ANC repeating the mistake of 1994

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa announces the party's decision on the coalition government. The ANC got 40.18% support in the 2024 elections. Picture: Itumeleng English/ Independent Newspapers

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa announces the party's decision on the coalition government. The ANC got 40.18% support in the 2024 elections. Picture: Itumeleng English/ Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 11, 2024


Waking up on June 1, I felt as if South Africa had entered an alternate universe in which the gods were crazy.

It was as if April 27, 1994 was all an illusion and that the civil war that was looming over us in 1985 was a pending reality.

It felt as if Eugène Terre’Blanche, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Pieter Marais, John Steenhuisen and Carl Niehaus had all colluded and won an epic battle of the gods to rule over us, a pantheon of piqued politicians pontificating to a population who, all like sheep, had gone astray.

While I had in earlier columns written about coalitions and a government of national unity, its imminence is a far sadder reality than I had anticipated.

How did 1994 begin to mean so little to so many? A large enough majority had voted for parties to the left of the ANC, and had they shared a collective respect for our constitution, we would be in a different place today.

April 27, 1994, instead of being the moment that anchors our freedom, has become the place where revisionists tell alarming stories. Stories of betrayals embedded in our freedom, of deals made to mitigate white fears and protect assets owned by apartheid beneficiaries.

The well-known sunset clauses allowed apartheid architects to co-govern our new State and co-manage our civil service. And undermine our liberation.

How strange is it that the man who played a significant role in setting up that process, one Cyril Ramaphosa, a process that retarded full black liberation, is now again proposing such a deal.

Why did 1994 not inspire us enough to see the challenges clearer and to establish a more admirable liberation by 2024?

People like Joe Slovo and Kader Asmal were all involved in ensuring that we get to the other side of April 27 in a deal that would be the least disruptive to local fears and global concerns. They were good people working in unknown territory.

The opportunities given to former apartheid operatives to be ministers and civil servants in the democratic state was the boulder that the ANC negotiators carried into the room which ultimately potholed the long road to freedom.

The ANC’s tragic failure to serve as the great inspiration of freedom, human rights and constitutional democracy, despite the presence of apartheid operatives, is why we are where we are today.

Its corrupt conduct and self-enrichment, which undermined the value of our constitution, gave ample oxygen to apartheid forces to challenge it, and with that, to tarnish our freedom story.

The ANC sank the brave narratives of freedom, as told from prisons in John Vorster Square and Robben Island, and documented in assassinations and bombings in Mozambique and Rue des Petites-Écuries, in the pit latrines and sewage-invested rivers of South Africa.

A weakened ANC is being challenged by everyone, like the old male lion whose vulnerable leadership is being tested by stronger and braver lions in the pack.

It has become the target of the 2026 local government elections, where new alliances will plot to obliterate it by 2029. It is painful to see a weak ANC, who, having satisfied its enemies’ fears in 1994, are once again repeating the same mistakes. This time to mitigate its own fears and extend its weakened life by a few more years.

When will the ANC realise that apartheid is alive and well, thriving off every ambivalence, weakness and ambiguity it displays?

As incredibly delinquent as Jacob Zuma is and as overtly corrupt his actions were, he did one thing that still resonates with growing numbers of people: He made oppressed people feel visible.

The ANC can repeat 1994 in 2024 and thereby ensure its demise in 2029. Or it can resurrect its lost and soiled greatness and, with humility, make oppressed people feel visible again.

Pretoria Central, Rue des Petites-Écuries and Robben Island should not all be in vain.

* Lorenzo A. Davids.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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