By Matthew Wate
In early 2004 an enterprising businessman approached the ANC with a novel and interesting piece of gadgetry. Bactacles. These ingenious devices looked like normal sunglasses but actually had tiny cameras on the back and projected images onto the lenses, allowing wearers to see what is behind them at all times.
The ANC loved them. For an organisation that had such an impressive history to draw on there could not be a better fashion accessory. ANC members could now face the future but see the past, walking forward while looking behind. Moving South Africa towards a brighter future without forgetting the past.
The sunglasses soon sold out at every level of the party and no cadre worth his salt would be seen without a pair. For a while everything was great, the ANC could draw on its heritage and legacy while moving towards a brighter future. Slowly though, things took a turn for the worse. A new leadership moved into the ANC’s master bedroom and realised the best part about the bactacles was that you could see the past so clearly, behind was in front.
The decision was made to take advantage of the clarity the bactacles gave to actually start walking backwards. The ANC didn’t just need to see the past, they could live it. Why did South Africa need to move towards an uncertain future when there was such a clear image of the ANC’s past successes and grandness available for everyone to hold on to?
The problem was that only the ANC were enamoured with bactacles, the rest of the country was still looking and moving forwards. Suddenly the ANC had to get heavy-handed with dissenters who wouldn’t see the past as surely as they did. Reaction to criticism took on odd dimensions with ANC cadres calling the opposition and media counter-revolutionary but also overseeing the brutal repression of students, mine workers and ordinary citizens who were looking for a revolution.
Watching the present through bactacles meant the ANC started to see itself as a struggle movement in government, rebelling against those it saw as oppressors but oppressing those it saw as treasonous.
Things took a turn for the worse in early 2016 when the ANC declared that all citizens must wear bactacles at all times “to align the national vision with that of the government”. There would only be good (hi)stories to tell and the national pride the ANC had instilled in the 1990s would see us through the hard times we currently felt. More ardent ANC supporters fervently adhered to the new law, never taking off their state-sponsored bactacles. Inevitably South Africa’s roads became more dangerous than the Joburg to Durban cannonball run at Easter as thousands of motorists attempted to drive while looking at their own headrests. Hilarity and serious injury followed, such is the knife edge of great comedy.
It took several years for a brave new movement of young, brave ANC activists to take off their bactacles, to remember the past and learn what it really meant. The lessons of Mandela, Tambo and Sisulu’s ANC wasn’t that it should be the same forever but that the ANC was formed to serve South Africa’s people and do what they needed, even if it was difficult to the point of self-sacrifice for its leaders.
These young people began looking forward again, rejecting the divisive stance of today’s leaders, forging a path that challenged inequality without demonising anyone, that supported free speech and open debate, that encouraged academic freedom without political interference and built a future that truly had a place for all South Africans.
This piece was inspired by the events that transpired in front of South Africa’s Parliament on October 21 2015.
Matthew is a thinker, writer and peddler of curious histories. His views are his own and do not reflect those of any of his employers, family or CIA handlers.