Nobody Knows What Our Fallen Heroes Would Say About SA Today

2014-05-28 02:45

Many a times I wonder what we’d be saying had Jacob Zuma been, say, assassinated during the struggle. I often stop to think about the many slogans that would be inundating our social media timelines had it been that Thabo Mbeki didn’t live to experience the intricacies of a democratic nation. Given all the branding of Mandela as a ‘saviour’ of the people, I can’t even imagine what analysts would be writing about had he died on Robben Island.

These thoughts have for a very long time been troubling me, particularly on the days when popular freedom fighters like Chris Hani, Robert Sobukwe and Oliver Tambo’s historical marks are being commemorated. ‘What would Hani say about the current developments in the country,’ memorial lectures are presented. We convince ourselves that ‘corruption wouldn’t exist if Tambo were alive’.

But who knows?

The problematic nature of these assumptions is that they are sometimes used opportunistically by the media and other disgruntled or bitter pundits to use the struggle credentials of our fallen heroes as a tool to denigrate the ruling party or particular persons. I think had Jacob Zuma died during the dark years of our struggle we would today be wearing T-shirts with his face and a patronising ‘Do it for Jacob Zuma, Vote ANC’ writing. Nobody would be interested in digging into his private matters and other acts committed in response to the dictates of the struggle. He’d be Jacob Zuma the gallant revolutionary, who, had he been alive, would speak out decisively against almost everything – factions, Mbeki’s recall, everything.

Surprisingly, today when we mention Thabo Mbeki to some, his views about the relationship between HIV and AIDS are likely to make the first appearance in our minds, not necessarily his profound input in the national liberation movement. Additionally, Mamphela Ramphele suffers judgment from some parts of our society for her involvement with Steve Biko and her rightful struggle credentials are disregarded, but it’s rare to come across a negative comment made about Biko’s involvement in the affair.

This week I read a comment from one social media user who was lamenting the change in the character of Cyril Ramaphosa, recalling the years he used to be a ‘revolutionary’ leader. I inferred from the bewailing that if, suppose, Ramaphosa had fallen in the fight against apartheid, this user would be composing the most touching slogan in remembrance of, as normally phrased, ‘a leader, an organiser, an intellectual, a true cadre’ (maybe we’d also have to do it for him by voting ANC or joining NUM).

I hope the examples I’ve provided bear a fair degree of intelligibility. It’s not easy to write an article on this topic, given the emotional way with which we (correctly) remember and protect the legacies of our late leaders. I won’t be shocked if I’m labelled a disingenuous, ungrateful ignoramus as a result of this piece.

To be honest, nobody can claim to know what the dead's positions would be about certain events in our country. Leaders who were graced to see the dawn of freedom and participate in a democratic government had to transition from being freedom fighters to being presidents, ministers and leaders of a party in government. We as citizens witnessed them as they struggled to find their footing in a complex system of government, tackling issues of national importance and making serious mistakes as public office bearers. They make tough decisions for the nation, not a specific constituency. They are no longer heroes but servants. So, in a democracy that enriches, tempts and corrupts the politically connected, no one can attest to the insulation of a particular leader from the challenges of a constitutional democracy. Some of us publicly condemn Nelson Mandela and the ANC’s approach to negotiations. We call them sell-outs and wish that those who are no more could have lived longer. Insincerely we’d be among the millions who’d be wishing Mandela should’ve never died in prison, had it been the case. I’m saying our obsession with commemorations is turning us into less critical admirers of struggle credentials, in total disregard of the fragility of the political climate and the complicatedness of negotiations.

We sound like an orphan who even in obvious difficulties wishfully asserts: If only my parents were still alive...

And so I wonder if death deliberately picked leaders who were infallible, leaving us with the ones who only joined the struggle to enrich themselves. Or is it perhaps that we suffer from an exaggerated commemoration syndrome? I mean the insults I'm expecting for writing this buttress the sensitivity with which we tread on the topic of our heroes. But in all fairness, the argument here is not that we must not celebrate the contributions made by our struggle heroes in the liberation of our people, but that we should be careful not to paint a dishonest, unrealistic impression around these respected cadres of the movement since most of them would be following the ANC policy, not running their own shows, thereby making them a part of this very leadership collective we despise.

Okay, maybe I should confess my skepticism toward historical anecdotes since all these leaders who are failing us boast very impressive struggle CVs, but still can't convert their credentials into a good record of public service. So who can boldly say he knows what the fallen ones would say or do?

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