Recent events in South Africa and Zimbabwe have sent my mind racing into the past. There have been screaming headlines about how the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party in South Africa has suffered unprecedented losses in local council elections. Nationwide, the ANC is reported to have got about 54 per cent of the votes, a percentage that many parties around the world would consider a landslide but having lost majorities in the capital, Tshwane, (Pretoria), Nelson Mandela Bay, (Port Elizabeth), the ANC was deemed to have lost the elections. The reporting has been done with such glee, I have wondered how things came to such a state.
My mind goes to the first time I went to South Africa back in 1989. The ANC was a banned and illegal organisation and if you sang Nkosi sikelele Afrika out loud, you risked getting arrested. I was in Walter Sisulu’s home in Soweto the night the policeman dropped him home from 27 years of imprisonment with Mandela on the Robben Island.
When I first went to Soweto, everybody I met, once I was introduced as being Ghanaian would immediately assume and say I was a supporter of the Pan African Congress (PAC) and not the ANC. Ghana had a reputation then among the black population in South Africa as being aligned with the PAC, the liberation movement that somehow disappeared as a political party after the 1994 elections.
Payment of dues
What I found fascinating about the ANC then and all the way to those historic elections in 1994 and even up to my last stint in that country in 1999, was the sense of ownership among the rank and file. Old ladies kept their membership cards, with monthly dues fully paid up, carefully hidden but near enough to be brought out to be displayed with pride if need be.
Everybody paid dues to the organisation; a young man I met in one of the townships told me he would use his last five Rand note to pay his ANC dues rather than use it for offertory in church. I remember how certain they all were that the organisation was theirs and they were all obliged to pay dues. I once attended a disciplinary hearing I shall never forget. It started with a check to make sure those on the panel were all paid up and the two before the panel were up-to-date with their dues.
I remember how ingenious and innovative they were. I had a green skirt that I was rather fond of and I wore it to a braai; I also wore a casual gold colour blouse and black pair of sandals and suddenly I was elevated in the estimation of my friends. I certainly hadn’t set out to, but I had apparently dressed in ANC colours and that meant I showed solidarity.
I remember the difficult years after Mandela and co were released and it seemed violence would consume everybody. They still paid dues, they still attended party meetings and they still had total loyalty towards the organisation.
I heard a lot of words used to describe the ANC and its members in those days, but I am certain I never heard the word “arrogance”; not when they won overwhelmingly in 1994 and not even five years later when Nelson Mandela was stepping down and they were verging on two-thirds of the votes. Discipline was a word that came up regularly.
I remember how anxious some of the white South Africans were about what would befall their country when the ANC took over the reins of government. I recall two such men telling us in Pretoria that under ANC rule, South Africa would rapidly degenerate into “just another bloody African country, where the Robots don’t work”. (Robots is what South Africans call Traffic Lights).
Every time I have gone to South Africa since after those elections, the first thing I look out for is the state of the Traffic Lights and it is fair to say the infrastructure development has been impressive.
No more payment of dues
But nobody pays dues to the ANC these days, not the poor of the townships nor do the well-to-do black people who now live in the fancy white areas that they did not dare get into at the time the ANC was a banned organisation. Those who used to pay dues have long gone out of the habit and the young ones, the born-frees, would not dream of paying dues to the organisation. Indeed, the born-frees do not accept the concept of paying dues to a political organisation; they expect to receive handouts from the organisation.
Twenty-two years after those historic elections, it is not enough that the robots are working. Would anybody have thought in those days that an ANC leader would be involved in the whole sorry Nkandla scandal? The thought of an ANC leader accused and found guilty of using public funds to upgrade his private residence would seem improbable in the ANC I knew in those days.
Before I ever went to South Africa, I had been to independent Zimbabwe. They had sworn at independence in April 1980 that they had learnt all the lessons of African nations and would avoid them.
But they are showing all the signs today of what Africa became notorious for; leaders who don’t know when to leave and collapsed economies.
President Robert Mugabe
Monday was Heroes Day in Zimbabwe and as has been the practice for the past how many years, President Mugabe went to the Heroes Acre for the celebrations and made a speech. I have been at a few ceremonies at the Heroes Acre and I have heard Robert Mugabe made a speech there that genuinely hit you at all your nerve centres.
At that time of course he was leader of a government in which the Minister of Finance committed suicide when he was accused of corruption. I now feel ashamed that I made light of that incident at the time by suggesting that the Zimbabweans ought to take lessons from West Africa; since no minister in any government in a West African country would dream of committing suicide because he was accused of corruption.
Then Sally, Robert Mugabe’s Ghanaian-born wife died. The death shook him very badly and some say his moral compass was buried with her. He has held on power and is now 93-years-old. It has been excruciatingly painful watching this once dynamic leader of undoubted integrity reduced to a doddering man that is mocked by all.
In the past two weeks, it appears the very last support base of President Mugabe has ebbed away. The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association has called on President Mugabe to stand down as President. For the first time, the members of the association boycotted the Heroes Day celebrations.
That is as dramatic as the ANC losing control of Nelson Mandela Bay. The ANC might have got 54 per cent of the votes nationwide, but, losing Nelson Mandela Bay and the capital and struggling in Johannesburg, surely mean and here, I would borrow a quote and say the myth surrounding the ANC is broken forever.
And if the War Veterans of Zimbabwe have abandoned President Mugabe, then surely, the game must be up. How I wish he would spare those of us who remember his great days the sight of him being thoroughly humiliated.