Now that you’re all gone, here is my last open letter to you as the Rivonia Trialists.
I greet you all in the name of the continuing struggles of our people. It’s been almost eight years since I penned an open letter out of frustration to the remaining four of you at the time. That was long before it was acceptable in the eyes of ANC members to be publicly critical of our political home.
I lamented then the rot under Jacob Zuma. The looting of state coffers was just too much, plus the slaughter of the Marikana mine workers by his trigger-happy police officers.
Back then, I found it easier to write to you than any living ANC leaders because you represented an era in which you had sacrificed more than most. To me, you represented purity and integrity, something that is sadly lacking in many of our leaders.
You were prepared to languish in prison for the rest of your lives to prove a moral point and to bring our liberation struggle to international attention in the 1960s.
Some of their responses to me were intriguing, especially because a few weeks before I penned that letter I was at a function with Ntate Andrew Mlangeni and Ntate Andrew Goldberg. It was at the launch of my ANC branch at the time – the Denis Goldberg Branch. At that function, their expressed sentiments differed in parts from their public responses to me.
I was honoured, however, that they took me seriously enough and schooled me as best they could. The challenge they gave me was to go and be part of the solution, and not just shout from the sidelines. I took up that challenge and started doing political work both professionally and as a branch member.
I must admit, it hasn’t been an easy ride.
Uncle Kathy’s private counsel
Uncle Kathy – Ahmed Kathrada – chose to not respond to me publicly. Instead, he summoned me to his home, not only to school me about the Rivonia Trial and the ANC of their time, but also to express his great disappointment in the ANC of 2012.
Expelling an ANC president was not unheard of, he said. He brought up the issue of Dr JS Moroka, who was removed in 1952 for rejecting the party’s principles of racial equality. He said other parties were not the enemy as they helped further the democracy they all fought for. He also said that the DA must not be dismissed because it capitalised on the ANC’s failures.
He said that, when he felt the time was right, he would speak out about his disappointments publicly. And indeed he did. In 2016 he wrote a letter to Zuma telling him to resign. His was the most credible voice to lament our status quo of the time.
Fast forward to today, when we are dealing with the biggest global humanitarian crisis of our time and being led by someone who said he was bringing us a new dawn. I believed him and had great hopes for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s tenure. But, over the past few months, I have been greatly disappointed by his failure to act decisively on elements in his executive and his office.
The fish rots from the head.
Comrades talk about due process and investigations into allegations, blah blah blah. Those involved in scandals must simply be asked to leave for bringing the office of the president and the ANC into disrepute. Why can’t we emulate mature democracies on this? Goodness knows that we copy so much else.
South Africans are tired of the ANC simply slapping the wrists of rogue elements. ANC members and activists are tired of defending the indefensible. An example has to be set, and this should have started with the minister who flouted the lockdown regulations.
How do we expect our people to follow the law when our own leaders won’t? I blame our leaders for the fact that people roam the streets of Soweto and unknowingly spread Covid-19.
The ANC must lead by example. Our people are suffering more than ever before and, amid that misery, “cadres” are at the feeding trough. Worse still, white companies are benefiting more than legitimate black businesses in government’s procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Society is angry that office bearers at national, provincial and municipal levels are benefiting during this health crisis. They are tired of politically connected people profiting from tenders in general, but the anger is palpable now more than ever before.
Whether it’s fair or not, this is our reality. If you have a certain surname or are related to certain people, many expect you to stay away from doing business with the state.
Do I agree with this sentiment? I must say no, but only when the contracts are awarded on merit after a fair bidding and assessment process. But I do understand where the critics are coming from.
This week, Ramaphosa appointed a committee to deal with alleged corruption in all spheres of procurement, including PPE.
Yes, yet another committee. His committee is not the only body investigating this mess. There are the Public Protector, the Special Investigating Unit, the SA Police Service, various ANC bodies and the SA Human Rights Commission.
I ask myself, why can’t he simply instruct the Hawks to investigate and, together with the National Prosecuting Authority, charge those found to have looted, instead of silently watching them get involved in the family squabbles of former ministers?
It remains to be seen whether the president will rise above the ANC’s internal squabbles and deal with so-called radical economic transformation forces, plus tackle the new dawn brigade who are close to him. He must act decisively.
Thieves oversee thieves
Recently, in a WhatsApp group, a person commented: “Thieves overseeing thieves.” This comment went unchallenged. Now, what does that tell you about the perceptions our people have of the Ramaphosa executive?
As with Tata Madiba’s passing, comrades shamelessly rewarded themselves with tenders for Ntate Andrew Mlangeni’s funeral services. The ANC leader of today has no shame. He steals from the dead and he steals from the most vulnerable during a humanitarian crisis. He now builds people shacks and erects school fences, then holds hand-over ceremonies.
The emerging noise from the radical economic transformation looters of the past reprimanding the new dawn looters of today is laughable. They’re not done eating, though, if recent media reports are anything to go by.
The tragedy about the PPE mess is that, while they are busy stealing, healthcare workers with minimal access to basic safety equipment such as masks suffer and contract the virus.
These are soldiers without guns, silently treating the sick and then becoming sick themselves. Too many have perished doing their labour of love – that of saving precious lives.
So what now, I wonder. Do we stay silent and continue to watch the further destruction of the movement? Or do we have an uprising from within, shouting not in my name?
We owe it to you to fight for the soul of the ANC. My generation cannot hand over the ANC to future generations in its current state.
It’s time for Ramaphosa to risk it all.
Sexwale is a communication strategist and social commentator