Struggle credentials aren’t a free pass to anything
WHO owns the Struggle? Who has the right to claim it and quote from it? Who has the authority to make judgments based on it?
Should people’s contribution during the Struggle matter at all post-apartheid? And does it matter less if those people are no longer involved in organisations involved in the Struggle or, worse, have joined forces with parties who were not involved in the Struggle or were seen to have been opposed to it?
These questions occupied my mind this week as various people evoked the Struggle to illustrate different points.
For instance, before he handed in his resignation as acting SABC chief executive, some people were wondering what had happened to the Jimi Matthews, who had been involved in the Struggle and who had covered many political protests as a cameraman in the 1980s.
In questioning the goings-on at the SABC, senior parliamentary reporter Lukhanyo Calata evoked the memory of his father, Fort Calata, one of the Cradock Four who were killed by the police on June 27, 1985. Calata, Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhuali had been intercepted by security police outside Port Elizabeth. Their deaths marked a turning point in the liberation struggle inside South Africa, putting tremendous pressure on the apartheid regime.
Matthews redeemed himself with his resignation, saying he could no longer work in a corrosive environment. There were some people, however, who felt his resignation was a case of too little, too late. But it was Calata’s comments which made many people sit up and think. He reportedly said the direction taken by the SABC “flies in the face of what many have sacrificed”. He accused the SABC, his employer, of curbing media freedom and wondered what had happened to the leaders of the liberation movement who “stood at my father’s grave and waxed lyrical about the freedom he died for”.
“How do they live with themselves? How do they watch as the rights and freedoms the Cradock Four were brutally murdered for are systematically being undone?” Calata was quoted as saying.
Subsequently, the top brass at the SABC announced they would take action against Calata. It remains to be seen whether Matthews’s actions will be enough to redeem him in the eyes of his critics.
But this column is not about the SABC. It is rather about the relevance of Struggle credentials in post-apartheid South Africa.
There are many people who contributed to the Struggle and who disgraced themselves subsequently. There are others who contributed and decided, after 1990, to concentrate on building their lives, something which had not been a priority during the Struggle years.
There are others who found new causes and made that the battle grounds for their new struggles.
These include HIV/Aids, free and better education and media freedom, which some people in the ruling party would like to curtail.
But there are also people who were not involved in the Struggle – some might be too young while others might not have been inspired to get involved at the time – who are now making a great contribution to our society. Does a contribution to the Struggle outweigh latter-day contributions?
There are also many who left the former liberation movement a long time ago and now find themselves in what used to be enemy ranks. I am not talking about Loyiso Nkohla and his group of Ses’Khona supporters who defected to the DA recently. Throwing faeces outside the provincial parliament, or anywhere for that matter, does not make you a Struggle veteran.
I am talking about people who were out and out supporters of the ANC and its then-biggest rival, the PAC, and who now will have nothing to do with either of these organisations.
Do we undervalue their contribution today because they are no longer members of the club?
This becomes a crucial question as we head towards local government elections when certain people will want to be judged on their history and Struggle credentials – and they are not only in the ANC – when they should be judged on whether they are able to deliver services at a local level.
I decided a long time ago I would not support any political party or individual politician just because we share a history. I would rather support someone based on the difference he or she is making to society, irrespective of party affiliation.
Many of us believed the Struggle ended in 1990 after Nelson Mandela was released, or in 1994 when we voted for the first time in a democratic South Africa. However, what is becoming clearer to me every day is the Struggle is far from over. It is just taking on different shapes. While we should appreciate the contribution of those who went before us, we should also judge their actions today in relation to the many challenges we face. Just because somebody opposed media restrictions in the past does not give her the right to become a censor today. And just because somebody opposed apartheid in the past, does not mean that he cannot be racist today.
There are some in the government who believe if you are critical of them then you are counter-revolutionary. But what if some of the actions of people in the government are counterrevolutionary?
I believe in a set of values which determine my actions and my attitude towards the actions of others. These include a belief in non-racism, non-sexism, a desire to have a more equitable society where everyone has equal access to opportunities, and a strong commitment to a free media.
If your actions go against any of my beliefs, then I will take issue with you, irrespective of your Struggle credentials.