The centenary celebrations of the African National Congress (ANC) are being used to persuade the people that a movement that has betrayed the people is our government; a government that obeys the people, instead of a government of the elites, for the elites and by the elites. It is a hugely expensive spectacle designed to drug us against our own oppression and disempowerment.
In his Communist Manifesto Karl Marx wrote that, ‘Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class…The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie’. Here Marx is referring to the ability of the bourgeois to translate economic power into state power, thus reducing our governments to mere managers acting in the interests of capital and not the people. This has happened to governments around the world. But here our politicians are not mere managers. They are, like in Russia or India, a predatory elite with their own class interests and they support capital and repress the people as long as they can get their own share.
Since 1994 there hasn’t been a reorganisation of the economy. The commanding heights of the economy continue to reside in the hands of a tiny elite, most of which is white. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Most young people have never worked. Anyone can see that there is an excessive amount of poverty in South Africa. There are shacks everywhere. In fact, poverty reigns supreme in our country. Every year Jacob Zuma promises to create new jobs and every year unemployment grows.
If things were getting better, even if they were getting better slowly, people might be willing to be patient. But things are getting worse every year. Poverty and inequality are getting worse. The government is increasingly criminalising poverty instead of treating it as a political problem. When people try to organise they are always presented as a third force being used to undermine democracy and bring back racism. But it is the ANC that has failed to develop any plans to democratise the economy. It is the ANC that has failed to develop any plans to democratise the media. It is the ANC that disciplines the people for the bourgeoisie – a role that they are very comfortable to play! It is the ANC that follows the line of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is our local leaders who are taking the leap from their old bosses, stealing from us, treating us with contempt, acting like the former colonial government and oppressing us.
During the struggle our leaders embodied the aspirations of the people. But once they took state power they didn't need us any more. We were sent home. We are only called out to vote or attend rallies. But all the time our people are evicted from farms, paving way for animals as farms are turned into game reserves under the pretext of tourism. Our people are evicted from cities. Our people are denied decent education. The party has become a mixture of what Marx would call an instrument of power in the hands of the bourgeoisie and what Fanon would call a means of private advancement.
Biko wrote that ‘This is one country where it would be possible to create a capitalist black society, if whites were intelligent, if the nationalists were intelligent. And that capitalist black society, black middle class, would be very effective … South Africa could succeed in putting across to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70 percent of the population being underdogs.’
We, as the unemployed, belong to the 70 percent that Biko was talking about. We were happy to see the end of apartheid and we will always fight racism wherever we see it. But we are not free. There has only been freedom for the 30 percent. How can a person be free with no work, no house and no hope for their life?
R100 million is being spent on the celebration – spent to entertain elites, through playing golf and drinking the most expensive whiskey. Golf players are even receiving massages from young women sponsored by South African Breweries. This is not a people's celebration. We are absent! How some of us wish that all that money could have been used to build houses, create employment, build sport facilities or schools for kids who continue to learn under trees! Biko was right. As the world celebrates with the ANC today they put across a pretty convincing picture of freedom while everywhere people are broken by the burdens of poverty.
In his ‘Wretched of the Earth’, in the chapter called ‘The Pitfalls of the National Consciousness’, Frantz Fanon wrote: ‘The leader pacifies the people. For years on end after independence has been won, we see him, incapable of urging on the people to a concrete task, unable really to open the future to them or of flinging them into the path of national reconstruction, that is to say, of their own reconstruction; we see him reassessing the history of independence and recalling the sacred unity of the struggle for liberation. The leader, because he refuses to break up the national bourgeoisie, asks the people to fall back into the past and to become drunk on the remembrance of the epoch which led up to independence. The leader, seen objectively, brings the people to a halt and persists in either expelling them from history or preventing them from taking root in it. During the struggle for liberation the leader awakened the people and promised them a forward march, heroic and unmitigated. Today, he uses every means to put them to sleep, and three or four times a year asks them to remember the colonial period and to look back on the long way they have come since then.’
I am not opposed to the centenary celebration of the ANC. But if the ANC was a progressive movement they would have organised a celebration in a way that includes the people and supports us to build our power. They could have, for instance, asked people to meet all over the country, discuss how far we have come and how far we still have to go, and draw up demands for a new freedom charter for the new era. But this celebration is just a spectacle that we are supposed to watch on TV. It is exactly what Fanon talks about. It is designed to keep us drunk on the memory of the past struggle, so that we must stop struggling and remain in the caves.
In a recent protest in Bloemfontein, police were there in numbers to flush the demonstrators. This has happened in many other demonstrations. The message is very clear: ‘Go back to your caves!’ It is backed up by state violence. As Fanon says, a party that can't marry national consciousness with social consciousness will disintegrate; nothing will be left but the shell of a party, the name, the emblem and the motto. He says that: ‘The living party, which ought to make possible the free exchange of ideas which have been elaborated according to the real needs of the mass of the people has been transformed into a trade union of individual interests.’
This is exactly what the party has become. Institutions such as parliament and local municipalities have been severely compromised because of individual interests. Corruption is rampant. The Protection of Information Bill (Secrecy Bill) is another illustration of how the selfish interests of individuals have taken over the party.
A true liberation movement would never have killed Andries Tatane, attacked and jailed activists of social movements. It would never send people to lull – it would encourage people to continue organising and mobilising against injustices and oppression. A progressive leader would know that they cannot substitute themselves for the will of the people. A progressive party would never help the government in holding the people down through fascist attacks on the media by the likes of Nceba Faku, Blade Nzimande and Julius Malema to mention but a few. A democratic party would never engage in attacks on protests as we saw most recently with the ANC and ANCYL fascism against the Democratic Left Front in Durban during COP17 Conference.
In the Congo, in Nigeria and across the Arab world people are deserting celebrations of the flag and political leaders as if they really do represent the nation. Some are turning to a politics of religious or ethnic chauvinism. Others are turning to the politics of mass democratic rebellion or a democracy that is truly owned by the people. This is a free exchange of ideas backed up with popular force. We are also seeing this in Europe and North America. Latin America has been in rebellion for many years. Across South Africa more and more people are deserting the party that spends so much money to keep them drunk on the memory of the past struggle, their own struggle, the same struggle that the ruling party has privatised and betrayed. There are occupations, road blockades and protests and the message is loud and clear: Sekwanele! Genoeg! Enough!
The only way to truly honour the struggles of the past is to stand up for what is right, now. The struggle continues and will continue until we are all free.
Ayanda Kota is chairperson of Unemployed People's Movement in South Africa.