Max du Preez

Tutu's outburst a political turning point?

2011-10-05 10:05

Max du Preez

Desmond Tutu’s extraordinary outburst against the ANC could prove to be a turning point of sorts in our politics - perhaps one day we’ll refer to it as a Rubicon that was crossed.

The retired archbishop’s criticism of the ruling party on Tuesday was the most profound condemnation of the former liberation movement ever by a black leader of solid national - and international - standing.

No, Desmond Tutu is more than that. He had done more during the 1980s to force the National Party into negotiations than Jacob Zuma or anyone else in the ANC in exile, even Umkhonto we Sizwe’s Chris Hani.

Tutu spearheaded the drive to isolate apartheid South Africa through sanctions and boycotts.

Pastor to the nation

He was a driving force behind the United Democratic Front that brought more pressure on the regime of PW Botha than the ANC itself. Remember him with his purple cassock in the front row of those huge marches and rallies?

Tutu has been the pastor to the nation, the moral compass of the people for three decades.

He opposed apartheid in the name of God, not for the sake of power. He was the one who risked his own life to save a man who was about to be necklaced at an emotional funeral. It was his huge moral standing and fatherly sense of wisdom and fairness that made the Truth and Reconciliation Commission a success.

The government’s pathetic handling of the Dalai Lama’s visa application was merely the final trigger for Tutu’s indignation. His deep unhappiness with the ANC has come a long way.

His is not an isolated voice. Professor Njabulo Ndebele, arguably South Africa’s foremost public intellectual, has been saying similar devastating things about the ANC, in a chapter of a book I recently edited, Opinion Pieces by South African Thought Leaders, and in opinion pieces in the Sunday Times the last two weeks.

There are many others, like former struggle icons Jay Naidoo, Ronnie Kasrils and Mamphela Ramphele, who have expressed serious reservations about the direction the ANC has taken during the last three years.

I have also noticed how many of our prominent black intellectuals and opinion formers have shifted in the recent past from a generally supportive role to one sharply critical of the ANC.

This does not mean the ANC has automatically lost electoral support. The majority of the poor, the working class and rural communities are probably as loyal as ever before.

But the ANC is losing the support of the black thinking classes and elites. As we have seen in Zimbabwe and Zambia, this is probably the beginning of the slippery slope for the liberation movement. Businessman and commentator Moeletsi Mbeki said at a meeting in Sandton last week where he and I both spoke that he didn’t think the ANC would be in power beyond the 2018 elections.

The handling of the Dalai Lama affair is typical of the ANC’s astounding arrogance; of its now firm belief that it is the state.

If someone, the responsible minister or the president, had come out when they were informed of the visa application, and said there was a risk that they would annoy an important trading partner and investor and they would rather not allow the Dalai Lama, most South Africans would have said what a pity, but we can live with that.

An insult to the citizenry

But to pretend that they were treating it as a normal visa application and that it was taking more than two weeks to process was just too much of an insult to the citizenry. The man has been here three times before and he is probably one of the world’s most regular travellers – he knows how to fill in visa applications.

As Cabinet Minister Tokyo Sexwale said on the eNews Channel on Tuesday night, it’s not as if the Dalai Lama was Al Capone.

(It was a bit rich of Sexwale to express his outrage at the handling of the affair right at the end of it. Why didn’t he ask the questions two weeks earlier?)

The official lies of the department of international relations were on the same level as the startling statement by the secretary of Parliament on Tuesday that he was considering withdrawing the parliamentary accreditation of a senior journalist who spoke to a member of his staff. “You can’t have reporters just go up to officials and ask them for comment,” I heard him say on radio. I thought that was exactly what reporters were supposed to do.

This is what happens to a political movement whose leaders are so focused on fighting internal power struggles and on self-enrichment that they have no time or energy left to lead their people.

PS. I was disappointed once again in the initial reporting of Desmond Tutu’s outburst by the media. Virtually all the reports I took notice of in the hours after his press conference said that Tutu said the ANC was “worse than the apartheid government” and that he was praying for its downfall. Go and look at the transcript, that’s not what he said. His comparison with the apartheid regime was very specifically tied to the visa decision and was mentioned after a story he told about a passport application during the 1980s by UDF leader Dullah Omar. He didn’t say he was praying for the ANC’s downfall, he said the day will come when people will do that. Get it right, guys.

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Read more on:    anc  |  dalai lama  |  tokyo sexwale  |  desmond tutu

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