Sunday, 26 October 2008

Open letter to Mantashe and Duarte

Open letter to Gwede (Mantashe) and Jessie (Duarte):

What is the lengths to which 'mainstream ANC' will go in countering Lekota's breakaway initiatives?

I address this and other questions as some-one who hails from Kwazulu Natal, and who as a UDF member saw at close range the horrible consequences of political violence. In violence of that kind, both sides lose, even the one that thinks it gained from violence. The latter will face loss or adverse consequences in the longer term.

In violence, people are maimed and die unnecessarily. In addition, the country loses materially and otherwise; destruction is visited on communities and households, and efforts to tackle poverty are set back. Negativity and bitterness – and even the shadows of revenge - are buried deep in the psychological ground. Although many work through it, trauma - spoken and unspoken - dogs communities, activists and leaders; it clouds perspectives and makes some people unable to ever function to their full potential again.

Although the freedom struggle has used non-violent mass action as a primary force, violence also features. Militarism is part of the lived experience of a good number of leaders/activists in the ANC. In addition, as argued before in these blog pages, Fanon's influence hangs over many liberation struggles (although the saga of overthrows, rebel movements and coups at certain points and in some parts of Africa and some other developing countries raises questions about the long term effects of violence). However, strong, principled, visionary and values-based leadership in the ANC has helped to curtail the use of violence in our liberation struggle. They strove to limit violent attacks to installations and physical structures and to prevent it from becoming the main element. In the view of these veteran leaders, violence would be used as retaliation against the repressive violence of the state but would never be lionised and worshipped.

In the current situation of tension between mainstream ANC and dissident groups it is clear there is a great deal of anger and irritation. The question is: How far is the ANC prepared to go in countering the Shikota initiative? This question, since we know the ANC policies and principles, has less to do with whether the party has formally initiated or approved coercive and violent actions. The questions are (a) whether the party will be ambiguous or unambiguous about condemning violence (b) whether the party will claim violence is justified because it was provoked (c) whether the party will look on and say something like 'it's not our business, we can't do anything since it represents local groups reacting to developments as they see fit'.

It is not good enough to blame the other side, and hence to argue that preventing violence is the responsibility of Terror Lekota. Such a response smacks of poor leadership. The ANC should be providing leadership and seizing the moral high ground. We expect nothing less.

Surely, in a case of tension between progressive forces, it is an ideal time to promote non-violence as way of engaging – and as the principle way of building Mzansi. The ANC has made a call to its activists to strongly resist what it calls the ‘renegades’ and to aggressively counter the Lekota’s key messages. It is within its rights to do so.

But we and it should also bear in mind that community members need to work together in future to deal with community issues, advance development and implement programmes to address poverty. Violence, coercion and intimidation, apart from the real danger of loss of life and destabilization, will break the trust that a governing ANC will need to draw on after the election to ensure effective community development. Violence will cause fear in communities and drive ordinary folk away from voting and involvement in political processes – feeding into trends of depoliticisation underway since 1994.

I therefore ask you: Speak out strongly and ambiguously against violence. It is the right thing to do. Through it, you will gain the moral high ground. You will be creating conditions for political participation at community level, and for active citizenship able to assume responsibility and call for accountability. You will be realizing – and affirming – the link between non-violence and development. You will be recognizing the link between local community action based on trust, co-operation and local democratic practice and the achievement of the longer term goal of a better life for all.

Do you agree with the points made in this open letter? What do you think - please comment.