/ 20 August 2008

Bigger than one man

Employers are required to know that nobody is indispensable.

Sooner or later, everybody must go. Economics, better opportunities and the very mortality of humans ensure that we do not attach too much sentimentality to individuals — no matter how much value they add.

It is a trait I wish political parties would adopt. But given that the “progressive” political parties have as their core constituency those who are or were for a long time employees, I will not hold my breath that they will want to be seen to be behaving as employers would.

If they did, there would not be a need to sacrifice possible votes just so they could appease the egos of a few individuals whom everyone sees to be embarrassing the party.

By advancing individuals at the expense of the party and what it represents we have effectively venerated the fruit and treated the tree as irrelevant. We have shown even less regard for the soil the tree feeds on.

I am sure that there is something about, say, Julius Malema or Butana Komphela that makes them leaders within the ANC and its subsidiaries.

But it will be foolhardy for the powers that be to pretend they don’t also hurt the image the party would like to create of itself. Even worse, that the ill-considered blabberings of those such as Maggie Sotyu — who told a gathered media that public participation was a mere formality because the Scorpions were dead in the water — do this proud institution a disservice. It is no great wonder every other charlatan fancies his chances, given the prospect of taking a slice of the economic power that comes with being close to the political power the party wields.

It does not matter that Malema, Komphela or Sotyu are nice people in real life; public perception must count for something at some point. It is a democracy, after all.

Because of these unceasing streams of self-confident idiocy, I hear too many times people who say that they are members of the ANC or have voted for the party, tell radio station talk shows and write letters to newspapers saying that they will treat the next elections as just another public holiday. You could argue that if Malema and Komphela are not indispensable, neither are those voters who might choose to do their laundry or go shopping on that day.

The trouble is that the ANC is no ordinary political party. It is the embodiment of the aspirations of those who were historically marginalised and disenfranchised.

Hopefully one day they will explain to us why they find it possible to make necessary those who are at best contingent. The ANC does not exist because they do, they are what they are because the ANC exists.

I remain puzzled as to why some within the party seem to think that it is the other way round.

Nelson Mandela has tried to state this several times, including at his birthday party celebrations. It seems some people think he is just being a modest old man who does not want too much made of his contribution.

Regardless of how great a freedom fighter might have been, it is a fallacy to think that the change would not have happened without any single one of them.

If people are not interested in saving the ANC, they should at least care about the freedom the party — and others such as the Pan Africanist Congress, the Black Consciousness Movement and the New Unity Movement — fought for. When we venerate the freedom fighter, we should show even greater devotion for the freedom they doggedly pursued.

The same logic that saw Thabo Mbeki replaced as party president should apply to those who seem to think they represent their own jackets, or more appropriately, their pockets.

Freedom is the most enduring legacy we can pass on to the generations to come. For that to happen in a manner that makes those who will inherit it appreciate it, we should give it a face of respectability.

Speaking of the indispensability of people, this is my final column in the Mail & Guardian. It has also been the saddest I’ve written.

I have had fun, I learnt a lot from your feedback and, more importantly, I have made friends, some of whom I know will be lifelong.

I suppose I have made one or two people unhappy too. It was nothing personal and I apologise for whatever hurt it might have cost.

I have never written anything that I did not believe to be a reflection of my conscience. For that I have been happy to accept criticism that enlightened me and thus moved me away from what I had previously thought to be true.

The Mail & Guardian has been by far the happiest place I have had to earn a living and I hope you will continue reading and engaging.

Be blessed.