SOME 21 years on and it is sometimes convenient, or simply too easy, to forget the abyss of civil war from which our leaders drew us back and to speculate on what might have been had the ANC taken a harder line in the negotiation process that led to South Africa’s first democratic elections of 1994. We sometimes need reminding that the liberation movement achieved a “political miracle”.
We need to remind ourselves of the values held dear by Chris Hani, who represented the best of our patriots in wanting a meaningful democratic outcome for our people.
The turbulent ’80s, the era of our people’s defiance, saw the rise of the mass democratic movement led by Cosatu and the UDF, and spearheaded by the ANC. These were momentous times. It needed leaders of courage on both sides to rise above the conflict and see a path to a political settlement.
But the release of Nelson Mandela and all political prisoners, the unbanning of the ANC, the SACP and other organisations, and the return of political exiles also saw a ferocious and brutal response by those right-wing forces opposed to democracy. Thousands of innocent black people paid the ultimate price as violence swept our townships and people were murdered in their homes, thrown off trains and slaughtered in our streets in Thokoza, Lindelani and Boipatong.
It is convenient for some today to believe these were not dangerous times and that we gave up too much in the negotiations process. We did achieve a “political miracle”.
Hani represented the best of our patriots in wanting a meaningful democratic outcome for our people.
Hani had decided he would not go into parliament although there was tremendous pressure on him.
He felt power should also be built outside of government because of the political lessons he had learnt from other transitions. “The perks of a new government are not really appealing to me,” he said.
He anticipated the major challenges we would experiences as a democracy when he said, “I think, finally, the ANC will have to fight a new enemy. That enemy would be another struggle to make freedom and democracy worthwhile to ordinary South Africans.
“Our biggest enemy would be what we do in the field of socio-economic restructuring; creation of jobs; building of houses, schools, medical facilities, overhauling our education, eliminating illiteracy, building a society which cares, and fighting corruption and moving into the gravy train of using power, government position to enrich individuals. We must build a different culture in this country, different from Africa, different from the Nationalist Party. And that culture should be one of service to people.”
This is advice that we must all take to heart. After all the priority in education is the interests of the child, not the teachers, parents or government.
In health it is the interests of the patient and, most importantly for our political and economic elites, it is the interests of the citizen.
So what would he say today as we see the bulk of our youth leave school with very few skills, no jobs and unlikely in their lives to have the dignity of labour? What would be say about the predatory economic and political elites who rob our people of resources that could build houses and feed our poor?
What would he say about the political arrogance that sweeps our land? That glorifies rhetoric over action to deliver on our promises.
What would he say about the attempts to steal the voice of our people through the iron fist of the “secrecy laws”? What would he say when some of us vilify institutions that strengthen and enhance our democracy and good governance to entrench a personality cult?
What would he say when some of us loot state resources and close ranks when our own institutions that have been created to safeguard the country’s interests come under attack?
Let us all reclaim the spirit that Tshonyane fought for and died for to reclaim our movement so to be the tool to advance the interests of our people.
Gift Siphiwo Ngqondi, ANC and Samwu member (Nelson Mandela Bay region)