The next few days are going to be filled with mixed emotions for the ANC as a political party.
On the one hand the party has just lost one of its great anti-apartheid stalwarts, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Madikizela-Mandela has recently been seen as one of the few remaining true revolutionaries who have made their historical mark against the apartheid system. She also spoke out against those within the ANC who betrayed the revolutionary course of action.
On the other hand, the ANC has to deal with the reality that one of its most senior leaders is to appear in court on charges not relating to his role against the apartheid government, nor any form on injustice, but of corruption.
These are the two main developments that will be on the mind of the ANC this week, representing the two contrasting worlds in which the ANC finds itself.
The ANC has a life and a character as the leader of the liberation movement, a noble role that is recognised globally even by those who were indifferent towards the apartheid regime. It is the canvass on which the story of Madikizela-Mandela will also be painted; the story of the tireless fight against injustice.
The same ANC, however, also has a character as a party that allowed itself to be consumed by corruption as a governing party. Madikizela-Mandela had voiced her displeasure about this. The history of the ANC as a governing party in a democratic South Africa cannot be told without mentioning characters such as Jacob Zuma. So it becomes ironic that Zuma's trial is scheduled to resume in the week the ANC is mourning the death of Madikizela-Mandela.
Both characters of the ANC reflect the contradictions of a post-apartheid South Africa. South Africa has a great heritage of fighting against subjugations such as apartheid and colonialism, yet it seems not to take time to reflect on this heritage as a source of morality in terms of leadership and deciding on what type of society to build.
Instead of ensuring that some of the issues fought for by the likes of Madikizela-Mandela become part and parcel of government policy, the ANC will have to devote its attention to how Zuma's court appearance may harm the reputation of the party. In the middle of mourning the fallen stalwart and reminding the nation about the glorious history of the party, it instead has to put efforts into managing the public reactions to Zuma's first court appearance.
It is a bittersweet moment for the ANC, which has to celebrate a life well lived and a political life gone astray. Although she was mostly shunned by her own party since it came to form a government, history seems to have treated Madikizela-Mandela fairly in the sense that in the last few years of her life, her concerns that the ANC needed to rekindle its relationship with the broader society were evidently prophetic.
The more the ANC lost touch with the people, the more the party went astray. There are those whose fate is yet to be decided by history. Zuma counts in this category.
Madikizela-Mandela was no longer misunderstood when she passed. She had become a voice of reason in the country. Regarding Zuma, the question as to what he stood for might be much harder for the ANC to answer. Unlike Madikizela-Mandela's story, which has become acceptable in recent years, Zuma's story might prove to be a difficult one for the ANC to narrate.
- Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes.
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