Saving the ANC

MKMVA members wearing camouflage uniforms guard the entrance to Luthuli House in Johannesburg during the #OccupyLuthuliHouse demonstration on September 5 last year. Picture: Thulani Mbele / SOWETAN
MKMVA members wearing camouflage uniforms guard the entrance to Luthuli House in Johannesburg during the #OccupyLuthuliHouse demonstration on September 5 last year. Picture: Thulani Mbele / SOWETAN

The outcome of the local government elections in August 2016 left me aghast. I never imagined that the ANC would find itself in the opposition benches and certainly not in a city such as Johannesburg or Pretoria where the seat of government – the Union Buildings – lies. I was
not alone.

There were others with whom I had shared the trenches before 1994 who were concerned. They had watched other developments.

For example, a few weeks after the elections they watched on their TV screens as events unfolded outside Luthuli House where members of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) had gathered.

They assembled outside Luthuli House in September last year in military uniform saying they were there as the people’s army, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), having announced to the world that they were following battle orders to defend the “black, green and gold”.

Those they were defending the ANC against were a group of unhappy ANC members and supporters who had arrived to hand over a memorandum to the party’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe.

Many watched with alarm, fearing the day would end in violence. Were we going to see former members of MK in physical confrontation with ANC members and supporters? A number of former senior commanders of MK had become increasingly worried about the state of organisation of the ANC and, in particular, the role that the MKMVA was playing in the political life of the ANC.

We were inundated with calls and queries on a daily basis. Commanders, you led us before MK was disbanded. You are our seniors. Are you just going to sit back and do nothing? What are you going to do?

To do nothing was not an option. That is not the MK way. As one of the MK national council resolutions reads, in part: “… throughout the history of our movement, and particularly in times of crisis, MK has contributed to finding solutions.”

Now it appeared to again quote one of the council resolutions: “MKMVA had become involved in factionalism and sought to style itself as the political voice of the Umkhonto weSizwe community, distorting both the history and values of MK.”

How did I as the last chief of staff – or “Bra T” Godfrey Ngwenya, the longest-serving regional commander in Angola in exile – reconcile the values and practices we had been taught with what we saw on our TV screens?

A steering committee was established with other senior comrades such as Thabang Makwetla, Dipuo Mvelase, Tony Yengeni, David “Dambuza” Malada and many more. We sought to bring these concerns to the attention of MKMVA leadership with the assistance of the office of the secretary-general of the ANC. These efforts failed. As did further efforts for a national assembly of former MK members to be convened by the secretary-general’s office.

We felt it was important to proceed and so we did. On December 17 last year, we convened the Umkhonto weSizwe national council at Nasrec in Johannesburg. The event was attended by over 1 000 former MK members, including ministers, deputy ministers and members of the national executive committee (NEC) of the ANC. On Monday, we met with ANC officials, the so-called top six, to report on the council and present the council resolutions.

These resolutions had been kept confidential until this meeting. We did not want to communicate with our leaders through the media. The resolutions are now public and perhaps, as expected, the one that has taken the media (including social media) by storm is one that has been wrongly interpreted as a council resolution calling on the [ANC] NEC to disband. A more careful reading of this resolution in fact reveals that a strong feeling was expressed at council that the NEC should step down at the national consultative conference, followed by all structures of the ANC. That this issue would not be welcomed by our comrades among the top six is something we were painfully aware of.

However, our duty as leaders of council was not to water down resolutions, but rather to ensure that the manner in which they were drafted and communicated reflected the mood of council. Council was disciplined. But it was angry. Make no mistake about this. The officials’ view was that dissolving structures when the ANC was facing such severe challenges would weaken the organisation, not strengthen it.

The approach had been tried before, and had not worked. In many instances, one landed up with something far worse.

Our discussions with ANC officials this week were therefore open. They were frank, robust and to the point. More importantly, the officials welcomed our approach. National chairperson, Baleka Mbete, in fact said that were it not for this approach, the leadership of the ANC would have been deprived of vital information. They disagreed that the NEC should disband, but were open to a forthright, truthful conversation. This honesty and toughness were what they expected, they said, from those who had occupied senior positions in MK.

The officials generally acknowledged the huge resource the ANC had in former MK cadres, in whom many years of political education, training and experience had been invested. An undertaking was therefore made to ensure that former MK members were fully involved in the ANC preparatory committee for the national consultative conference and national policy conference.

It was also agreed in principle that both the Veterans’ League and MKMVA conferences be brought forward and preferably take place before the national consultative conference. Both events would provide vital input to the consultative conference and policy conference. There was also an in-principle agreement that former MK members should be involved with the work of the national working committee’s organising and political education committees. Deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte undertook to arrange planning meetings with these structures and the steering committee.

The officials committed to lending their authority to engagements between the steering committee and ANC structures.

One of these engagements took place on Tuesday when the steering committee met the leadership of MKMVA. The outcome of this discussion, again a very positive one, will be discussed in a joint media conference next week.

There is a long way to go, but we are not discouraged. On the contrary, we are encouraged by the welcoming spirit with which we were received this week. We are mindful of the hard work, but are determined to not walk into a mass grave with anyone who seeks to bury the ANC. We are here as former MK cadres not to bury the ANC, but to help save it.

Nyanda was the last chief of staff of MK

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