We should remain alert to efforts to weaken the ANC, even from those purporting to support it.
The deputy president of the ANC, and of the Republic, recently challenged the media to speak about the progress being made in the country, and by government. He also urged the media to inform the electorate and to be an irritant to those in power where there is a need to do so.
Against this backdrop one feels a sense of disquiet as some in the media partake in the sacrifice of truth, including propping up weak attempts at fiction about certain individuals in political leadership. The responsibility of leadership is to see the wood for the trees, and to provide understanding for all of us to navigate through the maze.
This challenge confronted me while I was in Mexico, undertaking my international work and pledging solidarity with comrades who need our support, and vice versa. These kinds of interactions, among others, help us better to understand what we mean by solidarity with others.
Solidarity is an honest, selfless pledge of support to a cause. Such support can be material, in kind or in the form of supporting programmes. Solidarity does not mean usurping the organisation one claims to support.
Once you show any signs of wanting to take over an organisation or to manipulate it, any genuine revolutionary will know that it is not solidarity but an attempt to use that organisation to fulfil your objectives.
Eugene V Debs, a trade unionist, explained that “solidarity is not a matter of sentiment but fact, cold and impassive as the granite foundations of a skyscraper. If the basic elements, identity of interest, clarity of vision, honesty of intent, and oneness of purpose, or any of these are lacking, all sentimental pleas for solidarity, and all other efforts to achieve it, will be barren of results.”
It is this dishonesty articulated by Debs that has been at the core of the feud between the leaderships of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp). The latter, under the guise of solidarity, had envisaged to use Amcu to create Wasp. It was when the leadership of Amcu rejected the proposal of being straightjacketed that there was a falling out.
Hence the absence of Liv Shange, national organiser of the Democratic Socialist Movement, in the recent five-month strike of Amcu. Therefore, our reference to foreign nationals disguising their attempts to hijack the strike under the cloak of solidarity was not about her. When people pledge solidarity with Amcu, or any organisation for that matter, they do not replace the leadership of that organisation and become its spokespersons. Such an act is appropriately called entryism in action.
We should remain alert to efforts to weaken the ANC, even from those purporting to support it. Trade unions, in particular those in our Southern African region – because of their relationship to the liberation movements – have either been used or tried to weaken the liberation movements that have since turned into progressive parties in power.
This phenomenon has played itself out since Marikana, where various formations have contested being the true champions of the cause of mineworkers. They aim to dislodge the liberation movement and have identified the trade union movement as an easy entry point. The various elements’ aim is to create an alternative opposition party to gain the upper hand against the progressive labour movement and the ANC.
Nevertheless, lazy journalism, seeking to play to the gallery, eulogised an individual who has since paled into insignificance. Sadly, the journalists and their pseudo-columnists know little of the situation. They sought to sacrifice truth in pursuit of sensation.
This reminded me of a BBC radio podcast that analysed the media in India during its general elections. A contributor on the programme intimated: “The Indian media today has a structural compulsion to lie.” We should be concerned that this description is beginning to resonate in certain quarters in our context, because of those who are gradually becoming comfortable with not finding out the truth.
When compulsion to lie creeps in, unethical practice becomes the order of the day. Writers, editors, news people and analysts take liberties with information – tested and untested – at their disposal. This includes what might have been shared in confidence. In the process, it is most problematic that comrades are put asunder and unity and organisation destroyed.
The history of the ANC also teaches us that individuals are neither indispensable nor bigger than the organisation. In fact, organisations that develop such leadership tend to collapse or suffer single-personality dictatorship.
Amilcar Cabral reminds us that “we are all needed but nobody is indispensable. If someone has to go and goes away and then the struggle is paralysed, it is because the struggle was worthless ... An achievement is worthwhile to the extent that it is an achievement of many.”
In 1958, quality ANC cadres left the organisation to form a new one because they felt strongly about their views. In 1975, the Group of Eight, also consisting of great and seasoned ANC leaders, was expelled after they had to consistently tried to undermine the decision of a party conference.
Until today, many individuals have left the ANC because they were expelled, or thought they were larger than the organisation, or because they thought they had far more radical and better ideas, or they did not like a particular decision. These developments were not a result of the ill temper of an individual. A closer look at history and better knowledge about each individual and event will teach that there were numerous engagements to persuade comrades on both sides not to take the route they finally embarked upon.
That end only arrives when the broader body of the organisation and the leadership believe the organisation and its objectives would best be served if it parts ways with those at the centre of the conflicts or disagreements. In most cases, because these people have shared space and ideas over time, they engage.
Sometimes, some of them return to the organisation, as we have seen with some in the ANC. The ANC has also been privileged with the model of comrades such as Chris Hani who, despite frustration and ultimate suspension by the organisation, humbled themselves to its discipline and led it until they paid the ultimate price.
Again in some of these instances, we learn from the leadership of former ANC president OR Tambo. He persisted in trying to get members of the ANC back, even after expulsions. But he never went against the decision of the leadership collective of the organisation. He would chastise those who tried to use him.
As comrade Walter Sisulu testified to his integrity and outstanding character, he would not allow even those he loved to go so far as to betray confidentiality. And, in so doing, to adversely affect the character and unity of the movement.
The imperative of ANC membership and leaders, individually and collectively, is that we seek to serve and be open to being called to serve. Those with whom we are called to lead, and those who afford us the opportunity to lead, should see in us qualities that can build the ANC.
Such an ANC should be an instrument in the hands of our people to realise a new and truly better society envisaged by our forebears – a national democratic society.
We who are members of the ANC, at whatever level of responsibility, must be assessed against this measurement. It is required of us – membership and leadership alike, individually and collectively, notwithstanding our fallibility – to strive to measure up to the standard.
It is also imperative for those who wish to scrutinise our movement, its members and leaders alike, to know and understand it. They should resist superficiality that is spawned by innuendo and anecdote.
Only revisionism, being ahistoric, ignorance about our organisation and a chase for sales, lead those responsible for the written word to ignore truth and create straw men who can be crushed at will. A common responsibility for us who communicate with the people should be to deepen knowledge, critical knowledge.
We should, therefore, not squander the moment and the opportunity afforded us to learn and to accompany others in their quest for greater knowledge and accountability to each other, and society as a whole.
Gwede Mantashe is the secretary general of the ANC