Out with the old ANC and out with the new
"In that etymological light, nostalgia seems something like the pain of ignorance, of not knowing." – Milan Kundera.
I spent what now seems like a short time of my undergrad degree attending several Sasco (South African Students Congress) and ANC Youth League meetings. With a background of ANC alliances in my family, their personal experiences and a fairly new democracy at the time lit a fiery passion in me – this was the right thing to do.
Six months in, the organisations decided to rally together and arrange a march in the name of free and fair education at the University of Pretoria. I had a final exam the next day. I made a choice. I supported the plea, but in all honesty, not the aggressive way in which they went about organising it. When I exited the music department's exam hall, which was on one end of campus, on the day of the protest, I decided to stroll up to the university's centre. As I walked I looked around. What happened here the night before? There were no signs of a march or any sort of disruption.
I started to feel bad for entertaining a preconceived notion that the entire protest would take a bad turn. I was overcome with the guilt of assumption and started to feel that I flaked, I was a bad citizen and I should have just been there. And then, as I approached a humming crowd at the piazza, the cracks seeped through. The space was filled with overthrown dustbins, concrete rubble lying here and there – smashed, leaving the old ash of already smoked cigarettes sitting heavily in the air. As I approached the area, the crowd reverberated upset, enlightened, angry exchanges. The protest had long disappeared but the effects remained.
"Someone burned a tyre on the roof of my car last night".
"Something must be done".
"We are here to learn, I don't understand how you do that if people storm in and disrupt things".
I, on the other hand, was without an opinion. Did I feel it was wrong? No. Did I feel it was right? I was not sure. But I knew that I should have been there, being tied to the ANC with the taught strings of patriotism, human rights, family and history.
Several years later I found myself at the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma. Post-Thabo Mbeki's ousting, it was something I had strong feelings about. I did not like this man, this entitled Zuma character. He struck me as conniving, manipulative and, as pretentious as it sounds, just not as smart as Mbeki. But as I walked up the lawns of the Union Buildings, accompanied by my diplomat friend whose invitation was my reason for attending, the bitterness dissolved. The people dissolved it. Loyalty, passion and history disguised it, and when Zuma took to the podium, I cheered, just as hard as anyone else.
I started to wonder whether it mattered who leads a group, or if the whole was more than the sum of its parts. It seemed clear that in this case, it was the latter. "When people are wondering what they are going to eat that night, no one cares who gives it to them, only that the promise of having it is fulfilled", said a friend to me who majored in political science and specialised in pan-Africanism.
I thought that the loyalty would stay forever. Like the anxiety of nostalgia, it would creep up and secure me over and over again, the way it would for so many others. Everything would die, except that wistful appreciation and affection for something that represented a past, and this would always taint and solidify present choices. In his book Ignorance, Milan Kundera writes: "The Greek word for 'return' is nostos. Algos means 'suffering'. So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return". Yearning. The old ANC is gone, Zuma has taken it, and no amount of recasting the same vote will bring it back. Unappeased. The cracks show.
And just for interest's sake, the cost of Nkandla buys approximately 25-million people a loaf of bread.