Snouts to the trough

2008-04-11 00:00

I joined the ANC in 1979. A long, long time ago. I was young and idealistic. Today, I am verging on old, and still idealistic. Back then, I crossed the border into Lesotho and as I did it seemed as though I was entering another universe. The ANC was, naturally, extremely suspicious of me at first — in those days, it was rare for whites to cross borders and join its ranks. It was much more likely that white men would be trying to infiltrate the organisation to destroy it.

I joined the ANC at a time when the apartheid government was rampaging across the subcontinent. At home, it was utterly draconian in its ruthlessness and brutality. Most people lived in fear. Conversely, whites lived in clover. They would comfort each other with the fact that their sons were defending the country against communism and a take-over by “garden boys”. The churches they attended either defended apartheid or found a list of reasons not to criticise the government. When, in rare instances, there was theological critique, whites either left the church in their droves, hounded the priest out of a job, kept silent when imprisonment was meted out, or banishment, or exile.

When I joined the ANC, it was an extraordinarily disciplined organisation. The first thing you learnt was discipline. Discipline about what you spoke about. Discipline about who you spoke to. Discipline about how you lived your life.

It was a war situation, but I was never in the military wing of the ANC. Yet we all had our part to play. Umkhonto we Sizwe was brave, certainly, but had a difficult time being effective against the resources of the SADF. Cadres were, in most cases, utterly self-sacrificing, often to the point of torture and death. When you joined the ANC you knew that you might well be signing your death warrant. I was lucky in that I had a white skin and a priest’s collar to provide me with some measure of protection. I could use both of them in all sorts of ways. And I did. We were, all of us — the armed fighters and the tongue-lashers, the priest and the poet, the professor and the young lion from the township — disciplined cadres fighting for justice in our country. And amazingly, together, we won. The Constitution which we have today was a direct product of that long and blood-soaked struggle. We won over the forces of darkness and death. We were free.

I heard F. W. de Klerk announce the unbanning of the ANC and our trusted ally, the South African Communist Party. I watched from a little house in Imbali, the release of Nelson Mandela. I followed him in a cavalcade around the poorest areas of Pietermaritzburg and watched in wonder as thousands of people came out to greet him. I was proud to be a member of the ANC.

I am no longer a proud member of the ANC. I am loyal, but no longer proud. I feel shame and a deep sense of disgrace. Because what I and you are seeing, over and apparently over again, is the stampede of snouts towards the trough. The latest example of this is the widely publicised behaviour of the delegates at the Youth League Conference. It was, and remains, shameful and disgraceful. They have brought calumny and disgrace on a noble organisation and on the bones of the many who lie dead in the fight for their freedom. We did not struggle for thugs to govern. That I know for certain.

A week or two ago, I attended my first ANC branch meeting in Rondebosch, since moving to Cape Town. I admit, I was somewhat ap-prehensive as to what I might find there. I need not have been. I found ordinary and extraordinary people there, none of whom I had met before, but all of whom I recognised. People I could listen to and agree with. People I felt, instinctively, I could respect. People who, I knew, had a level of discipline I am not ashamed to expect and should not be surprised to find in this organisation.

And it was a broad range of people too. Young black men who were articulate and thoughtful. A few white women and a few white men, and, sadly, very few coloureds. All ages. Across all levels of wealth. But the views expressed — and more importantly — the compassion which came across in those views, was the ANC I know and love. Maybe it is all a mirage. Perhaps I will be disappointed. But at least this is true that not everyone in the organisation is entirely in it for themselves. The trick is going to be, how to rescue it from the thugs. Because if we don’t, when this band of hooligans and miscreants set themselves up to take high office later on down the line, it will be Zanu-PF writ large. Or maybe even worse.

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