A party at a crossroads – this is how provincial secretary of the ANC Faiez Jacobs described his party at a veteran and activists’ forum, held at Rocklands High School on Saturday March 11.
Mr Jacobs, who attended Beaconhill High School in Beacon Valley and credits Mitchell’s Plain as the place where he received his political schooling, said the forum was not a once-off initiative “but is, in earnest, meant to kick-start a massive recruitment campaign aimed at renewing ANC membership”.
Attended by about 150 people, including Tony Ehrenreich, of Cosatu; former head of the Hawks, Anwa Dramat, members of the SACP and veterans and activists from Mitchell’s Plain and neighbouring areas, Mr Jacobs said the ANC was at a crossroads.
“This generation can be the generation that continues its (the ANC’s) decline or it can be the generation that faces up to its challenges and grow and build the ANC,” he said.
“We need to look at branches, what kind of branches we need to have and talk about what does it mean to be an activist. A capable branch is a branch that has programmes, that has political education, that does mobilisation. Once we had an ANC that was grounded in the community and connected to people on the ground.”
Mr Jacobs said the forum was part of a bigger campaign to get activists back into the ANC and grounded in the community.
“Come back from Facebook into the branches – you cannot be an armchair comrade,” he said.
In a sombre tone he said Mitchell’s Plain had never been an outright “ANC home” and that the reality was that the party’s support has decreased from between 25 and 27 percent in 1994 to 10 percent in last year’s local government election, compared to the DA’s landslide victory of 81 percent.
“Clearly there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
He said there were seven ANC branches in the area but few were functioning.
“Why is it that with all that national government has invested in Mitchell’s Plain, with our people represented on the community police forum and the establishment of the Mitchell’s Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust under former ANC MP and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, we can’t deliver more than 10 percent? Are our people closed to the ANC?” he asked.
The ANC will have its provincial policy conference at the end of June and its 54th elective conference in December when a new ANC national executive will be elected.
In his address, Derek Hanekom, Minister of Tourism and ANC Member of Parliament deployed to Mitchell’s Plain, invited activists to criticise the ANC. “I invite you to criticise the ANC – to be a forum for change, to be change agents to restore the ANC to the movement it once was. We must face reality.”
Mr Hanekom said the party needed to regain its discipline. “Let us be the beginning of something different. Mitchell’s Plain is where something dramatic happened – it was the birthplace of the United Democratic Front (UDF). We brought liberation collectively to our country; we cannot see this movement destroyed.
“We have a long, long way to go to be the country we want to be – we know that. Our support in the local government elections declined by 8 percent. We did our research before the elections and people raised the issues of crime, corruption and the growing phenomenon of corruption in our movement – they raised Nkandla with us. We didn’t own up to it; we hid it, pretended it wasn’t there. Whatever wrongdoing you do in life – what matters is how you correct the wrong because there is no country, no institution that does not have corruption.”
Mr Hanekom said even though the image of the ANC was dented, people still looked to the ANC and the country needed the ANC.
“The first objective of the ANC is to unite all the people of South Africa and to transform the country into a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic country. This speaks to the characteristics of the ANC. We need to restore our values, our credibility. We are at a crossroads – if we don’t do what we need to do, we are finished. Let’s start where we are, let’s start in our branches.”
Ebrahim Rasool, former Western Cape premier and former South African ambassador to America, said divisions in the ANC can never be justified, no matter how noble it was felt it was at the time. “In the six and a half years I was away, I realised we are the custodians of the most important product – this idea that we as human beings can be better than human beings sometimes are.”
Mr Rasool, who had people nodding their heads in assent as he spoke, said the party found itself in a crisis.
Speaking to the veterans, Mr Rasool, who was a teacher at Spine Road High School in Rocklands in 1985, said: “We need you to lead us back to basics. The branches is our voice – the centre from which we deploy our forces to meet the challenges facing us.”
Several speakers took the floor, some asking what the ANC was doing for the youth, others emphasising that real economic empowerment was needed.
“We don’t feel we (the youth) have access to resources,” said Mogamat Saabik Kader. “So many people in Mitchell’s Plain are still living in wendy houses,” said Charles Meyer, while Faekah Philander implored activists and the party to go back to “bread and butter issues”. Xolisani Breakfast, a student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) said the future of this country lay in the hands of young people.
“Every generation has a mission,” he said. “Start taking us seriously. If the youth’s voice can be heard we can move forward. Times have changed,” he said.
Veronica Simmers, a founder member of the UDF, said it was the ANC who fought for the construction of the general hospital.
“There is so much we can do; we can organise, we can mobolise,” she said.
Jeremy Michaels, also a former Beaconhill High pupil who works closely with Mr Manuel on the Mitchell’s Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust, said the frontiers of poverty woul not be held back “if we cannot grow the economy and create jobs”.
“We are not going to build the ANC of we don’t deal with the issues the community is grappling with. We must get our hands dirty; I’m willing to do that”.
Sullyaman Stellenboom did not beat around the bush. “Our organisation is in a mess because of our current leadership,” he said. “How can we spread the message of ‘a better life for all’ when tonight I’m going home with an empty stomach?” he asked.
In answering some of the points raised from the floor, Mr Rasool said: “We need to go back to our own history – to the things we got right. Our own children sometimes don’t believe how good we were because they see on TV how bad we appear. “We must build bridges – Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha specifically. We must build trust with people again.”
Karl Mocke from the ANC Parliamentary Constituency office, which has relocated to Westridge, told the Plainsman the office moved from the Town Centre because the office no longer complied with required parliamentary standards, which included, but was not limited to, access for the elderly and access for the disabled.