I asked Nhlabati whether he could take us to A section where Black Consciousness prisoners were kept. In typical ANC fashion he cited time constraints as an excuse not to do so.

We then proceeded to the dining area of B section, where Nhlabati launched his salvo of entrenching ANC hegemony on Robben Island. When he finally afforded tourists a chance to ask questions, I used the opportunity to set the record straight. I informed my fellow tourists of the history of BCM/Azapo, PAC, and Unity Movement/Apdusa on Robben Island. I indicated to him that I was not impressed with his biased approach to narrating the history of prison life on Robben Island.

To his credit though, what Nhlabati said made my heart bleed. He indicated to me without shame that he was only carrying out the instructions of his employer. You can imagine how my Kimberley guests and I, including other black South Africans, reacted to this response. The question this response raises is how democratic is South Africa when tour guides at national museums are instructed to omit and hide legitimate history of the struggle from tourists?

Is the ANC perhaps not displaying tendencies of the erstwhile colonial masters? When will this denialism end? When will the ANC get over these illusions of grandeur? How possible is it to obliterate the fact that Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, Mosibudi Mangena, Neville Alexander, Jeff Masemola, Dikgang Moseneke, Toivo ja Toivo, Strinivasa “Strini” Moodley and Zithulele Cindi, among many political prisoners, were incarcerated on Robben Island?

The ANC does not even have the decency at least to mention roles played by Mangena (Azapo ex-president) and Alexander. These patriots were Minister of Science and Technology and linguist/researcher, respectively. Answers to these questions are not hard to find. A cursory look at how the ANC abuses its majority in Parliament says it all.

A timely example is the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill (Secrecy Bill) by the National Assembly. If this bill sees the light of day, then South Africa will go back to being a police state. The content of the current Green Paper on Land and Agrarian Reform is also a case in point. Not to mention the ANC’s policy documents under discussion. Sadly, the ANC is blinded by hegemonic tendencies and greed for power.

This can only mean the chasm has widened between the people and the ruling ANC. Organisations such as Azapo are obliged to take the cudgels of the struggle before anarchy is let loose upon our beloved Azania/South Africa. Letta Mbuli reminds us of this when she sings: “It is not yet uhuru.” —

• Gaontebale Nodoba is the national spokesperson of Azapo and lecturer at UCT. He writes in his personal capacity.

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