Lend wise elders an ear
Leaders of the governing party are increasingly taking note of a steady stream of behaviour on the part of its members which appears “alien” to the ANC. They speak of the urgent need for the party to rid itself of conduct unbecoming if it is to survive and thrive, and continue to run South Africa.
The conduct referred to includes displays of open and brazen corruption, the buying of branches, ill-discipline, disruptive behaviour at meetings, the emergence of personality cults and the public exchange of insults among members.
The most recent show of bad form has to do with members denigrating party veterans and stalwarts, who have dared to offer counsel that is not in line with the thinking of certain groupings.
The ANC’s national leadership has had its fill dealing with this disturbing trend, but seems powerless to instil awareness among its increasing numbers of rogue leaders of the stature of the party’s grey-haired brigade.
Just the other week, the ANC had to shout down Kebby Maphatsoe, chairperson of the Umkhonto weSize Military Veterans’ Association and himself a veteran – of hurling insults, that is – for describing ANC stalwarts as “empty tins” after they spoke out about the current state of the party and the direction the country is taking.
Not to be outdone, last weekend ANC Youth League leader Collen Maine arrogantly told the stalwarts to shut up because “we don’t owe you anything” and “you don’t have special membership”. He made the extraordinary claim that he and his ilk may have done a better job than the veterans had they been around in the 1960s, when the armed struggle commenced.
And, speaking on the same platform as Maine, eThekwini mayor and regional chairperson Zandile Gumede called the veterans “amafake”.
Those who have declared open season on the stalwarts seem to have the backing of the man on whose behalf they make these slurs. He himself has taken to throwing shade at the veterans, and has questioned their standing within the structures of the ANC – an unthinkable thing for a leader of a liberation movement to do.
Crowds of ANC supporters cheered as these insults were fired, thick and fast, at a generation which gave its all for the republic. This is an oddity, and an embarrassing trend in the ANC – an organisation steeped in tradition, which could hitherto tap into the aura of its liberation struggle credentials to retain popular support.
Until these disruptions, the ANC was renowned for jealously guarding its ownership of liberation struggle icons. Many will recall recent incidents illustrating this, such as the party throwing toddler tantrums when the DA attempted to appropriate Nelson Mandela’s legacy as part of its election campaign, and when it fiercely opposed the Economic Freedom Fighters’ claiming Solomon Mahlangu as one of its icons.
How strange to now find prominent party members disowning some of its most venerable recruits. Even stranger is the fact that these veterans are being called out for trying to redirect the ANC from the rocky road it is traversing to a smooth path leading to a better place. It is most unnatural to reject one’s elders for performing the role which elders are meant to.
All societies need a group of elders who can be called upon for counsel when the going gets tough. From nations to organisations and sports clubs, from villages to families, all require the wisdom of elders. Even if it comes unsolicited, this wisdom is invaluable. And heaven knows just how badly this country and the governing party needs that wisdom right now.
The ANC and, by extension, South Africa are blessed with pre-eminent elders who continue to live by the courage of their convictions. These individuals led one of the world’s most celebrated freedom struggles, having armed themselves with the best intellectual tools at their disposal. They serve as a repository of knowledge and experience, which we should be eagerly tapping into.
This is not to say they are infallible. We should not worship them for the sake of it, but rather, respect their good intentions and honour their words of wisdom before they depart our world.
In contrast, those who seek to reduce their status betray just how morally wanting they are.
In rejecting and denigrating our esteemed elders, such ingrates are working to create a nation of imidlwembe, or political bandits. Already intellectuals have been demonised and religious leaders who have spoken out have been roundly rebuked. Calls by honest party members and state officials for probity have been met with derision. And institutions which have steadfastly fulfilled their mandate have been termed rogue.
The assault on veterans marks another step towards the creation of a mdlwembe society. The ANC has turned a blind eye to other conduct unbecoming, but the abuse of veterans should raise alarms and be regarded as sacrilege by the ANC, given that these are attacks on its own history.
It all goes to show just how far party members’ morals and historical perspectives have slid.