By: Clyde Ramalaine
As the adage goes, words have meaning. The term counter-revolutionary in the history of linguistic understanding is often used to describe behaviour in the tendency of a person(s). According to most dictionaries, it is used as either an adjective or a noun. It explains or defines someone engaged in or promoting a revolution that opposes a previous one or reverses its results.
We know that a counter-revolution may also be either positive or negative in its consequences. As the account leads, the transitory success of Agis and Cleomenes of ancient Sparta in restoring the constitution of Lycurgus was considered by Plutarch to be counter-revolutionary in a positive sense. Equally so during the French Revolution, the Jacobins saw the Counter- revolution in the Vendée as distinctly negative, whilst it was strongly supported by the exiled Royalists, the Catholic Church, and the people of the provinces.
In ANC circles it has become normative to label others in organisational and tripartite settings interspersed-factional-
A few days ago, ANC Chairperson Gwede S. Mantashe returning from Zimbabwe as a member of the delegation of his political party made a public statement. This trip sees Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqakula and the high level of ANC delegation that accompanied her on a SANDF jet accused of conflating state and party institutions for allowing senior ANC leaders to hitch-hike across the Limpopo to engage the ZANU-PF leadership.
We can comfortably assume that Mantashe had at aim to come to the aid or defence of the current president. In his interview, Mantashe ventured to condemn the subsequent letters of those who wrote in response to the Ramaphosa letter. He singled out the letter penned by former president Jacob G. Zuma who in the aftermath of Ramaphosa’s letter also exercised his member’s rights and privilege to respond.
In this sense, Mantashe entered the season of unprecedented letters a marked moment in Post- Apartheid and ANC discourse fully conscious of what he was doing when he chose to label others, he now has beef with, when they as individuals responded to Ramaphosa, as counter-revolutionary. Let us, therefore, venture an attempt at contextualising what happened before Mantashe’s statement. Mantashe thus continues a season of labelling from the tired toolbox of crippled communist-rhetoric that often attest blunt weapons of attack aimed at silencing others plausibly from his positional chair.
Three weeks ago, ANC President Cyril M. Ramaphosa, in the heat of COVID – 19 Lockdown PPE Corruption in which billions were misappropriated took easy refuge in penning a letter to ANC members decrying the state of corruption as levelled against the ANC. It is important to engage the context for this letter which by itself marked another unprecedented moment of the Ramaphosa leadership of the former liberation movement and now entrenched SA political party, namely the African National Congress. It was not the first time that Ramaphosa opted to be different to all former leaders of the ANC. We will recall that he late in his campaign for high office in 2017 publicly endorsed slate politics by announcing his preferred crop of leaders that he dubbed his “Dream-Team”. Mantashe was in that dream team by the way.
Up until then, it was not accepted practice that aspirant presidents declare their preferred slates since slate politics in the ANC purportedly is not in the acceptable ethos of the organisation/party. Ramaphosa’s now-infamous CR17 Campaign was also the first in the history of the ANC in elections contest to have raised in excess of R1bn to ensure his marginal 179 vote victory at Nasrec. Recently we have heard SACP Deputy-Secretary General Solly Mapaila a vociferous CR17 campaigner publicly confess to how the 54th Conference at NASREC was bought by those who have deep-pockets for influencing of in particular Mpumalanga delegates. This is not the first time a senior leader speaks on this; current Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola was audiotaped in the vernacular engaging a conversation on money for votes. So, the Nasrec 54th Conference remains one shrouded in substantial and increasing claims of a rigged and bought election.
It is no secret that anyone running for ANC high office need resources broadly defined and, in the past, undeniably so all successful bids came with degrees of help. However, what was and remains unprecedented is how CR17 raised capital as in money outside the ANC, essentially from non-ANC voters best understood in dare I say it again white-monopoly- capital to have Ramaphosa in the driving seat or shall we say to have the guy they prepared since 1978 (Urban Foundation) as the leader of the ANC. Rooms were booked for ANC candidates in Monte-Casino by among others Bidvest. In a tangible sense never has external capital so influenced an internal ANC campaign for leadership. We know this because Chief Justice Mogoeng in his 2019 Mandela Lecture alluded to the morality conundrum when he asserted no one gives you R10m and expect nothing in return. It was not difficult to talk about a president potentially captured before he even entered SA as its ANC bequeathed president.
Hence when Ramaphosa recently decided to write his letter to the ANC members as his introduction unambiguously leads, he continued in what can now be called un-ANC practices. Or should we say he continued pulverizing practices and norms that defined the ANC in history of presidential leadership.
What is lost in the translation of Ramaphosa’s letter is its direct context, the Saturday before Ramaphosa’s Sunday’s well-publicized letter, the WHO Secretary-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus when interviewed on SA COVID-19 related PPE corruption in strong remarks stated, corruption which deprives health workers of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) threatened not only their lives but also the lives of their patients from the novel coronavirus? Ghebreysus went further to assert, “However, corruption related to PPE… for me it’s actually murder. [sic]
It remains my submission that had it not been for this statement by Ghebreyesus there would have been no letter from the president. Meaning Ramaphosa wrote that letter in direct response to the WHO Secretary-General Ghebreyesus’ statement as the epicentre. Known for his overreliance on public relations and personal imaging he needed to deflect the real heat for being directly accused in the leadership of the SA State that is abusing the poor and vulnerable thus murder through the avarice and greed of politicians.
We all by now have read the letter which takes the challenge of corruption to the ANC members directly implying the organisation meaning its members are corrupt. Whether we some seek to romanticize the ANC in almost 109 years of glory as Africa’s oldest surviving liberation movement, the truth is the ANC belongs to its approximately 700000 members in the final analysis. Ramaphosa, therefore, did not write to ANC voters but to members in good standing, paid-up members who have sworn allegiance to an organisational constitution that governs their membership in which members share in the democratic franchise of rights, privileges and responsibilities.
To be fair to Mantashe, it is only right to mention that he as Secretary-General in a time past also defended the Zuma presidential leadership against what was considered a vitriolic Thabo Mbeki statement. Mantashe was clear in his response that, ‘we are still mopping up the mess of the Mbeki administration/leadership.’ It is, therefore, not strange that Mantashe as chairperson would venture as is his right and privilege no different to any other member or leader of the ANC an opinion. Equally so he was an integral part at NOB level of both Zuma and Ramaphosa ANC leaderships, we may also not miss the fact that he may see this as personal.
The ANC owe itself to perhaps one day honestly engage actual role and need of a chairperson in the organisational setting for what it is. It is a commonly known fact that this position was created in an epoch when Mandela was coming in to lead the ANC and OR Tambo needed to be honoured. It is not unfair to say the position was created in its original intent in honouring a leader that led for over 30 years. I am personally of the view the ANC can do without this position because it is by nature and origin an honorary position. However, we know it’s now entrenched as an official National Office Bearer (NOB) position. (Let us park this for another day)
However, what Chairperson Mantashe said is what we seek to problematize. Mantashe used his statement to address the ANC through the platform of the media on solicited responses as initiated by the Ramaphosa letter. He went on to take refuge in archaic communist linguistics by labelling some counter-revolutionary since what they are doing is to pretend to be revolutionary when they are counter-productive as leading an onslaught against the incumbent. Mantashe committed a few fundamental errors with his chairperson privilege.
Firstly, he chose to ignore the unprecedented nature of the Ramaphosa letter within a historical setting. He could have attempted to contextualise the letter and in even-handedness critique it. He secondly ignored the content of the letter addressed to ANC members and what that means at a functional level as a first. He thirdly, conveniently had no appetite to engage the efficacy and necessity of Ramaphosa to have opted to write a letter. He also refused to engage the content of letters objectively while he naturally assumed Ramaphosa’s letter was necessary. Mantashe blurred his personal views with his chairperson position. If OR Tambo was the reason for the Chairperson position it can be argued one of the ANC’s signposts of even-handedness practice warrant the chairperson position to be above factional rhetoric, glib accusations or point-scoring. Mantashe categorically claim these letters are an orchestrated campaign to vilify and create an impression the organisation in members have grave challenges with the ANC president.
Lastly, he perhaps irrevocably if not overtly confirmed the ANC a political party in which some of its leaders consider themselves not just custodians of ANC values but instead owning the party as their prized possession when they prove highly intolerant to opposite views and frank engagement.
Mantashe read members the riot act for attacking a sitting president. While this may have had the intent of nobility it communicates the conflation of principle, praxis, office, and status of what constitutes membership in the ANC increasingly for some leaders have come to mean. Mantashe compels all, members, sympathizers and those who have kept the ANC in power through a ballot to ask; but whose ANC is this if not paid-up members who have continued to keep an organisation alive? It is commonly and pragmatically sloganeered that the ANC belongs to the masses, yet that at a fundamental level is the romantic version of how the ANC sought its place in managing history. The truth is the ANC belongs to its members like any other political party anywhere in the world.
In the final analysis, we must come to accept the ANC is a political party. Mantashe called members who disagree with Ramaphosa’s opinion as articulated in his letter counter-revolutionary only because for him members must listen to leadership, must not disagree and dare not be public about it when the president can be public in his address to members. What Mantashe in this myopic new concept of ANC membership missed is if he is willing to label members in their varied responses from letters to social media posts counter-revolutionary, what was the president’s letter? Since he ventured an opinion, he owes it to explain why he thought the president was revolutionary. By the same token he warrants explaining who gets to draw the proverbial line on what is revolutionary and counter-revolutionary in a factional ANC.
Was Ramaphosa’s letter revolutionary? Are members to obediently toe the line and forego their rights as was always custom to engage fellow members who happen to be leaders. Mantashe forgot in the final analysis that both Ramaphosa and Mantashe like all are mere ANC members currently privileged to lead. Maybe the 13 years in ANC office-bearer leadership has rendered him blunt to appreciate what it means to be an ordinary ANC member. Thus, ANC members in less than three weeks were abused by both president and chairperson from their privileged positions. First as corrupt and now as counter-revolutionary.
The ANC often plays around with constructs of ‘organisational renewal’ instead must watch these new tendencies of leadership that have no appetite to engage content but are quick to label others counter-revolutionary when leaders really want subordination to pure positional power. Once Ramaphosa or any leader writes to members he or anyone else in leadership simply cannot run roughshod and unilaterally remove the rights, privileges and responsibilities of members to have an opinion in response. Unless the long-standing notion of a ‘broad church’ in the description of whom the ANC is pretending mere lip-service and the ANC since 2017 has transformed into a emerging dictatorship where elected members dictate to non-elected members what to think, how to express and what content to engage which leadership makes public. On another level the ANC warrants asking why Ramaphosa in particular must be treated as an endangered species. He is in the proverbial kitchen and it gets naturally hot, or did he not fully appreciate the position he aspired to since 1978 and was willing to buy aided by WMC as the Nasrec narrative unfolds?
Ramaphosa’s letter remains his letter as a member who is privileged to serve as ANC president. His letter equally is his opinion and not the automatic gospel, meaning it cannot be naturally sacrosanct because positional power declares it so. He does not have unique and unfettered power or rights to the exclusion of all other members. Former President Jacob Zuma, like his predecessor Thabo Mbeki [it was Mbeki’s prerogative and choice to be absent in discourse for the first term of Zuma presidency], have every right to pen his letter and challenge Ramaphosa on what we all know is his short-feet to accept ownership for the R500bn COVID – 19 Lockdown crimes of corruption that took place under his unique watch.
Mantashe simply is not the barometer to determine what is an attack or what constitutes a correct response to Ramaphosa’s letter and cannot arrogate a right in the superlative to adjudicate on such. At best he can share his opinion in equality of all others. He could have done better to engage content than to advance an opinion as a referee.
Members likewise cannot be held hamstrung by cheap labelling and ought to directly challenge Mantashe to explain why he takes cheap comfort in denigrating their rightful and entitled solicited opinions and responses as counter-revolutionary when he woefully is silent on if the president was not disingenuous with his letter.
One naturally would have expected Mantashe, given the history of an OR Tambo necessitated chairperson role, to attempt objectivity and advocate for balance but maybe that is too big a ask in an organisation where factionalism is the pervasive entrenched endemic culture. An organisation where positional power blinds leaders in openness for self-introspection. We must surmise those who resort to labelling, naturally exonerates themselves from what they accuse others while they arrogantly claim to know the meridian of what is revolutionary and counter-revolutionary per se.
Unless ANC members agree the organisation, they signed up to is not a dictatorship where leaders in false aristocracy have a final say and they simply are servants to positional power. This is the power of discourse that many of us fought for we fought. We didn’t fight to have ANC leaders intoxicated on power. Positional power cannot threaten, silence or attempt eroding the gains of a public opinion especially if solicited. Why can Mantashe not accept Ramaphosa chose to open the debate with his letter.
Let a thousand flowers from within and outside the ANC bloom in the democratic franchise, we need no self-appointed adjudicators but active participants. Mantashe is but one voice and he has a right to his opinion he just does not have an inalienable right to label others counter-revolutionary. Engage in robust culture and leave the adjudication, its content that is to be engaged not preconceived notions of why members responded and continue to respond.