Sowing Division

25 August 2008

A response to the article, ANC makes the state its enemy, by Njabulo Ndebele

The apartheid state machinery used every dirty trick in the book to sow division in the ANC. It spoke of communists and nationalists, of moderates and radicals, it spoke of tribalism, militants and ‘good’ leaders.

Indeed, our enemies will never abandon efforts aimed at dividing us, simply because they are enemies of genuine progress. However, today they give us different name tags. The contemporary fashion that has really been allowed to outgrow its enclosure in the South African discourse is the reference to ANC structures and/or members as either a ‘Zuma or Mbeki faction.’

In the Sunday Times of 17 August 2008, Njabulo Simakahle Ndebele, former vice-chancellor of UCT writes “the ascendant Zuma faction has been heedlessly chipping away at the institutions and offices of democracy,…’

On 8 June 2008, Presidents Zuma and Mbeki released an article titled “There are no ANC camps.”

In spite of what comrades Zuma and Mbeki say in the statement about the non-existence of camps in the ANC, Njabulo still sees his ‘ascendant Zuma faction.’

The ANC suffers the wrath of the good Professor simply because the programme of the ANC rally to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday designated Zuma as president (of the ANC), and both Mbeki and Mandela as former presidents (of the ANC). 

It is worth noting that in that rally, comrade Thabo Mbeki stood up and said that comrade Jacob Zuma as our President, would be the one to speak on our behalf, and then proceeded to invite Zuma to speak.

Elsewhere, in what seems to be an admission, Njabulo says, “although this may be the way the ANC ordinarily handles its protocols, it is nevertheless intriguing that the organization does not proclaim a sitting head of state as its own and accord him the normal courtesies of protocol.”

What in fact is ‘intriguing’ is not how we handle our protocols as the ANC, but how on the basis of such handling, we can be accused of  “chipping away” at the state institutions by someone who readily admits that such handling may well “be the way the ANC ordinarily handles its protocols.”

To remain outside of the ANC and however, arrogate to oneself the right to tell the organization how it should run its affairs reflects the highest degree of arrogance. He undermines the ANC’s ability to make its own decisions. 

Njabulo is a highly learned South African. He knows very well that if he needed to establish whether we have departed from organizational practices with respect to the composition of programmes, all he would have to do is compare the programme in question with all our previous programmes. He did not do this, because he knows he is not going to find any inconsistency. Which is why his grumblings are not as innocent as they are made to appear, but are part of a sinister intent to sustain a perception of division in the ANC.

He says, “while the designers of the programme may not have intended to convey such a signal, it is possible to read it in the light of current internal party leadership disputes.” What current leadership disputes is Njabulo talking about?

In December last year the ANC held its national conference, debated and resolved many issues ranging from its Constitution to resolutions on the various aspects of our country’s political, economic and social life, including the issue of the cadreship that will lead our movement to its centenary celebrations in 2012. Moreover, for us such vigorous debate and political differences as demonstrated during Conference represent a natural democratic expression of views typical of any democratic and large organization as the ANC.

Contrary to what some may believe, it is the lack of honest debate that will be a threat to the ANC and our country. It is the culture of vigorous and open debate which helps us to tap into the varied social experience, and strengthen the quality of the decisions we take about the future of our country and its people. 

In their statement of 8 June comrades Zuma and Mbeki in part write, “both of us have nevertheless been alarmed by the persistent campaign to communicate a false message that we are at war with each other, as alleged leaders of two opposed factions…”

“This shameless speculation and negative campaign have provided a very convenient basis publicly to project the false view that the ANC is a movement at war with itself.”

Despite all this, in August 2008, Njabulo is still dreaming about his “party leadership disputes.” Where has he been?

We have never asserted that the ANC is made up of people who agree on everything. In any case, we do not even need such a monolithic ANC. It is incorrect and mischievous to portray and elevate honest and open debate in the organization as if such were an end in themselves, and not a process towards reaching consensus. The ANC is united by its commitment to the realization of a truly non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. Debating every issue before reaching agreement is what will get us there.

Contrary to what NJabulo thinks, the President of the Republic, comrade Thabo Mbeki, attended Mandela’s 90th celebrations not as state president but as a leader and member of the ANC. Perhaps Ndebele would not understand this; we members of the ANC are part of a heroic tradition of struggle. We are very proud of our membership of the ANC. Comrade Mbeki, like Dube, Tambo, Mandela and others, occupies a very honoured place in the history of our organization. That they are former Presidents of our heroic movement is for us, of deep significance, as a reflection their commitment to the cause of freedom and justice.

Njabulo says, “The high suggestibility of the programme’s intention in this regard is not entirely unreasonable given that Zuma indeed wants to be the president of South Africa. In this way we are subtly prepared for such an eventuality.”

Part of paragraph fifty three (53) of the ANC resolution on organizational renewal reads, “That the ANC President shall be the candidate of the movement for President of the Republic.” I fail to see any subtlety in a decision pronounced publicly by our Conference in 2007. We do not implement policies and decisions that had been hidden from the people, we have no such. The policies we implement are published decisions adopted by Conference. No one needs to be prepared before we implement, for everyone knows what we shall implement.

Thus Njabulo reduces the decision of Conference into a personal ambition, why? Indeed, to tell the truth in this case would not have served his misguided portrayal of the ANC as an organization in crisis, ravaged by  ‘factions’ and an organization whose leaders are driven by personal ambitions.

Contrary to what Njabulo thinks, apart from the hard election campaign we must undertake, we do not need to prepare anyone for Zuma to become President of the Republic, if he is in any doubt about the decision of Conference, perhaps it’s him who needs to prepare himself.

We must assure Ndebele that his fears about the possibility for the ANC to betray “an illustrious history” will never become real. Like him, we are immensely proud of this history. It inspires us and strengthens our belief that working together as South Africans, we shall build a caring, humane and just society. We shall realize the goal of a better life for all. This is not to say we do not, or will not from time to time experience difficulties. Despite the difficulties, we shall continue – as our track record indicates – to make steady progress.

On page one hundred and fifty four of the book of short stories, Fools and Other Stories by Njabulo S Ndebele, he writes, “There are young men whose assertiveness is so transparently the effort of an immature cock trying to crow with a deep voice,…”

Ndebele is a great writer of short stories. Like all humans, he possesses a great capacity to master any skill should he desire to pursue another one, which is why I invite him to become an active member of the ANC. This will help him to develop a keener understanding about the culture, the inherent dynamics, and the workings of a democratic organization of the caliber of the ANC.

In the meanwhile, we have to make this point clear to him, that ANC meetings, private or public, are not meetings of dignitaries, they are meetings of people committed to the fundamental transformation of our country, to realize – a united South Africa based on the will of the people, an improving quality of life for all, and the restoration of the birthright of all South Africans. ANC meetings are meetings of people who are committed to the eradication of the apartheid legacy to ensure lasting peace and development for our country.    

ANC leaders, including Thabo Mbeki, are revolutionaries who do not expect bouquets to be thrown at them in recognition of their status. They derive their satisfaction from their lifelong service to the people.  

This is not to suggest that the ANC is unmindful of the fact that it has produced individuals who command great respect in our society and internationally. We are. The point is that those individuals know that they are first and foremost members of the ANC, and if we are to secure a better future for our children, things must remain just like that.    

Ndebele, this great author of short stories, would be well advised not to allow himself to be absorbed into the gang that defines the ANC in such terms as “the ascendant Zuma faction.”  He should heed the words of comrades Zuma and Mbeki when they say, “Thus an attempt has been made to entrench the perspective that our country is condemned to experience a terminal war between the ANC and our Government, despite the fact that the latter, in all three spheres, is nonetheless made up of loyal ANC cadres who unequivocally accept and respect all the outcomes of the 52nd ANC National Conference. This includes the unreserved acceptance of the fact by Thabo Mbeki, a member of the ANC, that Jacob Zuma is President of the ANC.”

“There is no Zuma camp in the ANC. There is no Mbeki camp in the ANC. Nobody, including members of the ANC and the media, should use our names to pursue divisive goals that have nothing to do with the truth, and stand in direct opposition to the noble history, the real nature, and the historic objectives of the ANC, and our commitment to serve the people of South Africa.” I am certain that Njabulo Simakahle Ndebele will have the courtesy to take comrades Zuma and Mbeki on their own word.

It is indeed sad to have to conclude that for now, Njabulo’s interpretation of political events and developments resembles “the effort of an immature cock trying to crow with a deep voice.”