Don’t silence a comrade who spoke his mind

The African National Congress Veterans’ League is shocked by the news of the intended disciplinary action against Comrade Ben Turok by our leaders.

A fundamental change in the ANC of today is that internal matters are discussed through the media. We have made appeals against this, but they seem to have fallen on deaf ears, showing that ANC members at branch level are no longer the basic units of the ANC. They must support what has already been decided by those who claim to be the only bona fide members of the ANC.

This change in the ANC raises a number of serious, related concerns.

In the past, and at different times, some Cabinet members and members of Parliament have been accused of corrupt activities, some of which relate to the looting of public monies intended for RDP houses, to insurance, Travelgate or the arms deal, to list a few. People involved in these contraventions have never appeared before an ANC disciplinary committee.

The members of the ANC Veterans League believe in respect for senior and young cadres alike. It becomes a serious measure of disrespect when youngsters leave ANC structures and go around telling the whole world that their grandparents lack basic human decency — on matters of conscience, moreover. We believe that none of these “children” would have found it easy to say the same thing about their biological parents or any senior African leaders — Comrade Nelson Mandela, for instance.

In whose interests, within the ranks of the ANC, is the secrecy Bill? How does it benefit the ordinary poor South African condemned to lead a miserable life in the squalor of shacks, in hunger and disease?

We remember that underground operations of the liberation movement against colonialism were carried out by members of the ANC; those whose conscience did not allow such actions continued to be respected members of the ANC. Their conscience did not allow them to bear arms, but they were honest South Africans, and Africans in particular, from all walks of life.

It seems that we, the current leaders of the ANC, are against honest members. Yet we need to remember that Comrade Turok’s generation does not believe in lies. And that generation knows the difference between protecting the ANC and protecting individuals who are bent on destroying the ANC, no matter what position such individuals occupy.

The veterans’ league has noted that during the voting for the secrecy Bill in Parliament, Comrade Turok followed his rational conscience. We have also noted the circulation of elective slates for leaders to be elected at the ANC elective conference at Mangaung. This undermines and contradicts the ANC’s traditions, which are that the process of electing the national leadership is the responsibility of branches — and those responsible for slates and lists are untouchable by an ANC disciplinary committee.

The current approach, in which leaders impose themselves through slates, is foreign to the ANC. It is a travesty of ANC culture and democracy.

Has Comrade Turok become a threat to the policy conference?

The people of South Africa will always remember that Comrade Turok made a sterling contribution to the ANC and the country. He participated in the People’s Congress in Kliptown during the formulation and adoption of the Freedom Charter that deals with the economy and the wealth of South Africa, which must be transferred to the people as a whole.

He continued to be one of the leading cadres of our struggle abroad, writing about apartheid and the ANC revolution, thus mobilising support for the ANC. His contribution ranks with those of president Nelson Mandela, Chief Albert Luthuli, Moses Kotane, Ruth Mompati and Lilian Ngoyi, to name but a few.

As the ANC Veterans League, we say: “Hands off Comrade Ben Turok!”

Sandi Sijake is the president of the ANC Veterans’ League

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