For every occasion, there is an instance so poignant only the willfully blind and the intentionally deaf can miss it. Such moments tend to happen outside and in spite of the rehearsed and the orchestrated. They can be dramatic or surreal.
In the FIFA World Cup of 2006, such a definitive moment occurred in the 110th minute of the match between France and Italy -– when renowned footballer, Zinedine Zidane, angrily stabbed the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi with his (Zidane’s) balding head.
At the June 2011 ANCYL conference, the moment came halfway through the speech of Zuma, when he paused, pushed his spectacles characteristically up on the bridge of his nose and confronted one particular heckler directly by asking, ‘What are you saying sir, are you talking to me?’ – U thini baba, u khuluma nami? At that moment, the relationship between Zuma and Malema became finished and klaar.
The definitive moment in the ANC’s 2007 elective conference in Polokwane was the afternoon of December 18 when Fikile Mbalula and Mluleki George led two rival crowds inside the university of Limpopo Stadium –- within a stone’s throw of one another. At that moment, in that place, Mbeki ‘lost’ his bid for a third term, Zuma ‘won’ and COPE was ‘born’.
On January 8 2012, the ANC centenary was unleashed. In a continent and country where institutions have been hard to build and even harder to sustain, the ANC has achieved a remarkable feat. Over one hundred years and still, the ANC, PAC and Black Consciousness movement have certainly been the most important organisations in the lives of the poor. On the occasion of the centenary celebrations, different people will have chosen their own defining moments -– for there were many ‘candidates’ for such moments. For some, it was the moment when Zuma slaughtered the cow. For others, it was the midnight lighting of the flame on the border between January 7 and 8 2012 or the early church service held on Sunday January 8 at the Waaihoek Methodist Church – the very spot where the ANC was born.
The moment I waited for was the one in which former president Thabo Mbeki was meant to carry the centenary flame and hand it over to current President Jacob Zuma. I imagined Zuma stepping forward to meet him, flashing his characteristic and irresistible ocean-wide smile. I imagined them holding the burning flame together for a moment. I saw them each release one hand from the grip of the centenary flame to wave to the crowds in synchrony. Once they had placed the flame on the right spot in the podium, I saw them locked in an emotional embrace.
But alas, my dreams of Mangaung did not quite materialise. Mbeki was assisted by ANC veterans Andrew Mlangeni and Ahmed Kathrada in carrying the flame. Who better to represent Mandela and the Rivonia trialists than these two? And yet, I did not expect a trio-act at that moment. That is not what was announced and promised. I think I might have seen Mbeki and Zuma shake hands briefly –- very briefly -– as the trio handed the flame to the duo of Zuma and Motlanthe. As I watched their body language, Mbeki’s letter of October 9 2008 to Zuma flashed through my mind.
For several reasons, the flame handover was the moment of the centenary celebrations for me –- both for what happened and what did not happen. The dramatisation of ANC leaders handing over the torch to one another, just like they have done for a hundred years, was a riveting one. But it was a poignant moment also for the fact that Mbeki did not carry the flame alone and Mbeki did not hand it over to Zuma alone. Perhaps the centenary flame is too heavy and too hot for one man to carry -– both literally and metaphorically?
The moment was emblematic also for the fact that it speaks of the future of the ANC –- the flame must not only be handed from one set of leaders to another, but it must continue to burn brightly. If ‘freedom in our lifetime’ was the motif that inspired and sustained the ANC for a hundred years, what is the compelling vision around which the ANC will galvanise for the next hundred years?
Julius Malema has put forward the project of ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’. Upon closer scrutiny, it appears that the Malema Project is a project for and of the ruling classes. In putting it forward, Malema is only stating the obvious and the taken-for-granted among the ruling elite. Maybe that is why some of them are so upset with him. Indications are that the ruling classes are on course to reach their goal of economic freedom in their lifetime. Millionaires and billionaires are growing by the day among their ranks.
What the ANC needs to put forward is a compelling vision that will speak to the dreams of the majority for the next hundred years. Some of that work has already started in the planning commission discussions, but the danger is there for the latter discussions to happen parallel to and outside of the ANC.
Here is the irony: The compelling vision many South Africans dream is both lurking and lacking in the rhetoric of the ‘war against poverty’. A clear and permanent escape from poverty is what the vast majority of South Africans want. But the war against poverty will not be waged on 4X4s, BMWs and Mercs. The war against poverty will not succeed if education, health and the environment continue to be neglected — especially the scandalous neglect of the education and health of the poorest of the poor. Poverty will not be eliminated on the basis of economic models that have not only failed elsewhere, but models that have manufactured more poverty than wealth. I dream that in December, when the ANC meets again in Mangaung, the party will unveil and unleash with energy and clarity of purpose a comprehensive vision that will ensure that one hundred years from now, poverty will only be part of our history.