Will the real MK stand up

As the ANC’s for­mer mil­i­tary wing marks 55 years since its for­ma­tion, Mar­ion Sparg says the real MK cadres must rise up and lead from the front

CityPress - - Voices -

More than 18 months ago, I wrote an open let­ter to Pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma, call­ing upon him to re­sign be­cause of the Nkandla saga. In that let­ter, which was pub­lished here in City Press in March 2014, I pointed out to him that I had been in touch with many for­mer mem­bers of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the army he served in ex­ile for 16 years. They were heart­bro­ken; they could not be­lieve what was hap­pen­ing to their or­gan­i­sa­tion and their coun­try.

Last Sun­day, Novem­ber 27 2016, I joined many of those same for­mer com­bat­ants at a meet­ing at Mu­seum Africa in Jo­han­nes­burg. Th­ese were not high-fly­ers, just or­di­nary, coura­geous in­di­vid­u­als who had had enough.

This was a rank-and-file ini­tia­tive of for­mer MK mem­bers tak­ing charge of their sit­u­a­tion and destiny. There were no spon­sors from big busi­ness or du­bi­ous bene­fac­tors. This event was or­gan­ised and funded by those who at­tended, who gave what they could, de­ter­mined to make it suc­ceed. They came from Gaut­eng, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.

They had trained in An­gola, Tan­za­nia, the Ger­man Demo­cratic Repub­lic, Cuba, the Soviet Union and in South Africa it­self. One cadre re­marked quite se­ri­ously that she was re­lieved to see that peo­ple of more or less her own age were present. Re­fer­ring to some of the ridicu­lously young peo­ple who ap­pear on TV in cam­ou­flage, claim­ing to be MK veter­ans, she said: “I can see and hear that we all ac­tu­ally are MK. I was hop­ing I would not find 20- or 30-year-olds here. I mean, how can you be that age now in 2016 and claim to be an MK veteran? MK was de­mo­bilised in 1993.”

The cadres I joined on Sun­day op­er­ated across bor­ders; they com­manded in front­line states; fought in town­ships like Duduza, which was one of sev­eral known as Beirut in the 1980s; spent time in prison and de­ten­tion; and re­main fiercely loyal to the ANC and its ideals of a non-ra­cial, non-sex­ist, demo­cratic and pros­per­ous South Africa. Sadly how­ever, many of th­ese in­di­vid­u­als are un­em­ployed, sickly, age­ing and home­less. They feel like they have been left be­hind.

The in­ci­dent that stands out in my mind is of a for­mer com­bat­ant who came to the meet­ing in shabby clothes, with a small back­pack on his back and a beam­ing smile, and who was greeted with out­stretched arms by one of the or­gan­is­ers who im­me­di­ately turned to me and said: “Com­rade Mar­ion! Do you know this cadre? I’ve been look­ing for him for a year! He sleeps on the streets, this com­rade. It’s amaz­ing, some­how he’s heard about this roll call and he’s here.”

As I left the meet­ing, the same cadre, who trained in An­gola along­side many oth­ers, rushed to give me his con­tact de­tails, beg­ging for help. A job, he said, any job. What about the MK Mil­i­tary Veter­ans’ As­so­ci­a­tion (MKMVA), I hear you ask? The de­part­ment of mil­i­tary veter­ans (DMV)? He’s been there; gave up on them a long time ago. It was a poignant mo­ment that ex­plained why so many MK veter­ans feel they have been re­duced to the sta­tus of pro­fes­sional beg­gars in the new South Africa.

But Sun­day’s meet­ing was not just a gath­er­ing of com­radesin-arms to be­moan their fate.

As con­vener Mpumelelo Cindi put it, the in­ten­tion was to give for­mer MK com­bat­ants a voice. To tell the ANC and South Africa we have our own voice. Kebby Maphat­soe, the cur­rent chair­per­son of MKMVA and deputy min­is­ter of defence and mil­i­tary veter­ans, does not speak for us. #NotInOurName.

Any­one who at­tended Sun­day’s meet­ing would have been in­ter­ested to find that there was no pos­tur­ing in fake cam­ou­flage uni­form. Well, okay – there was one cadre in com­bat who could not re­sist the al­lure of mil­i­tary re­galia. Every­one else, though, was quite happy in their civvies, recog­nis­ing that MK is no more. Their mil­i­tance is car­ried in their hearts.

The meet­ing was hon­oured with the pres­ence of Com­rade Ahmed Kathrada – Rivo­nia Tri­al­ist, Isith­wa­landwe Sea­parankwe (the high­est hon­our awarded by the peo­ple of South Africa, through the ANC, to those who made an out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion and sac­ri­fice to the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle), a found­ing fa­ther of Umkhonto weSizwe, and part of the orig­i­nal high com­mand. This is one of the veter­ans who Maphat­soe has had the gall to de­scribe as an “empty tin”.

The for­mer com­bat­ants were out in full sup­port of Com­rade Kathrada, who they re­fer to as “a walk­ing his­tory book”, and all the stal­warts and veter­ans who have been en­gag­ing with the ANC na­tional work­ing com­mit­tee out of their con­cern for the state of the or­gan­i­sa­tion and the coun­try.

Many MK veter­ans live and die in ab­ject poverty while the DMV un­der Maphat­soe’s watch ran up a bill of more than R900 mil­lion in ir­reg­u­lar, fruit­less and waste­ful ex­pen­di­ture dur­ing the 2015/16 fi­nan­cial year. They won­der too how they will ben­e­fit from the R250 mil­lion worth of shares that MKMVA got from the Shiva Ura­nium Mine linked to the Gupta fam­ily. Or will they be dead and buried be­fore any div­i­dends come their way?

Th­ese veter­ans do not re­gard them­selves as spe­cial or priv­i­leged in any way, shape or form. They are aware that they live in a sea of in­equal­ity with mil­lions of other South Africans. All they are ask­ing for are the ben­e­fits due to them from the DMV and the MKMVA. The lat­ter has notched up one busi­ness deal af­ter an­other with lit­tle, if any­thing, to show for cadres like the old man who guards sheep for a pit­tance on the hills of Mpumalanga, dream­ing of his days in MK; the for­mer com­bat­ant who com­mit­ted sui­cide two years ago by drink­ing acid; or the cadres who still can­not sleep at night, 23 years into our democ­racy, trou­bled with men­tal ill­ness.

Maphat­soe has in ef­fect ren­dered the MKMVA use­less, dis­man­tling struc­tures, purg­ing in­di­vid­u­als and groups that refuse to toe his line, em­bold­ened and pro­tected through his as­so­ci­a­tion with the per­son he calls “Num­ber One”.

Like so many in South Africa to­day, Maphat­soe has built what some­one has de­scribed as a “vi­cious cir­cle of un­touch­able­ness”, re­ly­ing on pa­tron­age and in­tim­i­da­tion, us­ing his po­si­tion in the MKMVA and govern­ment to fur­ther his own nar­row po­lit­i­cal ends. Sun­day’s meet­ing drew a line in the sand. “We did not desert MK be­cause of food short­ages or un­bear­able camp con­di­tions and we are not go­ing to be in­tim­i­dated by any­body,” one cadre said.

Maphat­soe’s fol­low­ers at­tempted to desta­bilise Sun­day’s gath­er­ing by hi­jack­ing the first venue that had been booked in Ekurhu­leni. But th­ese cadres had been or­gan­is­ing for a long time and would not be de­terred. Their voices were go­ing to be heard and an al­ter­na­tive venue was found at the last minute.

It is shame­ful that Maphat­soe and his fol­low­ers have been the face and voice of for­mer MK com­bat­ants un­til now. But let us be real. Maphat­soe is noth­ing in the big­ger scheme of things.

We have reached the cur­rent state of af­fairs un­der the lead­er­ship of a pres­i­dent who him­self joined MK at a very young age and who spent 12 years on Robben Is­land, along with the same veter­ans Maphat­soe now ridicules with im­punity.

Sun­day’s meet­ing has not been the first of con­cerned MK veter­ans. Let­ters have been sent to Luthuli House over the past two years, to the Of­fice of the Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral and to Pres­i­dent Zuma him­self call­ing for ur­gent in­ter­ven­tion but to no avail.

Can one fix some­thing that is as bro­ken as MKMVA? Or does one sim­ply be­gin again? Th­ese are some of the ques­tions that must be dis­cussed. And is­sues of MK can­not be dis­cussed un­der the guid­ance of in­di­vid­u­als such as Maphat­soe.

More voices like those who gath­ered last week­end must be heard as we move to­wards the 55th an­niver­sary of Umkhonto weSizwe on De­cem­ber 16. It is time to re­claim the MKMVA and the rich his­tory of MK and the ANC. Never again must we al­low our his­tory and our name to be mis­used and abused.

MK was a po­lit­i­cal army. It was the armed wing of the ANC. The June 16 de­tach­ment was schooled in pol­i­tics by giants like Jack Simons. MK pro­duced cadres of the cal­i­bre of Joel Net­shiten­zhe, Then­jiwe Mt­intso, Welile Nh­lapho, Gen­eral Siphiwe ‘Gue­buza’ Nyanda – our last Chief of Staff, and many more.

We were trained and taught in a proud tra­di­tion in the ranks of Umkhonto weSizwe. This tra­di­tion did not in­clude blind loy­alty and pa­tron­age but, rather, a sober mind and crit­i­cal out­look.

We carry a great po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity as for­mer MK mem­bers and will not ab­di­cate that re­spon­si­bil­ity at a time when our coun­try ap­proaches cri­sis point and when veter­ans are in­sulted for tak­ing the lead. #NotInOurName Sparg is a for­mer MK cadre and re­ceived the Vuy­isili Mini

Award for Brav­ery by MKMVA last year


VETER­ANS OR TWEN­TYSOME­THINGS? MKMVA mem­bers guard the en­trance to Luthuli House in Jo­han­nes­burg in Septem­ber against a protest group, mostly ANC mem­bers, call­ing for the res­ig­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma and the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee

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