By Shepi Mati and Zubeida Jaffer
The last time MK Commissars took a strong stand in pointing out the enormous discontent in the ranks of the ANC was in the late sixties. This initiative led to the now famous Morogoro Conference in 1969 which redefined the way forward for the organisation. A new NEC was elected geared to do a clearly defined job and ANC President Oliver Tambo offered to resign which the organisation declined. Leading this initiative at the time was a young Chris Hani.
Perhaps it is the memory of this that has triggered former Senior MK commanders and commissars of the former military wing of the ANC to prepare an explosive memorandum (see below) which they handed personally to ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe.
The group spans all generations of MK operatives starting from the elderly and illustrious combatant, Mavuso Msimang to Dipuo Mvelase, a young woman who was part of Operation Vula in the last stages of conflict.
Of the current signatories, at least Mavuso Msimango and Zolile Nqose are veterans of the Wanki and Sipolilo campaign which preceded what became called the ‘Hani Memorandum’ in the 1960s.
Spokesperson for the Group, former cabinet minister Siphiwe Nyanda confirmed that it was not their intention this memorandum be a public document. It was meant for the leadership of the organization to register serious concerns. He conceded that the leak must have come from within the group. It is understood that drafts were circulated more broadly than just to the people who have signed the memorandum. He further confirmed that he suspected that the leak came from the group since it was in draft form and not the final version.
Nyanda said they moved from the position that the ANC was the organisation that carries the hopes and aspirations of millions of South Africans. “We have always had faith in the leadership but things have reached a point now that we felt we could not remain silent,” he said.
Nearly 50 years ago, there was huge discontent and discord in the ANC ranks. According to historian Hugh Macmillan in the aftermath of the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns launching a Ho Chi Minh trail from Zambia via the then Rhodesia into South Africa between July and December 1967, the surviving fighters of the Luthuli Detachment regrouped into a movement whose leadership was in paralysis.
In an interview conducted with Ray Simons dated 25 November 1997 and deposited at the University of Cape Town under the collection ‘The Simon Papers’, Chris Hani is reported to have ‘after leaving prison in Botswana, [he] found the movement in a stalement position […] there was general confusing or unwillingness to discuss the lessons of the revolution.’
And so in January 1969 the signatories, including Chris Hani, delegated three members to approach then Secretary General of the ANC, Duma Nokwe, ‘with a view to arranging a discussion with members of the Executive’. Nokwe was apparently hostile to this idea dismissing the issues the group raised as ‘trivial and proposed to interview us as individuals and not as a group. We considered this procedure to be unpolitical and refused to comply.’
According to a current signatory Mo Shaik, that was the time when the leadership was losing touch with the base in a big way. There was huge discontent and discord in the ANC ranks which included a disconnect between the exiles and the people who were based in the camps, he said.
He explained that it was a very difficult period from the banning in 1960 to the imprisonment of Mandela in 1963 and then to the efforts for exiles to connect across a number of countries.
“The ANC was in trouble, ” he said. “There was an enormous disconnect and an urgent need to claim back the soul of the ANC.”
The stand taken by Hani and others led to the convening of the special Morogoro conference in April, 1969. And the rest is history.
The ANC went into a renewed effort and recommitted to its basic principles that took it to a peaceful settlement in the 1990s. Speaking as a newly elected Secretary General of the ANC in April 10, 2008, Gwede Mantashe is quoted by Macmillan as making a point that with Kabwe (1985) and Polokwane (2007), Morogoro (1969) came ‘after a period of dissatisfaction with the leadership [and] providing an opportunity to confront and to discuss the outstanding issues, heralding a period of reform and consolidation.’
This time the commanders and commissars note that ‘the country as a whole has been subjected to one crisis after another’. And ‘as a result the nation building project so necessary for the prosperity of our country is being compromised before our eyes’ whilst ‘the national psyche is characterized by helplessness and fear of what the future may hold.’
The signatories salute the courageous act of Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas for his public stand on the recent revelations that the Gupta family had offered him the post of Minister of Finance.
The 17- point memorandum goes on to list concerns about the ‘increasing tendency of state capture’ and ‘many accounts of undue influence on the decisions of the state’. It calls on the ANC leadership ‘to establish an independent commission of enquiry to investigate all claims of undue influence especially by the Gupta family on the ANC and the state.’
Finally the commanders and commissars call on the ANC leadership ‘to urgently convene a special National Conference to assess these challenges (the ANC and the state are facing) and chart a way forward to restore the prestige of our glorious movement and the State.’ This, they argue, is the responsibility entrusted on the leadership by the membership of the ANC and by the country as a whole’.
General Nyanda said they expect that their memorandum will contribute to discussions in the ANC and welcome the fact that the NEC has decided on an investigation into current business dealings.
It is hard to say whether or not the present leadership will be at all persuaded in the way they nearly 50 years ago.