From Steve Biko to Thuli Madonsela

| Ayanda Kota
Memorial to Steve Biko outside the East London City Hall. Photo by Bfluff (Wikipedia handle) under CC BY-SA 3.0.

This week the Public Protector was called a CIA agent. The ruling party’s tactic of labeling its critics foreign agents is counterproductive, has a bloody history and is damaging the country, writes Ayanda Kota.

When Steve Biko galvanized young black intellectuals into an explosive new political awareness, Mac Maharaj called Steve Biko a CIA agent. In his recent biography on Biko, Xolela Mangcu recalls that in Ginsburg in the1980s, “UDF crowds would in their hundreds go and sing in front of Steve Biko’s house: U-Steve Biko, I-CIA – alleging Steve had worked for the CIA. We would confront the crowds to defend Steve’s name, at the risk of our lives.”

In the 1980s, proponents of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) were torched alive, brutally killed, and forced to flee their homes around the country. This was justified by the Congress structures with the accusation that BCM activists were CIA agents with white handlers.

It has been 37 years since the death in custody of Steve Biko. Today, the ANC speaks of Biko as a hero because BCM is no longer a threat to them. The last nail in the coffin was the co-option of the AZAPO former president as a Deputy Minister of Education. BCM is now talking from the oblivion of history with no influence or power.

But, when real challenges to the ANC emerge from within the black community, their leaders are still said to be working for white handlers who are foreign agents. This has been said about all the social movements that have emerged to struggle for decent health care, land and housing and for a decent income.

After the Marikana Massacre, the accusation from the ruling party and SACP was that there was a third force hell bent on using workers in Marikana to undermine the ANC.

Once again, a white handler was identified as the motivating force behind the struggles of black people. The SACP is so fixated on third forces, spies, and anti-transformation conspiracies, that they can’t even apply basic class analysis to understand the exploitation of the working class by the class of capital.

For the ANC and SACP on are only an authentic black if you are blindly loyal to Jacob Zuma.

What is even more painful is the use of this language in our ranks. Andile Mngxitama has become notorious for using such language against black activists who disagree with him. Any grassroots black activist that does not accept his authority is said to be an askari with a white handler.

We have become familiar with the uncultured language of the erstwhile oppressor. Many of us have put on his boots without shame.

Recently, Thuli Madonsela was called a CIA Agent with a white handler. This remarkable woman has been under sustained attack from the ruling party. At a time when so many people are losing confidence in democracy, she is standing firmly against corruption.

This language that paints any black person that thinks for themselves as a tool of whites working for imperialism kills the debate in the black community. It intimidates people. It divides people.

In the 1980s, BCM members paid the price. Our members carry the scars; many graves are there as testimony. Others have paid the price for this over the last ten years too: the Landless Peoples’ Movement, the Anti-Privatization Forum, Treatment Action Campaign, Abahlali baseMjondolo, Unemployed People’s Movement, and the striking mineworkers of Marikana have all been labelled tools of imperialism.

Leon Trotsky wrote: “The struggle against ‘bad language’ is a condition of intellectual culture, just as the fight against filth and vermin is a condition of physical culture.”

Abusive speech has become normalised by the ANC and it has become normal in the left. There are many kinds of abusive speech. We all know what happened during Zuma’s rape trial, where abusive speech took the form of sexism. And recently, again, Charles Nqakula threatened Floyd Shivambu with violence in parliament.

We have to condemn the ANC when they use abusive speech against the EFF instead of rational argument. We have to condemn the gutter politics that has done so much harm to the left. The power of Black Consciousness was significantly eroded in the 80s by the either-you’re-with-us-or-you’re-vermin mentality that informs a significant proportion of the ruling party’s actions.

Thuli Madonsela is now the target of this mentality, this deeply intolerant and ultimately dehumanising mentality that prevents the ruling party from learning through its mistakes.

If rather than condemning and trying to undermine the power of the Public Protector the ANC took its recommendations to heart, the party might avert what seems to be its inexorable slide. We can’t keep quiet and do nothing when the ANC is at it again. We need to stand up for Thuli Madonsela. We owe it our children and their future.

TOPICS:  Politics

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