An organisation is as strong as its collective institutional capacity. The African National Congress as a 103-year-old entity has been in political power for 21 years and this period has manifested in a multiplicity of challenges as it made the transition from liberation movement to governing party.
A great part of this transition was and is made possible due to people who have served and continue to serve the ANC informed by its values and ethos. It is therefore natural to celebrate the institutional capacity of the ANC by looking at its veterans as indicative of the actual state of the organization.
I have over time observed various reports and accounts as captured in our media on what I now have termed ‘recent glass-tower veterans’ of the ANC.
My thoughts are herewith captured to argue that the ANC is being done a gross disservice by some who makes up a part this important cog of institutional capacity.
It appears the veterans in the ANC can today be categorised along two fundamental and distinct lines. When the ANC talks of its veterans who also are part of the recognised Veteran league it refers to an MKVA presence who are supportive of the current leadership. Yet seldom is mentioned made of what I termed the ‘recent veterans’.
It is here perhaps that the opportunity presents itself for recent individual veterans to seize the empty space and articulate their personal opinions for public consumption. Perhaps at the risk of speaking in ignorance, the Veterans League is not doing enough to bridge the gulf between the groups making up the veterans, resulting in the ANC being denied the true and actual benefit its home-grown veterans as a collective may bring to anchor this century old organization.
It is my irrevocable view that ANC needs all its veterans from different eras no different to any liberation movement that transitioned into a governing party.
However, what the ANC do not need is a new brand of independent veterans who consistently refuse to accord the current democratically elected leadership of the movement the same respect they afford others.
I dare assert the ANC does not need recent veterans who do the work of opposition parties in claims of freedom of speech.
What the ANC do not need is a new crop of veterans who have an almost self- righteous stance in which the prism is to talk down to current leadership from an aloof position with a so called backed South African ‘expanded rights’ handle. (Meaning they are respected by South Africa that’s why they can talk)
What the ANC do not need is a breed of former leaders who had benefitted at all levels and continues to do so and yet seek to pontificate on what is wrong the ANC.
It needs veterans that take full consideration for the trajectory of BEE (its highs, lows and all the mess associated with it), which in my assessment has made an undeniable contribution to corruption.
Perhaps a footnote on corruption is needed at this juncture of my meandering on our recent veterans. It is further my contention that apartheid corruption had its second-birth in the Mandela era; it found identity in the Mbeki era and now lives in the Zuma era. Any attempt to fail to see the trajectory of corruption and to narrowly blame this dispensation for the prevalence of corruption is necessarily sophistic and deceiving to say the least.
Corruption is an enemy we all must deal with at all levels and spheres of our society expressions. We cannot and dare not in convenience make corruption a political football because we can. Veterans do not ask themselves how they attained their wealth devoid of political power proximity.
An analysis of the new breed of veterans reveals an interesting picture. Firstly they are mostly if not all economically empowered so its not personal empowerment that drives their anti-ANC behaviour. They, their immediate families and even extended families are financially sorted because they graciously, serving of boards etc. These veterans have benefitted from the proximity of political power, and are well represented in the economic sectors of our society.
It appears these modern independent veterans have taken on the role of ‘independent’ analysts and opinion makers that freely opine through open letters; even engage in the sharing of ‘private’ organizational information intended for the oganisation’s leaders with the media. Yes, they find it easy to break with the collective leadership ethos of the ANC the same they prognosticated whilst in power.
The ANC’s most recent veterans have become experts on what is wrong with the ANC, perhaps as veterans they should be. The only dichotomy is they never find it in themselves to admit and accept due role in what they consider the ANC has become in this epoch. The clear line of collective responsibility of ANC leaderships from the dawn of democracy till today is not regarded as essential neither considered to be of cognizance for these veterans.
These modern veterans engage the ANC in snapshot analysis of easily compartmentalized periods of Mandela, they all were part of that moment, that government and therefore ensemble the actual true architects of our collective liberation. Mandela extends them a legitimacy that makes them immune to question or reproach.
Some of these veterans identify with Mbeki because they served as cabinet ministers and had critical positions and therefore claim the institutional context of a SA as theirs because they were there and they led and set South Africa on cause for the leveling of the plain fields until BEE exemplifies this skew reality in which they grossly benefitted. Mbeki extends them a claim of intellectual prowess and they naturally feed on that. Some even defend Mbeki when defense is not needed, this defense rather feeds the demon of factionalism.
The recent veterans reject the Zuma leadership again for a multiplicity levels. For some Zuma democratically defeated Mbeki the one they worship and eternally bow before hence its impossible to ever embrace s democratically elected Zuma as a their leader. For some Zuma has no formal education and for some of our veterans who define leadership through certification of degrees this attests a grave indictment. To use the words of Archbishop Tutu on the election of Zuma, ‘how will I explain who our new president is?”
For the recent veteran sees Zuma, individual as the cause of all ANC mess. Interesting not something they blame on Mandela or Mbeki even Motlanthe (for his short unelected stint). Very interesting!!
It appears the recent veterans of the ANC are preoccupied to prove the leadership of this era as corrupt and destroying the ANC. Let us not forget the ANC these veterans fought and served is the very public claim.
Some veterans have used their academic status, writings even the instructing classes to be scathing on the ANC leadership of this epoch. These gladly receive the accolades as veterans and freedom icons but today are individuals who opine because they in their minds own the ANC.
It is even possible to postulate some veterans in an ideal setting may never have become veterans because with our chequered history some were mere ‘swallows’ and ‘ravens’ who burrowed themselves into the beds of intimate relations with some highly regarded even married ANC and SACP leaders of another era. These are therefore veterans by conjugal rights less than having played any specific role in a particular epoch.
These veterans share a sense of self-righteousness wrapped in claim of speaking up for the existence of the ANC as wrested away from those they regard as illegal guardians of their organisation.
The modern veterans seldom own up to their role in factionalism and the development of what they keep warning on the personality cult.
Perhaps one of the primary reasons why these veterans are so vocal is the fact that they find themselves in retirement at a politically young age. At 60 politicians are young in particular in Africa. Our veterans therefore still have personal and political ambitions some even for high office, yet their ‘trapped state’ of being veterans does not fit this insatiable need to be politically active to the extent of even running for highest office. I think this is perhaps one of the more crucial reasons for the attitudes and behaviours of the recent ANC veterans.
There is a sense of ambiguity about these veterans, they personalize the ANC as an entity that warrants rescuing from a group or band of moribund non- thinkers, self-serving and corruption anchored leadership. This lends to the emergence of a natural ‘messiah complex’ that is self evident in the ANC’s recent veterans. They in individual sentiment have determined themselves the solution for this anarchy in the ANC. The only problem is these veterans were all part of the ANC throughout the transition from liberation movement into governing political party and had their fair share of involvement bad, good and ugly in that history.
The recent veterans share their views and perspectives not devoid of old bitterness; some refuse to get over a Polokwane and are in this season angry. We are told of veterans who cry because they were spied on and lost out on lucrative deals. We hear of veterans who talk as if they were not part of the destruction of the ANCYL when they sought to fight personal battles using the youth.
Let me conclude in reiterating the ANC needs its veterans, it needs veterans who are veterans and act as veterans. It needs the veterans to actualize wisdom that at all times respect the organization it joined as individuals and were privileged to serve in. It needs veterans who recognize the ANC before they recognize themselves where they feel entitled because the ANC owes them something. Veterans, who are disciplined and respect the order of structures, yes veterans who will respect democratically elected leadership. The ANC needs its veterans who detest factionalism and work against the demon of factionalism not those who fuel it and claim innocence. The ANC needs its veterans because it made all these veterans what they today in individualism choose to claim. The ANC is owed an objective loyalty by its veterans.
Until veterans act behave and work for the ANC they will remain what I have in this season termed ‘recent glass tower veterans’. Veterans who will serve in the ANC Veteran’s League and share in collective wisdom from a collective responsibility lessons learnt.
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
Independent Observer, Writer and Author