I AM captivated by the African National Congress (ANC), the great movement that led us out of apartheid bondage.
I have recently invested time and money trying to understand this beast. I have read books on its history — there are a lot of good ones.
I continue to speak to people mentioned in the books.
I am fascinated with two aspects of its history: the exile years and the internal operation, specifically how the culture of resilience and inefficiency continue to permeate the organisation as a governing party.
As a requiem for a dream of some sort, I have recently spent time with many men and women who were prepared to pay the ultimate price so that SA could be a prosperous nation.
I have also tracked individuals, looking at their reactions and opinions at certain times. An example is Zola Skweyiya, a former social development minister who, until recently, was our ambassador to London. Let’s call him bhuti Zola. I see him as being a prominent member of the generation of leaders that are in power now; Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki’s contemporaries: all men who were born around the time of the Second World War. Deep down, I have a problem with the fact that a population as young as ours continues to be led by people of a bygone era. But that is a story for another day.
I interviewed bhuti Zola just after Zuma made his opening speech at the ANC 2010 national general council (NGC), asking him what his views of the speech were.
He gave the speech the thumbs up, and was critical of the manner in which Julius Malema and other ANC Youth League hotheads were raising the “nationalisation debate”.
Five years later, after Zuma gave his opening address at the NGC two months ago, I had to track down the same bhuti Zola.
He shook his head and suggested I speak to Max Sisulu.
The former speaker of Parliament was not very helpful; he sounded like someone who was in pain as he tried not to say anything meaningful.
I have a question about, and to, ANC veterans. These are people who were prepared to die for a bigger cause if need be, so that I could one day live in a democratic, prosperous country, so that I could chase my dreams, and be free to write columns like this.
In my interactions with the golden oldies, I often get the sense that they agree with my fundamental assessment: that the liberation train has derailed. But, it usually takes hours and hours, peeling through all the layers of guilt and denial before they actually open up.
I now find that liberation movements are both a blessing and a curse. The ANC, for example, managed through impossible circumstances to achieve what was its only goal — eradicating minority rule.
But we are now stuck with a dictatorship of a different sort and a president who thinks his party has a God-given right to lead, and lead forever.
The brazen and catastrophic nature of Nhlanhla Nene’s removal from the Cabinet this week is an example of that.
The party gets away with terrible decisions that will come back to hit us all in the pocket. Anyway, my gripe is not with Zuma, but with the veterans.
The veterans I talk to realise the ANC has lost its way, more so under Zuma. But they speak in hushed tones. They agree that the Nkandla scandal was badly managed. They agree that a large number of people in public office do not have the moral standing and skills required at that level.
So, I ask an unfair question. Why are you quiet now, when you were prepared to die for the ideal of the emancipation of the black child back then? Why is it difficult to do the same now? Their reasons for their obviously painful silence vary. But my assessment is that, because people like bhuti Zola keep getting “deployed” by the ANC government, it is difficult for them to speak out. They still depend on the crumbs the ANC patronage system dishes out.
It is unfair of me to expect them to sacrifice again, like they did against apartheid, and take on a draconian Zuma machine that has, like an invasive plant, extended its tentacles in a way that sucks the life out of the entire political ecosystem.
But I have to ask, because these veterans say they are still ANC members, members of its veterans league and part of the broader body that lends a semblance of credibility to a leader flawed beyond redemption.
It is essentially these stalwarts’ legacy that is at stake.
Is this what they were prepared to die for?
Mkokeli is associate editor. Natasha Marrian will be back next week