Nqakula memoir: Zuma must go
The current captain and crew of the ANC Titanic do not know how to steer it away from the icebergs in its path, writes the author
A MAJOR book is to be launched tomorrow by former journalist, military commander and cabinet minister Charles Nqakula. The People’s War – Reflections of an ANC Cadre, offers a compelling memoir of those who participated in the Struggle for freedom.
It seeks to pay homage to the unheralded and often seemingly forgotten fighters of the liberation movement.
In his book, Nqakula calls on President Jacob Zuma, a close confidant, to relinquish the state presidency when he gives up the leadership of the ANC in December, so as to give the new president an opportunity to lead the liberation movement into the watershed 2019 general elections.
This was because Zuma had become “the weakest link” amid widespread allegations and increasing evidence of state capture.
The Mutloatse Arts Heritage Trust and Real African Publishers describe the book as “a highly personal and evocative glimpse into extraordinary life experiences. It offers a vivid account of complex situations that shaped his life, that of his compatriots and South Africa today, with intimate access to key politicians and monumental moments through the history of the ANC”.
The book is to be launched tomorrow at 6pm at The Castle in Cape Town, the first building and stronghold of the colonialists, and home of the then apartheid army’s Western Province Command, which was bombed by the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto weSizwe, of which Nqakula was a senior commander.
While it now serves as the Western Cape headquarters of a united SANDF, The Castle was where the first political prisoners were incarcerated, tortured and killed.
As a journalist and leader of the journalist union, the Media Workers Association of South Africa, Nqakula was jailed, tortured, banned and forced into exile, serving full-time in MK in exile and in Cape Town as part of Operation Vula.
The launch, to be attended by cabinet ministers, MPs and dignitaries, is to include a keynote address by Nqakula’s wife, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
Say the publishers: “Over a span of 50 years, the book humanises what it means to struggle by unearthing stories of personal encounters with an extensive spectrum of ANC cadres. Experiences with iconic leaders past and present, such as Oliver Tambo, offer readers an encyclopedic insight into an often hidden world.
“Now, speaking openly for the first time, a former general secretary of the SACP and political adviser to the Presidency, gives readers a ringside seat to his emotional and often painful journey of love, struggle, tragedy and commitment with his wife and family. “The People’s War revisits the past in light of a politically charged present and asks difficult questions of the ANC by exposing sensitive truths and observations in the party. The book offers a platform to reconsider South Africa’s collective memory by connecting with the country’s political pathway, acknowledging sacrifices made and proposing solutions to the current political crisis.”
Mutloatse Arts Heritage Trust founder, Dr Mothobi Mutloatse, said: “With South Africa facing uncharted political waters, politicians and the people want to know where our country is headed, The People’s War – Reflections of an ANC Cadre gives readers a chance to reflect on our current crisis through the lens of history.”
Extract from Charles Nqakula’s book The People’s War – Reflections of an ANC Cadre
HOW did we get here?
The question reverberates around the room like an explosion. It is asked whenever small groups of serious ANC members meet and try to assess the political damage that has been caused to the movement over more than 20 years of freedom.
Baleka Mbete, Lindiwe Sisulu, Tony Yengeni, Thabang Makwetla, Nosiviwe and I used to sit together and discuss political developments in South Africa, especially those relating to the ANC. Our views would sometimes find their way into the discussions of the NEC, of which we were members.
Lindiwe first asked the question after Thabo Mbeki sacked Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s deputy president, and disunity took root in ANC ranks. It was about the political milieu that some of the actions or decisions of the ANC leadership had catapulted us into. It was 2006 and Lindi, Nosiviwe and I were sitting in a corner at Lindi’s home in Cape Town. The question was intended to interrogate the divisions that were threatening to tear the ANC asunder. The gathering storm was ominous. Fast-forward to 2017: the political tsunami has grown exponentially and threatens to break the formidable bonds that kept the ANC together for many years.
Members of the ANC, celebrating 105 years of the movement’s establishment in 1912, defied the inclement weather on Sunday, January 8, 2017, to fill Orlando Stadium in Soweto to capacity – latecomers had to be shuttled into designated overflow areas outside the stadium. It was a big show of force and an attempt to silence the movement’s detractors, who had been crowing about the loss of support for the oldest political formation in Africa.
They were gloating because the ANC presented an image of a wounded lion that could be killed off by political predators.
Of course, the ANC has been wounded – not fatally, but wounded nonetheless. Its wounds are self-inflicted – a consequence of self-injury of the worst kind.
President Zuma, charged with delivering the NEC celebration address on the day, painted the following picture:
“The people have told us that we are too busy fighting each other and we do not pay sufficient attention to their needs. Our own research and interactions with members of the ANC demonstrate clearly that the people abhor the apparent preoccupation with personal gain… We must commit to the unity of the ANC and the only noble fight that we must engage in is a fight to serve the people and not ourselves.
“We must learn from President OR (Tambo) and continue to demonstrate to the people, in word and in deed, that the ANC remains the organisation most capable of leading South Africa. The ANC must unite so that we are able to unite the people against our common enemies – unemployment, poverty and inequality.”
It would seem, though, that none of the leaders of the movement has the necessary political will or authority to bring everybody into line and enforce the ANC’s core values. Instead they complain, like some of the junior leaders in the branches and provinces, about the presence in the organisation’s structures of “negative forces”.
The current Top Six, elected in 2012, comprises Jacob Zuma as president, Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president, Baleka Mbete as national chairperson, Gwede Mantashe as secretary-general, Jessie Duarte as deputy secretary- general and Zweli Mkhize as treasurer. It is a house divided. The pending December 2017 elective conference of the movement
has sharpened their differences and hardened the divisions. At the centre of the problem is the fact that they have different interests that the election outcome will affect.
Tambo believed that there were no battles the ANC would not win if it was united. Problems did surface from time to time under his watch, but the ANC was able to deal with some of the negative energy, including the shenanigans of the Group of Eight. Tambo intervened whenever problems emerged and drove unity as the glue that would keep the ANC together.
When the founders established the ANC, they never thought it would one day degenerate to the level where it finds itself today – penetrated by members who are bent only on financial gain and ready to use crooked means to get their hands on it. Most of the time the money is needed to bribe comrades for support in elections.
I often wonder what image of the ANC drifts across the mind of African Christian Democratic Party leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe’s mind when he looks at and listens to its members debate in Parliament, at least since the 2009 election. The ANC’s biggest electoral victory was under Mbeki in 2004, when it scored a 69.69% victory, securing 279 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly.
Meshoe’s refrain from 2004 – maybe a warning – was that the ANC may have become smug and arrogant in the face of that huge victory. He went on to say: “You may believe, at this time, that you are like the Titanic. Remember that ship was supposed to be unsinkable but it did sink. You are also going to sink.” The 2009 election saw the ANC lose 33 of the 279 seats it won in 2004. Its tally dropped again in the 2014 election, when it scored 62.15%, losing a further 15 seats.
Then came the movement’s worst performance – in the 2016 local government elections, when it lost the major metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay to a coalition of opposition parties.
The loss threw the national leadership of the party into a cauldron of confusion and nonsensical statements. The most obvious nonsense was the view that the ANC had lost nothing.
Meshoe may be reserving his judgment, but he must be secretly praying, as a minister of religion, for another dose of divine intervention in the 2019 elections to ensure that an opposition coalition takes power from the ANC. He surely wants the Titanic that is the African National Congress to sink.
The current captain and crew of ANC Titanic do not know how to steer the ship away from the icebergs in its path. They cannot get rid of the corruption in the ranks of the movement, nor deal with the negative tendencies that have sown disunity. They have been immobilised by their own culpability for the wrongs that have become almost second nature at every level of leadership.
Lindiwe Sisulu’s question stands: “How did we get here?” I have an answer: we walked away when wrongdoing took root and its putrid smell permeated all our endeavours. We wanted to keep our hands and noses clean. We are to blame as much as the current leaders are.
My last point is a personal plea to President Zuma. At the end of the December 2017 conference, the ANC will have a corps of new leaders, including a newly elected president. Zuma must not agree to the suggestion that his term be extended to align it with his current term as president of the country, which would change history by influencing the terms of future presidents. Such a move would have to be thoroughly discussed to determine whether it carries advantages for the ANC.
The members of the movement, including the delegates that the various structures will send to conference, may have many tactical differences on how to move forward, but wherever they stand on the conflicts over positions in the movement they all agree the ANC must be united. That unity of purpose will help the organisation to reoccupy its position as the tried and tested leader of South Africa’s masses. It will also ensure that the ANC retains power for as long as possible. Whatever their position on the conflicts of the day, no member of the ANC wants to lose power.
The masses must see and be convinced that the new ANC president has what it takes to lead the whole country after the 2019 elections. For that to happen, the newly elected president must be given space to project him or herself as leadership material. To that extent, Zuma should resign his presidency of the country soon after the ANC has chosen its leaders. The party would then pilot through Parliament the new ANC leader as South Africa’s president.
Zuma owes it to the founders of the ANC and the leaders who preceded him over many years to give the next president an opportunity to present themselves in the highest office in the land and exert authority over everybody, thus leading the organisation’s forces and the other South Africans towards “a new life, embracing the diverse phases of a higher, complex existence”, as Seme put it. That is what the ANC calls a better life for all of South Africa’s people – black and white.
The ball is in Zuma’s court. His conscience should tell him what to do and, knowing him to be a revolutionary democrat, I am convinced he will do what is right. I believe he still possesses the right revolutionary orientation, and that this will make him understand that he must yield power in order to gain respect and save the movement he leads.
The People’s War – Reflections of an ANC Cadre is released in paperback and as an e-book. The book will be launched a the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town on Tuesday, June 13, starting at 6pm, and at the University of Johannesburg’s Kingsway campus on Thursday, June 22.
Former cabinet minister and Ambassador to Mozambique, Charles Nqakula is currently the chairman of Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence.
AT THE HELM: South African President Jacob Zuma greets supporters at a rally to commemorate the 105th birthday of the ruling African National Congress in Soweto on January 8, 2017.