There goes idealism

2011-12-14 00:00

SOUTH Africans woke up yesterday morning to read of the execution in China of fellow South African Janice Linden. On reading this shocking news, it struck me that under apartheid, African National Congress operatives and many South Africans were subject to the grossest violation of their human rights, including detention without trial, bannings, torture and capital punishment. One of the major campaigns fought as part of forging a new democracy was to do away with capital punishment. And under former president Nelson Mandela, the country’s foreign policy was based on the premise of promoting democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

In a world where the sovereignty of different countries has to be respected, it is difficult to craft a self-righteous foreign-policy course. However, as analyst Audrey Matshiqi urges, the country must work towards a foreign-policy approach that errs on the side of human rights and democracy without doing too much damage to national and economic interests.

“Our foreign policy must never become an extension of the foreign policies of any other country, irrespective of its position in the global economy.”

So it was disturbing to read in the paper yesterday that Linden’s execution will have no impact on China-South Africa trade. It got me thinking about where we are headed under the current leadership of the ANC.

With barely a month to go before the organisation celebrates its centenary, it really is time to begin to know who and what the ANC is. Does the organisation itself know who it is and where it is heading?

To be fair, the ANC finds itself caught in a conundrum. It had to make a hasty transition after 1994 from being a liberation movement to becoming a political party. Today it straddles those two arenas, falling back on the rich traditions of its liberation history when that serves its purpose, especially during election time.

The problem is that it is also beset with all the woes of a modern-day political party that has become corrupted by power. There is another looming leadership battle and the party is clearly caught up in a growing web of factionalism where individual and group interests vie for access to positions of power and control of state resources.

Judging by the organisation’s own preparations for its centenary celebration, it is clear that there is very little self-examination going on. So far all efforts are concentrated on preparations for the bash to take place in Mangaung in the Free State on January 8. All of this is expected to cost an obscene R400 million and no doubt tenderpreneurs are lining up with their donations.

There’s nothing wrong with partying, and an organisation that has managed to survive for 100 years despite every effort by the powerful apartheid government to destroy it, really does deserve to celebrate. However, where the apartheid government failed, greed and avarice may succeed. Already we have seen many of the party’s guiding principles rubbished. Ethnicity reared its ugly head during the buildup to Polokwane and the leadership struggle between Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki. Remember those “100% Zulu boy” T-shirts? A sad indictment when you delve into the history of the ANC and discover that it was founded in 1912 on the basis of setting aside tribal differences. When the organisation’s first president, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, proposed the idea for the formation of an African National Congress he called on fellow Africans to forget the differences of the past and unite together in one national organisation. “We are one people. These divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes today,” he said.

By the fifties, the ANC had committed itself to non-racism which was captured in the Freedom Charter and is currently enshrined in the country’s Constitution. Yet in recent years, we have seen senior government officials like Jimmy Manyi making racist statements about the need to have quotas for coloureds and Indians in jobs.

This pales into comparison with the ultimate betrayal of the ANC’s long-stated commitment to human rights, as seen in its willingness to settle into a cosy relationship with countries like China.

Where is the caring ANC that valued human rights and dignity? The ANC of non-tribalism and non-racism? Here’s hoping that after the mega bash in January, a time of soul-searching will follow.

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