By Carl Niehaus
It is now less than two months before the national and provincial elections on the 8th of May 2019. These elections are no doubt the toughest that the African National Congress (ANC) contested since 1994. Arguably the biggest challenge that we as members of the ANC face, does not come from the rather inept opposition parties, but from the divisions and factional infighting in the ranks of the ANC itself.
As far as the opposition parties are concerned, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has damaged itself badly (probably beyond repair) in the Western Cape and nationally, with the protracted and rather pathetically racist fight with former Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille. Clearly, the DA remains a racist and white dominated party. Their image as a party that has the ability to be an alternative government to the ANC has been eroded by the increasingly shaky performance of Mmusi Maimane, whose empty rhetoric and constant deference to white dominance in their Federal Council exposes his weak leadership, and strengthens the negative impression that most black voters have of him as a front for, and pawn of, white interests.
With regards to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), opinion polls confirm that they have hit a hard ceiling of 7% of the vote, which they are unlikely to be able to break through, and there is a real possibility that they could actually do even worse. Julius Malema is increasingly seen for who he is – an opportunistic wind-bag, rather than a principled serious politician. The Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP) is sputtering along and on its last legs, with little hope of any future or identity other than that of its octogenarian leader, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, whose last election this will certainly be as an active politician.
Beyond this rather motley crew there is the proliferation of a myriad of small and literally fly-by-night political parties, adding very little in terms of real content to the political debate, but only increasing the headache of the IEC because of a ridiculously long ballot paper. Many of these so-called parties are characterized by little else than opportunistic attempts to get their logos, party colours and abbreviations to be as close as possible to those of the ANC. So devoid of policies, and in fact of any content whatsoever they are, that their only hope to get some votes is to try and confuse voters and to scrape together some votes actually intended for the ANC. In doing so they ironically re-affirm the continuing dominance of the ANC, as the political colossus of the South African political landscape.
There have been some efforts to elevate Black Land First (BLF), and the African Transformation Movement (ATM) above the empty froth stirred up by these little opportunists, but in reality, they will not make much headway either. If the BLF and ATM get any seats in the National Assembly that will only be because our proportional electoral system favours small parties.
So why if this is the case, is the ANC not coasting home in these elections? What should have been a proverbial walk in the park for the ANC, has turned into a hard and messy slog of having to fight voter disillusionment, anger with poor service delivery, the Eskom debacle, and growing perceptions that ANC leaders have stopped caring for their fellow South Africans and are only looking out for themselves. Both in terms of general public perceptions, and with regards to persistent and insidious infighting, the ANC has become its own biggest opponent/enemy at the polls.
As a result the youth seem to be confused and apathetic, not seeing the forthcoming elections as having the potential to change their plight of unemployment and pervasive poverty; and older voters who have always been the backbone of the ANC’s support are increasingly expressing their impatience and disillusionment with the ANC not being able, or willing, to deliver on a myriad of election promises since 1994. When stating this unfortunate reality one cannot help but be reminded of the prophetic words of the late great, and longest serving President of the ANC, comrade OR Tambo, who warned that no-one will be able to destroy the ANC, but the ANC itself.
The question thus arises when one is your own worst enemy, what has to be done, and how should the ANC conduct itself and campaign under such circumstances? The pressures and demands of an election campaign present both opportunities and problems for the ANC, about how to navigate such treacherous terrain. It is certainly easier to call for unity, and for differences to be set aside, when you are faced with the danger that if you don’t do so the whole party (regardless of whatever faction or splinter group within that you are part of, or are alleged to be part of) could lose power, and be out in the cold. The fate of the ANC in the Western Cape and the metros of Johannesburg and Tshwane is a scary – but useful – reminder. Thus, consolidation and the forging of unity is not a luxury, but critical and essential.
It is in this context that the current relatively low public profile of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veteran’s Association (MKMVA) should be understood. While MKMVA is a legal entity with our own Constitution, for purposes of the upcoming elections we have no other identity than that of the African National Congress (ANC). Throughout the country, our members are integrated into the ANC regional, provincial and national election structures and activities. As disciplined ex-MK liberation fighters, we understand that every day until the elections takes place, on the 8th of May, we must be hard working foot-soldiers campaigning door-to-door to bring in the votes for the ANC. Ours is not now to put our efforts, and emphasis, into promoting the specific identity of MKMVA, but rather to promote the profile and identity of the ANC.
Comments on social media and elsewhere that MKMVA has gone quiet, and seems to have lost our impetus and identity are therefore a total misnomer. Such comments are because of a miss-conception about the historical identity of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which was always irrevocably tied to the ANC, and it is similarly true for the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), as the association that now represents all ex-MK veterans. MK’s reason d’être was always to conduct the armed struggle as part of the over liberation struggle under the leadership of the ANC – similarly the revolutionary duty of MKMVA in this election period is not to promote our own identity, but to work tirelessly in the election campaign of the ANC, to promote the identity and objectives of our 107 year old Liberation Movement.
As part of that effort, the members of MKMVA must resist any factionalism and divisive conduct. It is critical that the ANC must present itself as a united force to the voters. In this critical period principled unity must be our clarion call, and as disciplined liberation soldiers, the members of MKMVA must be in the frontline of the election battlefield promoting it.
This obviously does not mean that MKMVA ceases to exist as an organization in its own right, but it is exactly because it derives its organizational identity ultimately from the ANC, that every MKMVA member is expected to conduct him and herself in this disciplined manner. It must also be emphasized that MKMVA’s commitment to the full liberation – also full economic liberation – of black (especially African) South Africans is not at all watered down by our commitment to a united and disciplined ANC election campaign. MKMVA remains committed to the pro-Radical Economic Transformation (RET) Resolutions of the 54th National Conference of the ANC. In fact we see our commitment to a principled, disciplined and united ANC with a strong mandate from the voters, resulting from the 8th of May elections, as absolutely essential for the full implementation of those pro RET Resolutions, in pursuance of our economic freedom, and the implementation of the Second Phase of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR).
Therefore, to hear at this historical juncture less about MKMVA as an Association, but to see MKMVA members actively integrated into the ANC election campaign, is exactly the required and correct political posture and conduct of mature cadres.
In this period when we do express ourselves on the rare occasion specifically as MKMVA, and issue media statements under the name of MKMVA, it will always be in the pursuance of unity in the ranks of the ANC and our related Associations, Leagues and Alliance Partners in order to ensure the most effective and well-oiled election campaign.
It was exactly in this context, when one of our very own ex-MK veterans, in the person of comrade Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba (Minister of State Security) behaved in an ill-disciplined manner and broke the unity in our ranks, by unjustifiably attacking the Secretary-General of the ANC, comrade Ace Magashule, that the leadership of MKMVA saw it fit to issue a media statement calling her to order, and emphasizing the importance of discipline and unity. In line with the principles for conducting an effective election campaign, espoused above, MKMVA did not do so in order to promote our own organizational identity, but in order to protect the unity and identity of the ANC as we intensify our election campaign. We will not hesitate to do so again, if any of our MKMVA members or any member of the ANC, again make themselves guilty of indiscipline and factionalism. For now, it must be all hands on deck to secure a resounding victory for the ANC!