‘Walking with Giants’
Extracts from Sindiso Mfenyana’s new book on the Struggle and the ANC’s future
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.