Noise of democracy

2010-10-04 00:00

A COLLEAGUE wondered why having to attend political school was part of the disciplinary package meted out to ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema. Surely, he asked, the opportunity to learn is not punishment?

Well, perhaps it is if you failed woodwork and if required reading on the syllabus turns out to be Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.

What if homework is an essay explaining Marx’s concept of nationalisation of such means of production as mines?

The term “political school” certainly conjures up images of totalitarianism and brainwashing, but take comfort from ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, speaking at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Lecture on Friday night. Motlanthe said South Africans are a nation of activists who come from a past of activism where we fought for a better world, for justice, for peace and non-racialism.

Motlanthe said our language may be bombastic at times and couched in revolutionary terms, but a true understanding of the anti-apartheid struggle shows it was based on values of discipline, humanism and respect.

I’m not sure what’s included in the syllabus of the ANC’s political school, but if Motlanthe went to that school then I’d be happy to be in Julius’s class.

Analyst Nhlanhla Mtaka is bemused by the anxiety around the term “political school”. “It’s nothing unusual,” he says. “Political parties the world over have schools for new members. They are known by different names: study groups, forums, institutes.”

Mtaka said the idea of a political school or classes is not new: liberation movements in southern Africa, including the SA Communist Party, the Pan-Africanist Congress and the ANC, had them.

He said having such a school is especially pertinent for an organisation like the ANC, which is 98 years old and has not only a rich history, but also traditions, policies, positions and values that it would like new members to follow.

The ANC Youth League, which sees itself in a standoff with the mother body, is already declaring that there is no need for more schooling for Malema. Youth league secretary-general Vuyisa Tulelo told journalists that President Jacob Zuma had described the party’s national general council (NGC) that ended in Durban on September 24 as the biggest political school that has gathered.

Tulelo went on to say: “From where I’m sitting, I’m pretty sure that the president of the youth league was in this school and he made some important contributions to that political school.”

Similarly, the youth league is convinced that it did not lose out on the nationalisation debate.

In interviews last week Malema claimed the league has scored a major victory on nationalisation in that it got the item on the agenda and that, come the ANC’s 2012 conference, the league will make sure it becomes policy.

Is this all hot air and political posturing as Malema gets ready to face the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) today?

There is a strong push by some party members to have him disciplined and possibly expelled from the party for his antics at the NGC, where he stormed the podium during the plenary session on the nationalisation debate.

Sibusiso Ngalwa of the Sunday Independent believes attempts to charge Malema today may be met with resistance, as the NGC is dominated by leaders sympathetic to him.

Ngalwa says these include Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, whom Malema is canvassing to become the next secretary-general of the party, Tony Yengeni, Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and deputy secretary-general Thandise Modise.

So another week goes by and the antics of the ANC Youth League leader remains in the spotlight. Why? Because he is funny, because he conjures up our worst fears or because he so neatly fits into a stereotypical view of South Africa heading to becoming another failed state?

Motlanthe summed it up cogently in his Friday night lecture. “If we allow disillusion to set in, we do not only betray a proud heritage, but unwittingly give ground to political disorders such as majoritarianism. Crudities such as majoritarianism thrive in conditions where advocacy of our heritage is devitalised,” he said.

He added that drawing back into our respective cocoons “atomises our nation into disparate units that work against each other and unravels the historic fabric that holds our society together”.

However, he said we should also be careful not to be intimidated by the normal noise of democracy. “Diverse and sometimes noisy public discourse often signals a healthy body politic. We are an activist nation and not a passive and quiet people.”

That’s a thought I am certainly going to hold on to.

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