Nelson Mandela in 1993 rendered an impassionate eulogy on the occasion of bidding a final farewell to Oliver Tambo and confining his mortal remains to the common home of us all. Mandela at that poignant moment said:
“A great giant who strode the globe like a colossus has fallen.
A mind whose thoughts have opened the doors to our liberty has ceased to function.
A heart whose dreams gave hope to the despised has forever lost its beat.”
While Mandela was paying homage to Tambo and lamenting the void that seemingly occupied his space, those who were inspired by common purpose and dedicated their lives for the liberation of our people from the shackles of oppression ponder with sadness movement to which their souls were tied by an unbreakable umbilical cord.
Similarly, their liberation movement once strode the political landscape like an invincible colossus, inspiring hope among those it represented and imposing duty on those who chose to serve. Sadly, openness to divergent views has ceased to exist and intolerance to opposition appears an acceptable virtue.
Since the possibility of a formation of a breakaway party became more real, and subsequent to the announcement by Mbhazima Shilowa that a national convention is being organised to give birth to this formation, the ANC has elected to respond with uncharacteristic aggression and emotion to those who have chosen to exercise their democratic right of association. There has been relentless name-calling and insults hurled at people with dissenting views and who refuse to respect controversial resolutions imposed on members of the ANC.
What we have witnessed is an inability or failure on part of the ANC to appreciate the reality that the conditions under which it functioned as a liberation movement have ceased to exist; that the current political environment necessitates transparency and open debate of contentious issues, as none of its members should fear repression, persecution, torture or death, as it was during the liberation struggle.
The ANC is displaying reluctance and inability to make the transition from a liberation movement to a political party. Changing circumstances and our democratic dispensation have considerably altered the rules of engagement since 1994. It appears the senior leadership of the ANC has chosen to be a slave to the revolutionary claptrap that continuously impedes their competence, if any, to employ their mental faculties and exercise reason.
Jacob Zuma, when addressing the annual Chris Hani Memorial Lecture in 2007, said that “political intolerance and lack of debate had resulted in the disintegration of democracy and the destruction of nations, as witnessed elsewhere in the world … a climate in which we resist open engagement on issues of national interest due to political intolerance or fear will never allow the growth of political consciousness”.
He proceeded to quote Hani, saying: “We as the ANC-led liberation alliance have nothing to fear and everything to gain from a climate of political tolerance. We do not fear open context and free debate with other organisations … open debate can only serve to uncover the bankruptcy of our political opponents.”
Therein lies an unquestionable truth that with political intolerance our democracy is subjected to great strains, which are not favourable to the health of a young nation. Zuma wrongly projected himself as an advocate of open engagement and tolerance. The truth about himself and those around him is gradually revealing itself to all of us and uncovering their own bankruptcy. An abundance of issues of national interest demand of Zuma and the ANC to debate and help reshape unfavourable public opinion about them. How do Zuma and the ANC expect to gain public trust when they continue to impart untruths and sow contradictions?
The ANC demands of its reasonable members to succumb to its political machinations; to alienate their freedoms and placate themselves as slaves to those who had arrogated to themselves the exalted position of deity, unto whom everyone is expected to bow slavishly. Leadership is failing to display the maturity imposed by duty and expected of people whose movement is steeped in a history that speaks of heroes and heroines swallowed by time.
The Swiss philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), in his treatise The Social Contract — 1762, remarked that “the strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty”. The ANC naively believes that its dominance conferred on it much more intrinsic power and dominion over its members and opposition; when circumstances and logic demand of brutes to submit to reason and restrain their brawn.
Thabo Mbeki, during his address at the 52nd ANC conference in Polokwane, posed a question to members of the ANC that requires a response: “Does the ANC have the will and capacity to lead our country and people over the next five years in a manner that will enable the nation to celebrate our centenary in 2012 together, paying heartfelt tribute to our movement: for what it has and would have done to sacrifice everything for our liberation; and, using that freedom to lead the national offensive to accelerate the advance towards the creation of a South Africa that truly belongs to all who live in it?”
The ANC claims to oppose violence, and we expect its means to be consistent with its ends; if its ends are peace and justice, then its means must be peaceful and just.
Political intolerance anywhere is a threat to social tolerance everywhere!