Nobody knows what our fallen heroes would say

2014-05-30 00:00

Often I wonder what we’d be saying had Jacob Zuma been assassinated during the struggle. I often think about the many slogans that would be inundating our social media timelines had Thabo Mbeki not lived to experience the intricacies of a democratic nation. Given all the branding of Nelson Mandela as a saviour, I can’t even imagine what analysts would be writing had he died on Robben Island.

These thoughts have been troubling me for a while, particularly on the days when popular freedom fighters like Chris Hani, Robert Sobukwe and Oliver Tambo’s historical marks are being commemorated. Memorial lectures are presented: “What would Hani say about the current developments in the country?” We convince ourselves that “corruption wouldn’t exist if Tambo were alive”.

But who knows?

The problematic nature of these assumptions arises when the media and other disgruntled pundits use the struggle credentials of our fallen heroes as tools to denigrate the ruling party or particular people. I think that had Zuma died during the struggle, we would today be wearing T-shirts bearing his face and a patronising “Do it for Jacob Zuma, vote ANC” message. Nobody would be interested in digging into his private matters and other acts committed in response to the dictates of the struggle. He’d be the gallant revolutionary who, had he been alive, would have spoken out decisively against almost everything — factions, Mbeki’s recall, everything.

Surprisingly, today when we mention Mbeki, his views on HIV/Aids are likely to make the first appearance in our minds and not necessarily his profound input in the national liberation movement. Additionally, Mamphela Ramphele is judged by some parts of our society for her involvement with Biko and her rightful struggle credentials are disregarded, but it’s rare to come across a negative comment made about Biko’s involvement in the affair.

This week, I read a comment from one social media user who was lamenting the change in the character of Cyril Ramaphosa, recalling the years he used to be a “revolutionary” leader. I inferred from the post that had Ramaphosa fallen in the fight against apartheid, this user would be composing the most touching slogan in remembrance of “a leader, an organiser, an intellectual, a true cadre”.

Nobody can claim to know what the deads’ positions would be on issues our country faces. Leaders who saw the dawn of freedom and participated in a democratic government had to transition from being freedom fighters to being presidents, ministers and leaders of a party in government. We as citizens witnessed them as they struggled to find their footing in a complex system of government, tackling issues of national importance and making serious mistakes as public office bearers. They make tough decisions for the nation, not a specific constituency. They are no longer heroes but servants. So, in a democracy that enriches, tempts and corrupts the politically connected, no one can attest to the insulation of a particular leader from the challenges of a constitutional democracy. Some of us publicly condemn Mandela and the ANC’s approach to negotiations. We call them sell-outs and wish that those who are no more could have lived longer. Our obsession with commemorations is turning us into less critical admirers of struggle credentials, disregarding the fragility of the political climate and the complexity of negotiations.

I wonder if death deliberately picked leaders who were infallible, leaving us with the ones who only joined the struggle to enrich themselves. Or do we suffer from an exaggerated commemoration syndrome? I mean, the insults I’m expecting for writing this will buttress the sensitivity with which we tread on the topic of our heroes. The argument here is not that we shouldn’t celebrate the contributions made by our struggle heroes, but that we should not paint a dishonest, unrealistic impression around these respected cadres of the movement since most of them would have followed ANC policy, making them a part of this very leadership collective we despise.

Maybe I should confess my scepticism of historical anecdotes since all these leaders who are failing us boast very impressive struggle CVs, but have been unable to convert their credentials into a good record of public service. So who can say boldly he or she knows what the fallen heroes would have said or done?

— Voices24.

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