ANC – Renewal and Future: When looking back, [veterans] is not looking forward [youth]

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By: Clyde Ramalaine

Despite the ANC’s history of being led by youth from inception, it in democracy simply does not trust its youth to lead-

Is the call for ANC veterans to convene to guide the ANC through perhaps one of its most strenuous times marked by factionalised battlelines an authentic one? On the other hand, does the ANC’s history communicate this historical old-guard guidance?  In a season when some argue the ANC warrant relying on its veterans to direct them out of the more than troubled waters, I would say it is a highly debatable assertion to conclude the ANC’s future lies in the hands of its veterans, however, defined.

It is a given that in any organisational setting, institutional memory embodied in tried and tested leadership is more than a welcoming indicator of a consciousness that works for a future. The notion of looking back to look forward becomes sensible if not natural. Africa’s oldest Liberation Movement, the ANC, birthed in 1912, and for the last 27 years in political office, less in power is in more than inclement weather and threatens written into history no different to the many historical parties such as ZANU PF and many others whose carcasses lay strewn across the Sahara canvas . There is consensus that the ANC is one national loss away from being reduced to an ordinary historical movement and party. Despite a slew of adopted resolutions that  articulates a vision to work for organisational renewal, the ANC remains stuck in not giving effect to the utopia of renewal.

A critical component perhaps not always clearly understood or engaged is its record of mistrust in its youth. While the patriarchy debate is more straightforward framed in the gender context of male and female, a less engaged subject is the dialectic tension between the old and the new. With his interregnum notion, Gramsci told us long ago societies and nations periodically detail moments in which there is real tension between the old and the new. Is it possible that the ANC is worshipping patriarchy at cost too pricey for its own existence, and remains stuck in its belief in the illusion of an old-guard syndrome? If the aforementioned is true, shall we ask if this reliance on an old guard produced in times past success?

One can make an argument for the reliance on the old guard from several presuppositions. In this sense, one could do so from a pure sentimental reason, mainly if one treasures one’s desire to have a functional old-guard. I think this is what I would call the sentimentality-fantasy notion, often less corroborated by evidence and wholly absent of any sincere self-critical analysis to justify such sentiment. One could also advocate for such confidence in the old guard trust because it’s the right thing to do, meaning a form of the rightestnotion. The problem with this right thing to do notion is that it too often resists the need to ask how that right thing notion is actualised. It also assumes that such a right thing is somewhere agreed constituting a true north from which the organisation moves.

Another possibility for a groping to a veteran or old guard dictate for direction in challenging times could be out of what I choose to frame as resigned despair notion. Resigned despair as my postulated notion in this setting speaks of an awareness of a failed reality and equal incapacity to do anything about the understanding; hence at best, one resorts to sighing  without any hope of changing the prevailing circumstances.  A more recent example of this resigned despair we hear in Lindiwe Sisulu’s words, who in her tweet laments corruption as an endemic problem that, regardless of how much resources are spent on it, appears insurmountable. Perhaps the last possibility for a groping to the past in veterans and old guard trust is what I here will call  the MayDay notion call that communicates an innate admission of how far, of course, the proverbial ship has gone, and it’s status of having hit an iceberg. In this sense, the MAYDAY call is a call for those outside to rescue it because it cannot recover. Having attempted to advance a less exhaustive list of possible reasons for the phenomenon of seeming trust in an old guard or veterans to save the day,  we must interrogate the ANC the organisation over the last 27-30 years.

This musing intends to spotlight perhaps a fifth more plausible reason why the 109-year-old organisation is spinning in the dust with no real headway chasing its own tale  with no progress in renewal or eking out a necessary future. I think it is worth locating the analysis around its mistrust in its youth, thus my mistrust-in-youth notion. In most organisations, intergenerational leadership is a natural experience, often an automatic process inspired by visionary foresight and leadership that ultimately manifests in progress. Yet, that honest and intuitive progress as I herewith advance is not by magic wand  but attest to the serious work put into delivering a desired outcome. That means an environment in which youth are groomed through a tried and tested system, ethos, culture, values that finds expression in  the organisation’s cadre and member. The African National Congress, as a 109-year-old organisation, ought to have these in place, yet closer examination would suggest its wholly dysfunctional in its institutional infrastructure to produce the youth that will become the adults that would repeat the tried and tested cycle. It appears the ANC only talk of any political education when there is a crisis of some sort. One can, therefore, suggest the ANC does not take political education seriously; we know it because it does not invest resources in this critical aspect of organisational longevity.

The ANC, unfortunately, is not an ordinary organisation. Its original purpose for existence never was for the benefit of the masses. Its original purpose was to engage the land issue but not land for all disenfranchised but for a specific group of people restricted to the prescripts of colonial and later apartheid referential racial identity defines as the natives. ANC leaders do not appreciate any analysis of its organisation through the lens of its actual conditions for which it was given birth, , which sees the ANC not as overtly opposed to colonialism but instead as a group comprising the elites contending for its portion of colonialism’s spoils.

We know this because the ANC dispatched several delegations to the British Crown to negotiate this particular land issue. I am also on record to have said if the land question was not as narrow an interest for the ANC, the case of the aboriginal land ownership would have naturally featured among the gatherers at Waaihoek in 1912. Unfortunately, land was not for the masses but for an elitist group better understood in Chiefs and Traditional leaders constricted to the constructionism of a native identity in which native denoted what apartheid later would rename as ‘African’ for  Nguni tribes. In case you wonder, the ANC’s original name was the South African National Native Congress (SANNC). The ANC  is and remains an exclusive organisation, and its exclusivity is predicated on  uncritical and false native notion. Let us park that for another day.

Can the ANC speak of an old guard veteran crop, as is often the case with many organisations? While some would rush to consider my question rhetorical and even prove dismissive of it, I think there is merit to argue the organic veteran or old-guard in the ANC is not so clear historical an institutional reality as often is believed. By the time we get to 1942, the ANC led by the youth of Sisulu and Mandela’s era determined to adopt a harder line as the predecessors. Umkhonto We Sizwe, the Military Wing of the ANC is the direct product of this encounter of youth with the prevailing conditions of both global and domestic politics and a reluctance to give direction on leadership by those who led as  differently calibrated. It is not far-fetched to contend that the youth of the 1940s found the ANC administration as out of step and misreading the then predominant issues and reasoned had the old guard understood the times’ signs, it would have led to the subsequent adopted more militant stance. Producing the MK and military action was reading the signs of the times strangely not by the apparent great wiser ones but a rebellious youth arguably in  total lack of experience if experience define veterans.

The next significant moment came with the Defiance Campaign. Regardless of how the ANC has over decades attempted to airbrush and reimagined this historic event, with itself as the centrifugal force, as uniquely belonging to part of its many acquired significant moments in a liberation struggle, we all know no amount of attempting to manage history in this evanescent manner can alter the facts. The ANC never birthed or led the Defiance Campaign. The typical lion tale tells the story of its hero status from 1912.

Following  December 1951 Defiance Campaign, we arrive at the June 1955 adoption of the Freedom Charter that owes its existence as a derivative of the 800-year-old Magna Carta. Again, here history would dictate that those gathered at Kliptown in 1960 represented fragile groups eerily but not surprisingly classified in racial classificatory labels of defined Congresses better understood in White, Coloured, Indian, Native congresses. This historical moment also marks a watershed moment since the notion of non-racialism, which I still hold, was essentially designed to give until then an excluded white identity member a foothold and presence in organisations like the ANC.  The ANC adopted the Freedom Charter with all its warts. For some, I may suffer critique to talk of warts that defines the Freedom Charter.

The truth is the Freedom Charter, in its articulation of, for example, “All shall share the land…” while purportedly arriving in a  claim of envisaged equality of ownership,  omits to engage how this land status at the time depicts. It violently misses how a group of settlers ended up owning the land they robbed from the inhabitants they found upon arrival in 1483. It jumps to land shared in the description of equality.  We must engage whose land was this. The Freedom Charter airbrushes over all this and create false realities of equality in land ownership when it lacked the appetite to entertain the historical precedent, nature, means and size of that inequality. Is this not why we are stuck almost three decades later in democracy with the same false shared land reality? I guess you would appreciate I cannot be a charterist since the freedom charter remains for me the signpost of equalising white in ownership of what they robbed from my forebears. This moment didn’t produce youth leadership since it saw ideological shifts that left Sobukwe and others in discomfort.

Ensconced between the adoption of the Freedom Charter and the 1970’s Black Consciousness emergence is the March 21, 1960 Sharpeville Massacre which by itself was a catalyst in the fight against apartheid. A 36- year-old Sobukwe who was a member of the ANC until 1958 left the ANC essentially over the adoption of the Freedom Charter which became the guiding document of the ANC. Sobukwe and those of like mind called for a prioritization of Africans. They were later dubbed Africanists and in 1959 broke away from the ANC to form the PAC. Shall we forget how the ANC leaders of the derided the Pan African Congress anti-pass campaign.  In Sunday Times on March 20, in its editorial, journalist Patrick Duncan wrote, in this caption: “No one outside the PAX was sure how seriously to take the PAC anti-pass campaign. The ANC leaders derided it. The white press largely ignored the PAC campaign. Lest we forget it was ANC leaders who attempted to discredit the campaign as “sensational and without prospect of success.’’  This important moment was led by a former ANC youth now in PAC garb.  A great part of the erasure of Robert Sobukwe can be squarely laid before the door of the ANC who is yet to afford this youth hero of his to stand in his shadow.

Then came the 1970’s. Shall I postulate again the ANC did not lead in the organic and authentic organisational production of leaders, Black Consciousness as a notion did not come from the ANC? It was birth in exchange with the Black Power Movement of the USA, which again ensembled youth who grew tired of the passive resistance praxis of the Civil Rights Movement.  BC is, therefore, 33-year old, Steven Bantu Biko’s analysis of his society in conjoined  broader context of a USA reality of black struggle. This young man’s vision and the philosophy of blackness as psychology for a  response is not the product of any ANC laboratory. Later ANC leaders all drank from the fountain of BC [ for various reasons some later calling it silly] because the ANC never really engaged  the racial classification issue from a critical analytical sense. I make this point in my recently submitted PhD research project. Equally so, the ANC never was opposed to nationalism per se, and it is better to contend it endorsed nationalism but was against a particular type of nationalism.

The aforementioned makes for another reason why the ANC, with the advent of the negotiated settlement that defines a period from 1992  that ultimately produced the 1994 Project of political freedom.. It is against this context that the importance of white  interest was given centre stage at the hand of Joe Slovo’s  now infamous Sunset clause. The sunset clause and trade-off  was nothing but to appease whites, therefore, extending their presence in economic and political power immanent in a Government of National Union.

In the aftermath of the advent of the Black Consciousness  Movement, the internal youth of South Africa took to the streets against the better knowledge of their parents. When the youth of 1976 in Soweto rose against Afrikaans as an enforced medium of instruction, it was not the ANC, neither was it led by the ANC or any old-guard of veterans supernaturally providing calculated wisdom and structure. The liberation struggle again was not led by the old guard; however, it was similarly defined by the youth’s energy and daring.

When we in the 1980s, as Cape-based youth and students, decided to take on apartheid, again the youth led the liberation struggle. When Dr Allan Boesak led us in the Rocklands Civic Centre at the launch of the UDF  38 years ago, he was 38 years old, and his leadership at the time was less so because some old guard of the ANC was directing him to lead us, but produced from the challenge of the moment though in  a continuum of the epochs of a liberation struggle. Of course, some will raise a red flag to say, but the UDF was the ANC, the ANC initiated it, and thus it was an ANC organisation because it was banned at the time. To this day an entry point for this  debate remains hazy. That a common struggle defined our reality is undeniable, that liberation from an oppressive system was the aim is also not in indispute. That  the emancipation  of all in recognition of  the fullness of a common humanity was the agenda  nowhere contested – yet how that was structured will never be owned by one organisation and particularly not the ANC in singularity. I prefer thinking of the UDF as a confluence of events pregnant in the space of a geographical South Africa not absent of international solidarity pressure but certainly not the unique orchestration of exiled ANC leaders that made up Camp based ones, others living it up in UK and USA as students smoking pot and getting high.

A more recent manifestation of authentic youth leadership in this era is shown in the ongoing #FeesMustFall movement. This authentic movement is led by the youth and owes no allegiance to any party  and less to the Africa’s oldest liberation movement. As before the youth led without consulting when they critique the former era now veterans of having failed the crucial aspect of ANC Policy namely  understood in FREE EDUCATION. Instead we saw these pseudo-veterans instead blaming each other in cheapness of absence of reading the seriousness of this failed promise. We all know it’s the not the ANC youth that is leading in this era.

I guess you can see where I am going with this; I am seeking to declare an authentic ANC old-guard  practice as more the figment of imagination and mythical in reality if an objective attempt of its historical context is made. The adage leads history  repeats itself the first as farce the second time in tragedy. While no one in the ANC ever in honesty and for the sake of organisational growth ventures to critique Oliver Reginald Tambo, who arguably remains the longest-serving ANC president, we increasingly must ask as to what we have today in veteran status is not what he bequeathed the ANC as his true  legacy?  Yet that is a topic for another day.

Fast forward to the creation of the modern veteran notion. I shall start with a hypothesis: Is it possible that the invention of a recent veteran status is relatively young in concept and practice in the ANC and more associated with an ANC in office of governance that necessarily details the last 27 years, meaning it coincides with the democratic era. It appears the lines between the presence of democracy and ANC veteran status are heavily intertwined; we now were introduced to ‘stalwarts’ and ‘veterans’ ‘elders.’  The sad reality is the ANC now has ‘veterans’ who start by telling you they are ‘stalwarts’ that they fought for freedom they gave their lives my reading of true veterans is that they are selfless never seeking their own, but their advice is solicited by all because their integrity is not doubted. The pseudo-veterans and stalwarts of this era all still have political ambitions and are batting for a particular faction and seek to abuse their status whatever that mean to this end.

Granted the ANC constitution defines a veteran as someone with more than 40 years of unbroken service. Yet the ‘stalwarts’ and ‘veterans’ notion is also a creation of a biased agenda driven  media that seeks  to separate some leaders by uncritically affording those it appreciate for whatever reasons as senior, more grounded, more loyal to the ANC and necessarily the meridian of sanity and order. We saw how people like Cheryl Carolus and many others became stalwarts and veterans while making access to the moneyed white control world.  No one asks for her role in SAA failure. This situation produced a hybrid veteran in the ANC.  In the ANC Veterans don’t regard other veterans in the , and often the central identity is the factional veteran status.

Furthermore, ANC  veterans are just as contaminated by the influence of capital and capture the endemic factional agendas that increasingly defines it at the DNA level. I think the ANC’s future cannot escape the normalcy of life, meaning it can’t look back in the hope of looking forward in which it invokes the apparent sanity of an old guard, veterans, stalwarts notions when these all are intrinsically and endemically part of the challenges that face the ANC at an authentic level. In this regard, I would advance the ANC must do what it always did, which was to allow itself to be led by the very youth it registers less in confidence.  The youth that will deliver the new ANC must respond to the unique challenges and anomalies of this era, unfortunately not the past factional stuck veterans who often pontificate in the emptiness of any genuine commitment to change since they are now the signpost of our collective economic emancipation.

I have very little faith in the ANC’s usage, idea, meaning and praxis of what a veteran means. The evidence that the ANC is stuck in an older men’s club is made self-evident in this that hitherto it cannot convene an ANCYL youth leadership team in the aftermath of Julius Malema and that crop expelled from the ANC.  It is yet to find itself in functional youth presence and its threatening almost of decade of directionless and emptiness of youth an essential cog in crafting a future. How serious can an organisation take its future existence when it refuses to plan structure and be directed by the youth. Typically, it’s not strange to hear older ones refer to an almost 40-year man as a young boy in the ANC. We saw this recently when Duduzane Zuma made it emphatic that he, as a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC, will run for presidency in 2022.

The ANC must learn to trust its youth and stop being an old boy’s club that claims 40-year-olds are boys and girls. To meaningfully confirm it’s trust in its youth, it should be natural to have 75% of the current ministers and leaders all step-down and consciously develop a crop of 250 core leaders, all 45 and younger.  Equally so, every five years in the ANC ought to produce another crop of 250 until leadership is not a peripheral and accidental positional issue in which connections make you rise but the organisation’s philosophy, ideology and praxis. I was hoping you could explain how 70-year-olds who are yet to access their pensions and enjoy retirement are contesting for positions even jobs in all spheres.  Tendencies of its veterans and old guard define entitlement, self-serving, and self-interest forms that threaten the ANC’s very future.

To still debate who must take over leading the ANC and confining that debate to a crop of 60/70+-year-olds is not to have understood contemporary times. In a headstrong sense, will the ANC continue its history of patriarchy and old-guard reliance in not trusting the youth? At the same time, it falsely takes refuge in the questionable identity of a veteran stalwart old-guard status that are highly contaminated by the influence of capital, personality politics, and factionalism? Or will it sober up to admit it has hitherto failed to trust its youth and see it opportune to let the youth lead?  Come 2022,  its NOB’s and leadership must produce its youth as its way forward instead of the musical rotating chairs of 60+-year-olds.  As we already here in the NOB’s some readying themselves to contest.

The ANC thus fails to trust its youth because it does not produce youth its more interested in musical chair leadership among an older guard peer group that increasingly defines the death of the party. Maybe one morning South Africa will wake up to appreciate it long showed it does not need an ANC in its current form, ideology, neo-systems and structures because the youth has for over a hundred years at every critical moment of liberation struggle shown it needs no old- guard, veteran or make belief stalwarts to harness them into identifying a programme of action drawn from the cardinal issues of the day.