There but for the grace of God

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

In De­cem­ber 1990, when the ANC held its first con­fer­ence on South African soil af­ter three decades of ex­ile, there was an air of op­ti­mism and con­fi­dence at the event at Nas­rec in Jo­han­nes­burg. Free­dom was on the hori­zon and the keys to the Union Build­ings were tan­ta­lis­ingly within reach. The en­emy was clear: it was the apartheid gov­ern­ment of FW de Klerk, which, while open to change, wanted to hold on to as much power and con­trol as pos­si­ble. It was a dif­fer­ent ANC from the one we see to­day.

At­tend­ing the con­fer­ence were for­mer ex­ile lead­ers and com­bat­ants who had sac­ri­ficed their lives in pur­suit of a good South Africa. There were for­mer pris­on­ers who had spent chunks of their lives in apartheid pris­ons. The in­ter­nal con­tin­gent con­sisted of ac­tivists, union­ists, mil­i­tant young­sters, gen­der rights cam­paign­ers, tra­di­tional lead­ers and clergy. The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor among the 1 600 del­e­gates was that they had been selfless fight­ers for the cause of free­dom and had taken risks in this quest. They were also po­lit­i­cally schooled – whether in for­mal set­tings or in for­ma­tions in­side the coun­try.

The geo­graphic spread was also in­ter­est­ing. The so-called PWV re­gion (now Gaut­eng) had the big­gest del­e­ga­tion, with the East­ern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga) com­ing in se­cond. The West­ern Cape, which is to­day one of the weak­est, was a strong third back then.

The ANC re­turns to Nas­rec to­day look­ing de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent. The mood is dire, with the loss of power loom­ing in the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture. The en­emy is un­clear as dif­fer­ent fac­tions turn on each other and out­side en­e­mies are in­vented daily. The del­e­gates are no longer selfless. While many wear their strug­gle cre­den­tials with pride, they wear their crass ma­te­ri­al­ism and greed just as proudly. At Nas­rec, there will be a lot of peo­ple who should be in­side a jail cell in­stead of a con­fer­ence hall.

In 1990, the sol­diers were led by real sol­diers. Now, the peo­ple at the fore­front will be ser­vants of the Gupta em­pire.

The same goes for the youth, who were then led by the likes of Peter Mok­aba, who was agile and fiery. The per­son ar­tic­u­lat­ing the as­pi­ra­tions of young peo­ple is a chunky be­ing who speaks like he is read­ing a bed­time story to a tod­dler. The women of 1990 had bat­tle-scarred stal­warts lead­ing them. This week, the women are ... well ... ja.

De­liv­er­ing the key­note ad­dresses that De­cem­ber were two demigods of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. Nel­son Man­dela had spent the pre­vi­ous 10 months get­ting the ne­go­ti­a­tions on the road. He and his lead­er­ship were com­ing un­der heavy crit­i­cism within the ANC and in the town­ships for be­ing too gen­er­ous in their con­ces­sions to the Na­tional Party ne­go­tia­tors, whose Third Force was fo­ment­ing vi­o­lence and or­ches­trat­ing mas­sacres. Del­e­gates to the con­fer­ence landed some body blows. The world icon took it all in his stride.

He said: “The lead­er­ship has grasped the prin­ci­ple that they are ser­vants of the peo­ple, and that they must seek guid­ance from the masses in tak­ing im­por­tant po­si­tions and in the for­mu­la­tion of pol­icy ... Our ba­sic re­sponse, there­fore, is that we ac­cept with­out qual­i­fi­ca­tion most of the crit­i­cisms that have been made against us and we will do ev­ery­thing in our power to cor­rect these mis­takes.”

Oliver Tambo was re­cov­er­ing from a mas­sive stroke he suf­fered be­cause he just couldn’t stop work­ing. The 30 years of run­ning a banned or­gan­i­sa­tion that spanned the globe, had con­flict­ing ide­o­log­i­cal strands and was un­der con­stant phys­i­cal threat had taken its toll. His im­paired speech did not stop him from cap­ti­vat­ing the au­di­ence.

Tambo struck an op­ti­mistic tone, al­most that of a Moses who was about to take his peo­ple across to the Promised Land.

“Like in the Congress of the Peo­ple of 1955, com­rades came from all cor­ners of the coun­try, young and old, black and white, to re­assert the peo­ple’s de­mand for free­dom now. We can there­fore count on the re­sults of this con­fer­ence to lay a firm and un­shak­able ba­sis for a rapid ad­vance to peo­ple’s power ... I have no doubt that, af­ter this wa­ter­shed event, we are ready to meet the chal­lenge of the day, boldly, cre­atively and ef­fi­ciently,” the great man said.

De­liv­er­ing this year’s open­ing and clos­ing speeches is a man who has spent the past decade dodg­ing the law and help­ing his fam­ily and chums loot state re­sources.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s open­ing speech was that of a man un­der siege, fight­ing en­e­mies of dif­fer­ent guises on many fronts: the ANC’s stal­warts, the op­po­si­tion, busi­ness, Mar­tians and Plu­tans. He was acer­bic and small, un­able to be a ser­vant leader.

Zuma had come to rally his forces to de­fend him. The cri­sis fac­ing the party and the coun­try were mere dis­trac­tions that he oblig­ingly ad­dressed in the pre­pared speech. But he was in to­tal de­nial about his cen­tral role in cre­at­ing the mul­ti­ple crises and in­fect­ing the South African body politic with a deadly virus.

In 1990, as the ANC left Nas­rec, it was con­firmed as the moral leader of so­ci­ety and be­gan its march to­wards con­fir­ma­tion as the statu­tory leader of so­ci­ety. At the end of this week, it will leave hav­ing con­firmed that it has long lost its stand­ing as the moral leader of so­ci­ety and that it is well on its way to los­ing its place as the statu­tory leader of so­ci­ety.

Be scep­ti­cal of those who deal in ab­so­lutes and tell you that you are go­ing to hell

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