The ANC turned its back on its intellectual heritage

The Freedom Charter, signed in Kliptown in 1955, has given birth to free debate and labour rights. Picture: Robben Island Mayibuye archives
The Freedom Charter, signed in Kliptown in 1955, has given birth to free debate and labour rights. Picture: Robben Island Mayibuye archives

The ANC was established by a black elite of men and women mostly educated in the Christian missionary schools in the Eastern Cape and tertiary institutions overseas.

Throughout its socio-political and organisational life, it has been a document based movement characterised by the production of historical papers and great orators who inspired millions of people globally. 

The mind wanders to the 1943 Africa claims document, now encapsulated in the Charter of the United Nations, the Programme of Action adopted in 1949 which shifted the rhythm of the anti-apartheid struggle, the 1955 Freedom Charter which captured the overall oppressed people’s imagination of our land and is the edifice of our Constitution, and the 2001 Through the Eye of the Needle document which guides the ethical code of public representatives in all public institutions. The list goes on and on. 

On the policy front post-1994, the ANC and its leagues continued with this intellectual tradition of shaping the public discourse on issues such as reconciliation, nation building, the African renaissance, economic freedom, and free education. From its conference resolutions to public statements made by their collective representatives, the ANC was clear on its ideas. 

When it came to the subject of education, the public knew how the ANC characterised it. When it came to the subject of imperialism, the public knew how the ANC defined its agenda around it. 

The ANC correctly diagnosed South Africa’s problems in a concise sequence of poverty, unemployment and inequality; and this became the acceptable description of our challenges across the board. 

The intellectual quality of its leadership saw it gain legitimacy, reliability, and trustworthiness amongst people. Communities saw it as an institution that is a mirror image of their aspirations. It had a pioneering and a towering intellectual heritage. 

Fast forward to 2017, the ANC cannot complete a conference without the eruption of violence. Their democratic leadership elections are riddled with factionalism, vote-buying, gatekeeping and murder.  

The outcome of their elections are constantly verified by courts to establish their authenticity. Their public representatives do not speak on behalf of the people, they speak for themselves and on behalf of an arranged criminal network of externally controlled patronage. 

Technical education, political experience, intellectual prowess, community endorsement and administrative urgency are no longer a requirement to occupy structures. In other words, the ANC has been infiltrated by foolhardiness and crooks, and it has institutionalised all these malfunctions.

On a more embarrassing note, the liberation movement established by formally educated men and women is, 105 years later, currently not led by a person and a collective from that intellectual heritage. The liberation movement has actually become anti-intellectual, characterised by the appointment of a person without education to head the country’s public broadcaster. 

It is an organisation that can no longer articulate its own mission clearly: radical economic transformation. It has even become a taboo assemblage to speak about. Veterans produced by it find it difficult to be associated with its name.

All these problems are what characterise the ANC in the public discourse every day. The recent Eastern Cape conference demonstrates the catastrophe. Nobody knows what the ANC discussed in that conference on the land question that engulfs the province. 

Nobody knows what the ANC discussed on the subject of free education facing its youth and how can it prevent their socio-economic exclusion from the four universities based in the province. The public is unaware of all these bread and butter issues that the ANC was formed for and made sacrifices for their articulation.

People are not aware of the discussions on these matters because they were simply not discussed to begin with. Instead, the conference was characterised by the usual spectacle of violence, gatekeeping, and factionalism which only arrange the 2017 and 2019 eating queue of taxpayer’s resources.

The absence of the critical ideas of the ANC in the mainstream discourse of the country is the ANC’s own creation. It must stop blaming the media, academics, religious leaders, and NGOs for “misrepresenting” it. The ANC is misrepresenting itself by outsourcing its historical mission to lead society to the Gupta-criminal network. 

It is the ANC itself that allowed a president found to have violated his oath of office by a Constitutional Court to remain in office. It is the ANC itself that abandoned the Freedom Charter as its guiding political framework in its key political and socio-economic strategic choices. 

All these deliberate blunders have landed the ANC in a serious intellectual degeneration. It has lost its glorious 105 year history characterised by heroic sacrifice and leadership of integrity that made it resonate with the overall sociological imagination of the African people. 

It has become an ordinary political party that is seen removable from power and from the historical fabric of South Africa. Ground breaking ideas and inspirational leadership can no longer be associated with its name. It has kindled a fire of anger and disappointment amongst the African people that will probably burn forever. In other words, it is engaged in an intellectual genocide.

- Pedro Mzileni is a master’s sociology student and SRC president at Nelson Mandela University.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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