I HAVE in recent months been heartened by the growing avalanche of former high-profile ANC and government leaders coming out of retirement – sometimes forced retirement – to express their disgust at the conduct of their successors, the government and party leadership of the day.
It is reasonable to assume that some of these current leaders would have been mentored by today’s disgusted returnees before they were handed their leadership batons.
Something must have simply gone wrong after the current crop of leaders took over; power went to their heads, they forgot where they came from and where we, as a nation, are trying to go. They forgot that the positions they occupy are temporary privileges, not rights, to contribute to the building of our common project, South Africa.
Even more painfully, they seem to have forgotten that we, all the people of South Africa, agreed on a common rule book – our constitution – at the dawn of our democracy. It was completed and signed into law in 1996, and presented to us and to the world as the glue that would hold our very diverse nation together.
Former president Nelson Mandela was probably thinking of this rule book, still in the making, when he proclaimed to the world in his inauguration address: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”
We must remember that no party walked away from the negotiations that preceded the drafting of our rule book, with everything it demanded and expected. They all had to give something in return for something else and, importantly, they gave something in return for the certitude that our nation would stick and build together, despite a divided past.
But, of course, nowhere is it written that the rule book can never be amended, and no party can apportion to itself alone the power to change its contents – or threaten to do so – without consulting the others and without disturbing the peace. Those who, like our current crop of leaders, choose to piss in public on the carefully crafted tapestry that is our rule book do so at the expense of national harmony.
We have to remind them that the rules have to apply equally to all of us. That is the only way that the rule book can be taken seriously by all.
So, the returnees have come out individually and in groups to write letters to newspaper editors, to make calls to radio talk shows, to pen newspaper columns, get interviewed on television and address us through press conferences.
These former leaders, some of them heroes and heroines of yesterday, have spotted a gap to recast the roles they played in the past, some driven by genuine regret for their silence of the past while others – forever opportunistic – are out to take advantage of our characteristic collective amnesia to rewrite their personal stories.
But not all “hindsighters” have to emerge from the dark crevices of our recent history. Take Zweli Mkhize, ANC treasurer general and former KwaZulu-Natal health MEC, for instance; he has written a brilliant piece in response to recent attempts by former president Thabo Mbeki to rewrite history.
Mbeki has taken the liberty – by all indications with very little success – of recasting himself in a better light than that in which he is seen by analysts and historians. Right at the start of his piece, Mkhize reminds us of the oft-repeated mantra that “Our internal party discipline prevents us from engaging in public on matters we have an opportunity to discuss within our structures.”
Sadly, it is this internal party discipline that also forces too many to place party ahead of country, party ahead of constitution, and party ahead of people.
Had this not been the case, otherwise brilliant and well-educated people like Mkhize would be coming out today to lament the state of party culture, leadership and attitude to the rule book – instead of doing so years later, when much damage would have been done.
The ANC was created to fight for a better deal for the country’s African majority – those invariably referred to throughout our history as “the natives”, “the Bantu”, “the Blacks” – and, eventually, for a South Africa that first the Freedom Charter and now the rule book declare to be a home for all who live in it.
That has been the raison d’être that drove this formerly glorious liberation movement to take up arms when no one would listen to its reasonable pleas and, later, go into exile to mobilise the world against successive apartheid regimes that were bent on dehumanising a whole people.
That journey culminated in the drafting of the rule book. The role of the ANC, for as long as it remains in power, is to protect the rule book, ensure adherence to it, and drive the realisation of the society that is so beautifully described in the rule book. Not to piss on it for the whole world to see.
So, while I admire the courage of ANC leaders who are coming out to distance themselves from the wrongs that were done while they too were still enjoying the ride on the Mbeki-driven gravy train, I shall reserve my utmost respect for those who choose to come out today and distance themselves from the rot that is happening right under our collective nose.
We should not allow them, post retirement, the liberty to take advantage of our amnesia by coming out to play hero. Now is the time to act. Our courts have spoken; the rule book is clear; the Republic is taking strain and so is the glue that is holding us together!