Part 002. When cadres and sisters Karima Brown and Nomboniso Gasa fall apart, what sense to make of a wider ANC political context


By: Clyde Ramalaine

– The bigger ANC politics reality at play mistaken for two individuals at play ?-

Open letters have become a subculture in our discourse as a means of engaging personally with an individual or a group. It is, therefore, acceptable as a means of public engagement. Like most, I  have read the open letter penned by Nomboniso Gasa as addressed to Karima Brown, captured in the Daily Maverick. I equally have seen the brief response from Brown as posted by Gasa on her FB page and the subsequent response from Gasa.

Let me in the beginning be frank, I share no close relation and hold no brief for any of those in this betrayed friendship that defines a political conversation, in preference of one to the other. I have publicly on several occasions differed with both of them as our discourse would attest. Perhaps our point of convergence and congruence comes assimilated in that of an 80’s Cape Youth involvement and our love for the ANC and ANC I long opined as having many souls.

Indeed, only a personal and intimate relationship can evoke this type of a letter, only very close associations can lay bare for public scrutiny these thoughts, views, questions, accusations, suspicions and mistrust. However, beyond the very personal and scathing manner of information shared we must hear an undeniable political conversation that attests perhaps enclaves rooted in both pre-and-post Polokwane and now post-Mangaung ANC leadership contexts. It is clear from our political sojourn this moment in 2007 however defined remains a dividing line immanent in claims of grave error and yet for others the redeeming of the ANC.

We again hear this history repeated, albeit as a means to state a historic reality, it also portends to influence the present and future. It is perhaps personal because it can only be personal at this level since South Africans are known for personalizing our political reality. We must hear if not feel the positioning and repositioning taking place. We must see the emerging contestation for the right to claim the space for the authenticity of critique separated by a dividing line evidenced in claims of ‘original’ and more ‘recent’ voices.

Perhaps what is lost in the translation of the conversation as evidenced in the open letter is the reality of the bigger organisation and SA realities beyond two former Western Cape CAYCO youth members of the 80’s who shared an undeniable published history. Individuals who today make their respective livings in Gauteng. Both have been deeply associated with the ANC at different stages of their lives. Maybe the political engagement of the two women should not be trivialized. It could be argued in a sense that points to a much bigger reality of political choices, shifting, claiming of space, entrenching, re-establishing and also a history of politics not always known, that is by-default Western Cape-based in origin but speaks to a national reality.

The subjects of race, identity, feminism, and ethnicity are not left out and the fine ear vibrates to their tunes in this conversation. Though these are tools as used, it equally paints the proverbial canvas for thought provocation; it lingers and perhaps defines the background. This very personal conversation leaves a friendship perhaps irreparably destroyed since secrets were made public, accusations levelled, plausible character assassination through insinuation and allusion made the order of the day. This is not uncommon in intimate relationships to see this happen when they go pear-shaped.

It is here I wish to deliberately direct our focus to a world beyond these two very visible women in our public discourse, for their unique contributions. We must attempt to rise above the narrow side of this political conversation between these two women as portrayed by social media in the simple ticking of likes even castigation of one or the other. Their political conversation is not unique neither is it a pure female spat. These two public personalities in a sense represent the ANC in all its shades. Therefore,  their conversation in so many facets attests to the reality of our current political discourse at both organizational and national level as we seek to find answers for the multiplicity of challenges the ANC is facing in this era.

Perhaps we must ask the following questions:

What is really at stake in this spat and what does it point to? What are the objectives if not the aims of this political conversation; can it potentially be salvaged from the nuanced proverbial gutter to assist meaningful engagement in both organisation and SA setting? What political interests are being unveiled if not revealed and for what intends? What are some of the structural and systemic aspects perhaps completely missed in this conversation, issues that revolve at the core of the ANC challenges and South Africa contexts? What is the common history of these former CAYCO, members in the Western Cape, what does that history stand for today? How can this political conversation despite its perceived ‘dirty laundry’ claim help us reinterpret if not understand the ANC in its choices for Western Cape political leadership since 1994, particular under Ebrahim Rasool later and by extension Marius Fransman and the implications for June 2017 and 2019?

Are there any lessons to be learned as to the above choices of the ANC for leadership and how these contributed to the state of current apathy of former ANC support in the Western Cape? What was the role of the alleged Islamization of the ANC in the Western Cape context as a contributing factor to having the ANC humiliated in elections? Is there any causal link between the words of Ebrahim Rasool “I am the son of a slave”, and what we heard in 2015 when the incoming WC ANC Secretary Faiez Jacobs in his opening interview introduced himself as “I am Muslim and Coloured”? Is there a case for the claims made of the rural Western Cape nodes being left outside and thus never found synchronising with the City Centre leadership, when it looked for such leadership?

Beyond the robust personalized debate, we must ask whether the ANC can own up to its choices and how these choices may in the future be avoided since these have led to self-inflicted damage to its collective body in the Western Cape. How can we revisit these damaging decisions in rectifying the past, since we moving forward to June 2017 to ultimately have a different electoral outcome in 2019?

We must ask can we revisit these choices and how these are to be approached? How is this conversation and political engaging intersecting with both the organizational and SA leadership transition debate? How can we detangle the debate from plausible mere grandstanding, finger-pointing, and armchair adjudicating to a substantial and transformative honest engaging on organizational renewal not for narrow self-interest as we look forward?

In the end, I am pleading for us to desist the parochial restricting of this conversation to these two women when this conversation is playing out at a bigger level. I am also pleading that we hear the background subjects earlier alluded to namely race, identity, ethnicity, and feminism vibrating in this conversation.

These are subjects we are increasingly compelled to confront as critical areas for meaningful political life in SA. We also must hear the contestation for space to share opinions as authentic as we all seek to shape this future despite our misunderstandings, preoccupations, shortcomings, and personal blind spots. I would pray the more important bigger reality is made the true centre and the chaff allowed to blow away with the wind.

It cannot be that we in convenience reduce this necessary conversation to a choice of sides in a proverbial contest of beauties in preference of whom we like, for both Gasa and Brown exemplifies any of us in various ways.