Letters to the editor: January 27 to February 2 2017

Change-makers, learn from history

In his article “Workplace change a social imperative” (January 6 2017), Professor William Gumede correctly pinpoints deteriorating relationships in the workplace as one the key issues in South Africa’s socioeconomic decline.

Professor Vusi Gumede, in an earlier piece, “Government’s economic plans all sound the same. We need a socioeconomic overhaul” (July 22 2016) traced this socioeconomic decline from about 2008, when “poor management of public finances and delays in reforms … plunged the economy into recession”.

In the 1994 elections, a substantial majority agreed to the implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). It was a new departure, engaging all the country’s rich resources, especially the full spectrum of its multifaceted population, to remould society post-apartheid along with the economy. Its means would be a people-driven, inclusive, steady advance in productive capacity and therefore the people’s welfare.

But it was never truly implemented. In 1997 it was replaced by the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) policy, seeking to benefit the people by neoliberal trickle-down processes. Public participation and approval were not sought. The RDP slowed as the inevitable consequences of Gear became dominant. Nelson Mandela’s guidance, in word and gesture, to engage the white minority, where the major skills base resided, was also eroded. Soon the issue of race re-entered the national discourse.

Historically, the RDP contains every one of Gumede’s remedies. Too little research has been done into the history of its effects in the first decade of the democratic era.

The country of great promise and basis of hope for a better future, which riveted the world in a time of declining global leadership, has become just another struggling and corrupt African state battling to keep its international economic rating above junk status. This makes attempts at regaining some of the momentum of 23 years ago that much harder.

Those who fail to learn from history, especially such recent history, are doomed to repeat it. With the crisis in the ruling ANC generating some hope for internal renewal, plus the success of the opposition and its growing influence, clear and valid analysis is needed to guide the present forces for change. In this, a fearless, independent press and engaged academia — especially in the fields of governance and political analysis — can, as always, play a vital role. — Balt Verhagen, Johannesburg

Thanks for the refreshing reads

Thank you for the two beautifully written and moving pieces in Friday (January 20), “Views from a Main Mall bench” and “Reflections on home: Exploration of a fallacy”. Well done to writers Siyanda Mohutsiwa and Youlendree Appasamy.

What a refreshing and delightful read these pieces make amid all the usual humdrum political and other goings-on of the day.

More of the same, please! — Brian Slon, Johannesburg

A few correct facts about Sobukwe

I am one of those ANC members who salutes struggle heroes, whether from the party, the Pan-Africanist Congress, Black Consciousness or any other formation. But Liepollo Pheko’s article on Robert Sobukwe, published late last year, contained false information.

First, the ANC Youth League was formed in 1944 as the Congress Youth League, and many young activists were part of it — but not Sobukwe. He was a student at Healdtown College and only joined in 1948 when Godfrey Pitje, a lecturer at Fort Hare University, formed a branch. Pitje said Sobukwe and others “asked a number of critical questions, clearly showing that they were not yet quite certain about entering the African National Congress”. But they eventually joined, in 1948.

Second, Sobukwe did not work with Anton Lembede, the first president of the ANC Youth League. Sobukwe was not yet a member when Lembede died in 1947.

Third, some historians see the league leaders at the time of its launch as belonging to three ideological groups: Marxists (William Nkomo, Lionel Majombozi), nationalists (Pitje, AP Mda, Oliver Tambo) and Africanists (Lembede, Nelson Mandela, Peter Ramoroka). Walter Sisulu was thought to belong to all the groups, which says something about the non-partisan way he operated, even early in his career. In fact, few of these leaders could be pigeonholed; their theoretical positions were not fixed and they adapted their stances during their political lives. Members of the ANC Youth League in the early years included Joe Matthews, Duma Nokwe, Nthato Motlana, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Herbert Chitepo from Zimbabwe.

The league itself described its position as “African nationalism”.

So Pheko is wrong to argue that “Sobukwe, Anton Lembede and AP Mda” belonged to one group, different to Mandela’s. There is no such historical evidence. It is wrong to ascribe the 1949 programme of action to individuals, or to claim it for the PAC, which was formed 10 years later. This was an ANC Youth League programme.

Pheko writes that Mandela felt intimidated by the intellectual vigour of Sobukwe and Lembede. Really? In No Easy Walk to Freedom (1965), Mandela writes: “I also possessed a certain insecurity, feeling politically backward compared to Walter, Lembede and Mda, they were men who knew their minds and I was, as yet, unformed” (page 94). No Sobukwe here.

Pheko claims Sobukwe, Lemdebe and Mda galvanised the Defiance Campaign in 1952. But Lembede died in 1947. Pitje and Sobukwe, by then national secretary of the league, were part of setting the campaign process in motion. But soon after his election, Sobukwe was employed as a teacher in Standerton, and though (according to Motlana) Sobukwe did a lot of work politicising the people in the area, its remoteness meant he could not play a national role in the Defiance Campaign.

We should celebrate Sobukwe for being an uncompromising anti-apartheid hero, but we need not distort history to do so. — Titus Mafolo, Tshwane

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