OPINION: The missing middle of the ANC

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On the occasion of the 73rd Anniversary of the ANC, delivering its NEC’s 1985 January Statement, then president, Oliver Reginald Tambo directed the youth to render South Africa ungovernable. What followed this command was resistance by an inspired generation of young people who confronted the apartheid government with stones forcing it to announce a partial state of emergency on 20 July 1985.

PW Botha was clearly not coping with the pressure young people were exerting on the apartheid government for it to be brought to its knees. He subsequently declared the national state of emergency in 1986. Townships became the centers of resistance resulting in more than 11 000 activists detained without trial.

Among them were youth leaders Peter Mokaba, Rapu Molekane and Ephraim Mogale. Those who had been arrested in homeland Bantustans like Mnyamezeli Booi and Jabu Khumalo (who were arrested at Turfloop), were transferred to the notorious John Voster Square in Johannesburg.

Others were always on the run but sometimes unlucky to find themselves in detention like Dipuo Peters, Ignatius Jacobs and Jerry Ndou. The launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983 had made it easier for the ANC in exile to coordinate its internal operations including mass mobilization, underground activities and resistance events.

The UDF managed to rally thousands of young activists through the various member associations that were its affiliates. A distinction of the caliber of these youth activists of the 80s were their comprehension of what the ANC in exile expected of its followers internally in South Africa. Unlike the modern charade fellows who masquerade as “Cadre” or “Leadership” yet they are nothing but fictitious, uncouth and fabricated leaders of exaggerated self-invented credentials that cannot be accounted nor sworn for by anybody else except those that have been paid often ill-gotten monies to campaign for their slates.

Describing who a cadre is, Tambo said, “The distinctive feature of the revolutionary cadre is a high level of discipline, dedication and courage in carrying out the tasks assigned by the movement. Such cadres are guided by our goal of a united, nonracial and democratic South Africa.”

Clearly, the aforementioned definition of a cadre is an automatic exclusion of too many a leaders in ANC ranks today. Tambo was clearly not talking about these suspicious cohort when he said: “we need cadres of unquestionable loyalty, dedication and understanding of our struggle.”

These cagey ones do not understand the struggle. Neither are they dedicated nor of unquestionable loyalty because their loyalty lies in the one who “takes care of them”. Tambo had made it very clear that “the strength of any organisation lies in the caliber of its individual members and units” adding that “in order to advance in keeping with the momentum of our struggle we must improve the quality and expand the quantity of our membership.”

It is beyond any doubt that a high number of the caliber of the member of the ANC does not meet those requirements in their majority. Unfortunately, a high-number member is one that understand and sustain the role of money in activities of the ANC. It is sad but true. Nothing next to the youth that rendered South Africa ungovernable in the 80s. Clearly something happened between the exile-era/80s products and the post-liberation recruits whose experience of the ANC is one of no risk to one’s life, material privileges and perks that come with deployment to office of service to the country. Between the exile and the millennium post-democracy movement, there is a missing middle group in the current leadership of the ANC. Where is this missing middle?

There are two ways of describing this missing middle. One is through actual personalities, while the other is via the character of that cadre that rendered South Africa ungovernable. The ANC and, by extension, South African government, are missing the quality of the 80s and early 90s youth activist.

Undeniably, the modern-day South African political landscape is way different from the one of the 1980s and early 90s. Young people are not as politicized as the youths of the 1980s. Regrettably, the youths of 2022 are not even participating in impressive numbers in national electoral processes.

These days, role models are tv personalities, social media celebrities and influencers. Inspiration is drawn from material accumulations that are flaunted for the envious to drool upon. Political activism is relegated to those that feel the effects of an untransformed society like students and those in unbearably squalor conditions.

The rest opt to enjoy some acquired social status usually characterized by uncontrolled consumption of alcohol, love for exclusive joints and general chaotic tendencies. And it this alcohol gang that has infiltrated structures of the ANC. They have mastered the art of dangling the material carrot at a desperately poor youths who aspire for comfort and popularity. Always ready to fund lavish opulence to endear themselves in the hearts and minds of the vulnerable young person, these politically-bankrupt handlers never fail to display their lack of political morality and revolutionary conscience.

However this political deficit does not cost them influence and manipulation. They thrive and continue to expand their influence even to the positions of leadership. They are celebrities in this organization. They do not use their resources to “cultivate the spirit of revolt among the broad masses, enhance the striking power of our movement and inspire the millions of our people to fight for the South Africa we envisage”, as lamented by OR Tambo. Instead they use these resources to entrench themselves for their own selfish interests. And unfortunately they are succeeding.

They succeed because the missing middle is indeed missing. Sadly, this is not the South Africa this missing middle envisaged. One doubts that this is also the ANC they envisaged. An ANC where power-hungry avaricious do not shy away from claiming that “Comrades have approached me and I am available for leadership”. Power has no vacuum, therefore in the absence of the missing middle, those with money and influence are emerging.

What the ANC is missing in majority numbers is a selfless cadre that understand service to the people of South Africa. One whose lust and desire for the transformation of people’s lives outweighs personal hank and yearn for accumulation of material wealth amid poverty of the majority. A cadre that has no price tag.

One who understands that it does not necessarily require a budget allocation to execute a political program! For as long as this cadre is missing while the ANC is in power, South Africans will endure corruption, nepotism, fraud, bribery, under-performance, unspent budgets, theft and many other characteristics of a nation under siege. Perhaps the question to ask may be ‘what gave birth to that cadre of the 80s and early 90s?’ And the answer is most probably, ‘the prevailing conditions of the era’.

Are the prevailing conditions of today not demanding of the return of that cadre? For now, that cadre has been marked absent, and there is no prize for guessing as to who is instead in attendance. – Mpho Tsedu