/ 27 March 2013

Opinion: On freedom and its discontent

Opinion: On Freedom And Its Discontent

Last week I attended the premier of the play aptly named Cadre and was left with a few things to ponder. It was a tale about the personal lives of those who participated in the struggle for freedom in South Africa; the sacrifices they made and the disillusionment they found and still find themselves left with after the promises of democracy.

At the show were a visible number of cadres, but I do not mean the ANC-type of cadres that we have become accustomed to in the daily rhetoric that gets paddled our way. I am talking here about the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) cadres, all kitted out in berets, looking like displaced revolutionary Chavistas. The play was mostly about the political party – a telling of the narrative of the history of the armed struggle from a perspective that is hardly afforded to most South Africans.

The show was even blessed enough to have in attendance the current chairperson of the revived New Black Panther Party from the US, Malik Zulu Shabazz, who was accompanied by two bodyguards – one of which reminded me more of a Chubb security guard than anything else. Shabazz was in the country on invitation from the PAC – at least that is what one member of the audience and PAC led us to believe during the Q&A session that was held after the play.

The play brought ot mind the question of contested history. Freedom and its discontents in South Africa have not received the attention they deserve, nor have enough stories been told about our past. Many of us are well aware of the version of history that is constantly relayed to us through ANC rhetoric: the movement essentially played a significant role in bringing about the end of apartheid, securing the democracy that we now enjoy and the freedom that we so often and so easily take for granted.

We are reminded at almost every pre-election period and occasion of heavy scrutiny about the wonderful work the ANC does (to be fair, it has done its share, although arguably smaller than is shown to be the case) and how it will rule until a certain deity makes a re-appearance.

What we ought to know about the history of South Africa's struggle is that there was more than one movement sacrificing everything to make freedom a reality in this country: the AZAPOs and PACs of this world. I am curious about the PAC as it makes for an interesting subject when seen in relation to the ANC.

Like the ANC, the PAC had its own military wing in the form of APLA – the Azanian People's Liberation Army. It was known for being hard-hitting and direct and this engendered about it an air that even had the apartheid government worried. The PAC had Robert Sobukwe as its intellectual anchor and figure-head, a man who to this day remains, at least in my mind, the quintessential model of political sacrifice.

Of course one has to be mindful of the fact that the PAC came about as a result of an ideological split from the ANC.

But the PAC has allowed itself to wallow in apparent inactivity. While it does not have the numbers the ANC has, it should have rebuilt and repositioned itself to better address the issues that have become South Africa's new struggles.

At the play last week I saw and heard understandably frustrated cadres of the PAC in attendance. Emotional from the show, they too lamented the very points I touched on but they still had about them a heavily militant air, which I would guess has not endeared them all too well to potentially new constituencies in an era of South Africa as a democracy. In fact, so loudly militant were they after show that the few white folks, who were brave enough to attend it, were left visibly shaken from their shouting of “izolethu, iAfrika”, “black power, black power". It might help the PAC if they start here.

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