A few weeks ago, I argued in an article I wrote for another publication for a proper alignment between conviction and courage. Since then, people have been asking me what I mean when I talk about ‘a proper alignment between conviction and courage’.
In its simplest form, this argument suggests that there are times in history when complaining about what is going wrong is out of sync with the imperative for change. At such times, the need for change must be predicated on another imperative – the courage to give content to conviction through decisive action and sacrifice.
Does the Constitutional Court judgment on the Nkandla security upgrades constitute such a moment for our country? I suppose for those, like me, whose political formation occurred in the political and military underground structures of the African National Congress (ANC) during the struggle against apartheid, the question does come with some difficulties. The same applies also to the millions of other South Africans who regard the ANC as a force for liberation.
The first difficulty arises from the differences between the mythical ANC and what the party has now become. The ANC was not just a political organisation; it was a powerful idea – the idea that there is nothing oppressors can do to imprison the impulse for liberation. So, for many South Africans, if not most, the ANC was the embodiment of the heroic and unconquerable spirit of all oppressed peoples. This spirit was personified in ANC leaders like Nelson Mandela. His incarceration for 27 years was, therefore, an exercise in futility because, imprisoned with him were the aspirations and suffering of millions of oppressed South Africans. Evil was always destined to give way to the weight of their vision for a democratic South Africa.
Another important element of the mythi- cal ANC was the belief, largely unstated, that the soul of the oppressed was the main content of the soul of the ANC itself. This is stuff of Biblical proportions that no oppressor, no matter how amoral, cruel or powerful, could have overcome. Therefore, most of the disappointment about the ANC flows from how this force for liberation, having shed its outer layer, revealed itself to be as human in its failings as any other part of the human condition. This is where the sense of betrayal comes from. It is akin to discovering that there is neither heaven nor hell. There is no life after death.
Such a discovery would be like hell for the souls of those who died with smiles on their faces in the belief that they would spend eternity in the warm embrace of the Almighty. It is this realisation that is bringing into sharp focus the question of aligning conviction and courage in order to save the democratic project from that which ills the soul of what was once a glorious movement for liberation.
This is why former ANC deputy secretary- general Cheryl Carolus, retired judge Zac Yacoob, former Congress of South African Trade Unions boss Zwelinzima Vavi, former Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils and other struggle luminaries went to Constitution Hill to call for President Jacob Zuma to hand over the keys to the Union Buildings to a person more deserving of the privilege of leading our people to the Promised Land.
While very few will challenge the contention that, under the current leadership of the ANC, paradise is being lost, victory is far from certain. The President still enjoys substantial support within the ANC, including the support of those who, because of self-interest, cannot afford to ditch him. More important is the possibility that his disciples will not allow him to go quietly. In the coming months, ANC stalwarts, acting outside the ranks of the ruling party, are probably going to be part of a movement of citizens who will call on the ANC to eject Zuma or face the risk of being ejected by voters.
If this happens, two things will follow. First, marchers calling for Zuma to go will collide with the ire of countermarchers acting in his defence. In this scenario, violent clashes are a real possibility. Second, the ANC will split. If you ask me, the ANC has split already. The problem is that the estranged parties still sleep in the same bed, content with the marital bliss of facing opposite walls night after night.
Whatever happens, I think a new South Africa lies in the belly of the old, struggling to be born. What is blocking the birth canal is the Zuma Presidency. Will the new push harder during the next few months, or will the old strangle it with its umbilical cord? In part, the answer will come from the results of the 2016 local government elections. If Zuma survives these elections, will he also survive after the 2017 national conference of the ANC?