The resounding message at the commemoration of late freedom fighter Chris Hani yesterday centred on calls for unity within the ANC, which has in the past few months been making headlines for internal squabbles – particularly between those aligned with secretary-general Ace Magashule and party president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Addressing attendees at the Thomas Titus Nkobi Memorial Park in Ekurhuleni after the wreath-laying ceremony for the struggle hero yesterday, Ramaphosa said Hani had been a unifier who was always ready to intervene when the party was facing issues.
He said it was important for the governing party to fight off the “demon of divisions” because only a united ANC could successfully lead the country.
He described Hani as the kind of leader who never displayed reckless behaviour or ill-discipline, and never did anything that might divide the party or polarise the nation.
“Comrade Chris, in many respects, embodied the finest traditions of our revolutionary alliance, which brings together the ANC and Cosatu. They’re traditions of unity, traditions of forever trying to renew the ANC, traditions of integrity, honesty and service to our people. Today we heard that Comrade Chris was a unifier, but above anything else, he was a nation-builder.
“Our unity [as the ANC] has to be based on honesty among ourselves, the courage to face reality, adherence to what has been agreed upon and also the need to be principled,” said Ramaphosa.
He said Hani had been an individual who was fully committed to building a democratic South Africa.
“He was more than a disciplined soldier – he put the interest of the people first. He didn’t allow himself to be captured by any other interests,” said Ramaphosa.
SA Communist Party (SACP) secretary-general Blade Nzimande strongly criticised the conduct of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA), saying their actions did not emulate those of Hani.
He rebuked the MKMVA for supporting select members of the ANC at the expense of others and said they were causing divisions within the governing party.
This had informed the SACP’s support of the ANC’s decision to merge the MKMVA and the MK council.
“We must condemn the factionalist abuse of the name of Umkhonto weSizwe. MK would never mobilise in support of some leaders against other leaders of the ANC and the alliance.
“Don’t abuse the honour and memory of Umkhonto weSizwe to pursue factionalist battles and project [these at] MK as if it were a private army for some leaders of the ANC and the alliance. We must speak the truth because the person we’re commemorating was honest. He was never afraid to raise issues,” said Nzimande.
He added: “We want to say that all cadres and all revolutionaries should stand up and defend the ANC when it’s faced with serious challenges of unity. No communist must celebrate factionalism and divisions in the ANC. We must defend this ANC – and this ANC isn’t for sale.”
MKMVA members led by their spokesperson, Carl Niehaus, have been at the forefront of supporting former president Jacob Zuma and Magashule as they face criminal charges.
Cosatu second deputy president Louise Thipe, former MK combatant Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Hani’s widow Limpho Hani, Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina and ANC Gauteng deputy chairperson Panyaza Lesufi also spoke at the event.
Among the delegates were Magashule, ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile, deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte and ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Nomvula Mokonyane.
In her speech, Thipe said that alliance partners should take the task of building unity and renewal seriously. She mentioned that the patience of South Africans was wearing thin.
She pledged Cosatu’s support for the ANC’s implementation of the step-aside rule, which states that members who are criminally charged should be given 30 days to step aside.
This means that Magashule and others who have been implicated in wrongdoing have just under two weeks to bow out from their positions.
“We affirm the importance of the ANC NEC decision that was taken about those who have narrow selfish interests stepping aside. We can’t be led by questionable people who bring the name of the organisation into disrepute,” said Thipe.
However, her utterances did not sit well with Hani’s widow, who then pleaded with speakers not to include issues regarding ANC NEC decisions in their speeches, as the focus of the event was to honour her late husband, who had been a unifier.
“We’re at Chris’ grave and he was a unifier. I suggest that we don’t bring the discussions from the NEC to this function. Here we’re united because we’re all part of the ANC. We shouldn’t have factions, but when you bring up NEC discussions, I think you’re dividing us more. Let’s support whatever decisions were taken. I respect my husband and you all know he was a unifier,” said Hani.