‘Walk­ing with Gi­ants’

Ex­tracts from Sindiso Mfenyana’s new book on the Strug­gle and the ANC’s fu­ture

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

SOUTH Africa’s first demo­cratic elections took place on 27 April 1994. The ANC swept the elections like an avalanche. Even we, as field work­ers, were pleas­antly sur­prised by the over­whelm­ing sup­port for the ANC in all the nine prov­inces.

The whole world ac­cepted this vic­tory as its own and lauded our new Pres­i­dent, Nel­son Man­dela, who lit­er­ally walked from prison to the pres­i­dency.

Many had worked tire­lessly day and night to strengthen sup­port for the Anti-Apartheid Move­ment in their re­spec­tive coun­tries. Our demo­cratic vic­tory seemed to herald a new cen­tury of world­wide democ­racy.

Be­cause of the brave his­tory of the ANC strug­gle and the moral stand­ing of Nel­son Man­dela, the en­tire world was fo­cused on South Africa. Many heads of state vis­ited and ad­dressed our Par­lia­ment, as the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity ex­pressed their sol­i­dar­ity with and sup­port for the new South Africa.

It was ex­tra­or­di­nary to see not only the Queen of Eng­land ad­dress­ing Par­lia­ment, but the Pres­i­dent of Amer­ica, Bill Clin­ton; Pres­i­dent Fidel Cas­tro from Cuba; the African heads of state; heads of state from Asia, Europe and the rest of the world.

For me it was as if they were com­ing to pay trib­ute to the ef­forts we had made in cre­at­ing a new coun­try, which re­spected all its cit­i­zens; as if they were com­ing to say, “South Africa, well done!”

In­side South Africa there was ju­bi­la­tion that the long-proph­e­sied Ar­maged­don

had been averted by cit­i­zens who had sought peace in­stead of war.

A hand­ful of the “old guard” re­fused to serve un­der a black gov­ern­ment. They took their pen­sions and left for what they thought would be greener pas­tures abroad.

In Par­lia­ment the bulk of the staff re­mained, will­ing to ad­just to the “par­a­digm shift”. This was a great ad­van­tage when I took up my po­si­tion as Un­der Sec­re­tary.

Dur­ing my term as Un­der Sec­re­tary my ini­tial man­date had been twofold: firstly, to un­der­stand the work­ings of Par­lia­ment, and se­condly, to help pre­pare Par­lia­ment for the in­te­gra­tion of African peo­ple. The lat­ter was still an im­por­tant man­date when I took on the role of Sec­re­tary.

My re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as Sec­re­tary also in­cluded for­mu­la­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion of op­er­a­tional pol­icy and pro­mot­ing good par­lia­men­tary re­la­tions be­tween the public and the me­dia. IT WAS in­evitable that peo­ple who had never been in gov­ern­ment would make mis­takes here and there. How­ever, in my view the sin­gle most in­jured sec­tor af­ter lib­er­a­tion was ed­u­ca­tion.

With hind­sight one can see how this hap­pened. Both in­side the coun­try un­der the UDF and in the ex­ile com­mu­nity, ed­u­ca­tion had been a top pri­or­ity.

How­ever, in 1994 prac­ti­cally all those who had de­voted the pre­vi­ous five years to ed­u­ca­tion, were placed in un­re­lated fields of work. This was vividly por­trayed by the com­po­si­tion of par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tees.

In the field of ed­u­ca­tion, veter­ans with years of ex­pe­ri­ence were el­bowed aside by young com­rades and de­ployed to new, un­fa­mil­iar ar­eas. The tragedy for ed­u­ca­tion came about be­cause of a scram­ble for po­si­tions from young peo­ple in the mass demo­cratic move­ment who wanted to get into po­si­tions of lead­er­ship in the new­ly­formed com­mit­tees. One sensed that the “inziles” feared that all the top po­si­tions would go to the “ex­iles”.

In an at­tempt to bridge a po­ten­tial chasm, com­pro­mises were made. Be­cause of these com­pro­mises, highly-trained teach­ers were over­looked in favour of peo­ple who were less qual­i­fied. A dire con­se­quence of the new ap­proach was the clos­ing of the teacher train­ing in­sti­tu­tions. At the time I thought this was the worst thing a new gov­ern­ment could do.

To make mat­ters worse, not only did we close these in­sti­tu­tions, but we of­fered early re­tire­ment to teach­ers. As a con­se­quence of this we lost our best teach­ers, who took their re­tire­ment pack­ages and then went to work for in­dus­try.

When the min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion de­cided to close the teacher train­ing in­sti­tu­tions there should have been a strong re­ac­tion from the port­fo­lio com­mit­tees in Par­lia­ment.

Un­for­tu­nately, these were peo­ple who knew lit­tle about ed­u­ca­tion and there­fore did not fully ap­pre­ci­ate the pos­i­tive im­pact of ed­u­ca­tion on so­ci­ety.

Cer­tainly it tran­spired that the vain­glo­ri­ous OBE (Out­comes Based Ed­u­ca­tion) was noth­ing more than the fan­tasy that had been re­sound­ingly re­jected at So­mafco (The Solomon Mahlangu Free­dom Col­lege) 25 years be­fore.

It is a bit­ter pill to swal­low, but per­haps we should re­joice that we now know what should not be done. By con­trast, many Eastern coun­tries­de­vel­oped through their ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems. DUR­ING our farewell party at WFDY (World Fed­er­a­tion of Demo­cratic Youth), my friend Joska Varga, the Hun­gar­ian Trea­surer, said to me, “I have no doubt that you think your lib­er­a­tion strug­gle is very de­mand­ing and dif­fi­cult. Just wait un­til you achieve your po­lit­i­cal free­dom. Then you will re­ally wish for the sit­u­a­tion where your en­emy is vis­i­ble and iden­ti­fi­able. When you have to build a new so­ci­ety, your first chal­lenge is to iden­tify the en­emy. It could be the one shar­ing jokes with you and be­ing so ge­nial.” His words echoed in my mind when I came back from Tan­za­nia to at­tend the Polok­wane Con­fer­ence in 2007. I joined a group of ANC veter­ans from all the nine prov­inces who were stay­ing at a com­mon res­i­dence. To my hor­ror all of them said, or re­ported, that they felt un­der­mined and dis­re­garded by the youth in ANC meet­ings.

Some of the youth ac­tu­ally asked them, “What do you want here?” As far as they were con­cerned the veter­ans were tak­ing their po­si­tions. It was clear then that this new ANC had no place for its veter­ans. For this rea­son we de­cided to cre­ate a third league in the ANC, along­side the ANC Women’s League and the ANC Youth League.

The third league, cre­ated af­ter Polok­wane, was the ANC Veter­ans’ League. It was es­tab­lished to en­able the veter­ans to have their own meet­ings where they would not be in­sulted and dis­re­garded.

By the time I went to the con­fer­ence we veter­ans were in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and were aware that a sig­nif­i­cant amount of work had gone into build­ing up the anti-Thabo Mbeki con­stituency…Thabo had some­how en­abled a plat­form for those who were dis­grun­tled with his pres­i­dency. A num­ber of se­nior ANC ac­tivists felt dis­grun­tled that they had not been given higher po­si­tions in gov­ern­ment.

So even mor­tal en­e­mies were united by this com­mon dis­like of the man who they thought did not recog­nise their con­tri­bu­tion.

Thabo’s re­moval of his Deputy be­came the ral­ly­ing point. The blan­ket sup­port for the un­justly treated Deputy Pres­i­dent was fur­ther fu­elled by Thabo’s an­nounce­ment that he would be will­ing to be­come a third term Pres­i­dent of the ANC. This pro­vided a ral­ly­ing point for peo­ple who had widely dif­fer­ent mo­tives. He had un­wit­tingly brought them to­gether.

Un­for­tu­nately this con­fer­ence took place fol­low­ing ma­jor dis­rup­tions within the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, so Thabo did not have the in­tel­li­gence that he should have had that would have in­formed him that he might lose. Some of us knew, but he was not aware.

Once the ma­jor­ity said that this was what they wanted, he ac­cepted their de­ci­sion. This is what is ex­pected from an ANC cadre. Per­son­ally, it was dif­fi­cult to wit­ness the col­lapse of the revered au­thor­ity of the Pres­i­dent of the ANC, and by that I am not re­fer­ring to the in­di­vid­ual role play­ers. It was the sym­bolic au­thor­ity in­her­ited from the past that OR Tambo had built on and bril­liantly ce­mented. Now this pedestal that had been as­sid­u­ously con­structed over decades had been shat­tered. Much ef­fort, sac­ri­fice and suf­fer­ing would be needed be­fore that au­thor­ity could be re­stored.

It was un­think­able that the ANC would have sur­vived the try­ing 30 years un­der Oliver Tambo with­out his strict, but ded­i­cated lead­er­ship. Un­der it, we would sac­ri­fice even our lives to at­tain our ob­jec­tive of lib­er­a­tion.

Even dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod from apartheid to democ­racy af­ter 1994, when free dis­cus­sion was en­cour­aged, there was recog­ni­tion of the need to ac­cept the col­lec­tive or­gan­i­sa­tional au­thor­ity… of the Party Pres­i­dent.

How­ever, it is per­haps time for the next gen­er­a­tion to be­gin to reap the fruits of free­dom, some of which we, the older gen­er­a­tion, will never know. The youth will have to wage their own strug­gle for a prop­erly non-racial South Africa, in which there are equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for all. I have no doubt that they will also emerge vic­to­ri­ous.

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