It is astonishing that we now encounter individuals referred to as “activists” of the UDF. This is not accurate, as we were activists of COSAS or AZASO, the Soweto Civic Association, and various other organizations, not the UDF. It is insincere and can only be interpreted as a tactic to gain political significance and credibility by asserting otherwise. It is worth mentioning that many of those fervently advocating for the “rebirth” of the UDF were actually involved in the decision to dissolve it… writes Mogomotsi Mogodiri

The United Democratic Front (UDF) would have celebrated its 40th anniversary if it had not been disbanded in the early 1990s following the unbanning of the African National Congress and other political organisations.

In August 1983, progressive forces united in Cape Town, specifically in Rocklands, Mitchell’s Plain. They were engaged in relentless struggles against the abhorrent system of colonial apartheid.

This gathering was a different iteration of the Congress of the People, where individuals from various backgrounds and demographics, including young and old, African, Coloured, Indian, and European, rich and poor, workers and the unemployed, Christians, atheists, and communists, representing over 400 organisations and diverse walks of life, united under one umbrella organisation. Their purpose was to mobilise all those who opposed landlessness, racial oppression, and other injustices inflicted upon the native South Africans by the colonialists.

Although I do not typically feel nostalgic, I recall and reflect upon that significant moment with great pride. As a young activist, I had the opportunity to be part of a historic movement. What an incredible era to have experienced! What an opportune moment to have engaged in a noble, principled, and selfless struggle for liberation!

The United Democratic Front became the embodiment of our people’s struggle for decolonisation. A struggle about the land that was violently dispossessed from our ancestors by the colonialists. The UDF became both the shield and spear (metaphorically speaking and without replacing the African National Congress and the people’s army, uMkhonto we Sizwe) of the landless, oppressed, and downtrodden.

As previously mentioned, the event united all those who opposed the colonial apartheid system, which had been declared as a crime against humanity by the United Nations (UN).

The UDF consisted of various organised formations with diverse backgrounds. Various formations, such as student organisations like the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and AZASO, youth groups, civic organisations, faith-based organisations, sports associations, traditional leadership, and others.

No individual became a member of the UDF. However, these formations mandated their members to represent them at UDF locals, regions, provinces, and national.

It is mind-boggling that we currently hear of UDF “activists”. It cannot be, as we were activists of COSAS or AZASO, Soweto Civic Association, and so forth and not that of the UDF. It is disingenuous and can only be a stunt to gain political relevance and currency to claim otherwise.

It is important to note that many of those who are passionately advocating for the “rebirth” of the UDF were involved in the decision to liquidate it.

At the time of its “demise”, these were the very individuals who agreed with that decision probably because they were eyeing material benefits. It’s common course that a significant number of the proponents of the “resurrection” of the United Democratic Front were appointed to the cushy public (mainly) and private sector positions.

It is also trite that they became the face of the new political dispensation. It is also a matter of public record that they became aloof and got politically debased and lost most of their political capital.

This, therefore, brings me to what seems to be the real motive of the so-called UDF40 mish-mash.

Given our country’s toxic political environment, we need to not accept anything at face value. There are narratives, constructs, and optics developed and peddled in a desperate and clumsy attempt at positioning and mileage. 

Once again, the destructive ANC factionalism is rearing its ugly head. We are witnessing political brinkmanship aimed at outsmarting and outmanoeuvring one another.

There’s a clear distinction between a celebration and reminiscence on the one hand and political manoeuvring on the other. Indeed, we need to celebrate, preserve, and promote our rich history of struggle.

The question is: what are we celebrating, for what purpose and to what end? If we are genuine about celebrating the birth or formation of the United Democratic Front some 40 years ago, why refer to ourselves as some amorphous “UDF activists” whilst establishing structures and even asserting that: ”the national concept paper and implementation guidelines for the UDF40 anniversary celebrations and commemorations are essential for a shared understanding and appreciation of the need to reclaim the UDF’s legacy, principles, and practices within current political engagements,” as per Cde Murphy Morobe speaking on behalf of the UDF40 National Steering Committee. (Claim the UDF’s legacy, principles, and practices from whom  and to achieve what?)

Its media statement goes on to boldly and unapologetically state that “… after that, initiate a campaign for ‘Active Citizenry’ mobilisation through local and sectoral activities from 20 August onwards, generated by grassroots groups and organisations…”.  (Nothing wrong with that if it’s not used as a smokescreen or optics).

It also says that the UDF40 will “consult with and onboard various stakeholders and organisations, such as existing political entities, faith-based organisations, student organisations, and trade unions that were UDF affiliates and newer structures with similar objectives, like Defend Our Democracy and Active Citizens’ Movement”. (Once again, for what purpose if this is a mere celebration?).

How about: “The UDF 40th anniversary should provide the impetus to pursue a return to local organising and community-orientated structures to promote civic and women’s organisations and others….engaging government at all levels around genuine developmental programmes, especially in critical areas of service delivery…”. (Is this still a celebration? I think not).

If this is, indeed, still a “celebration”, then the term has assumed a new meaning. Fortunately, their utterances and posture have let the proverbial cat out of the bag. Natives, don’t, once again, be fooled and hoodwinked by the elites.

The so-called UDF40 celebration is more than meets the eye. You’re warned! Elang hloko! Qaphelani!

In any event, the very UDF40 crowd has never had fundamental issues and sharp, let alone, antagonistic differences with the current, dominant ANC faction.

Are we dealing with the cult of the personality? You connect the dots (if you indulge me in borrowing from comrade Pravin Gordhan’s lexicon).

Is it also a coincidence that minorities seem to be dominant in this political stunt? Remember the “cabal” rumblings that threatened to wreak havoc in the UDF, mass democratic movement, and even the ANC?

It seems like it’s all about spoils. It also seems that the UDF40 protagonists are simply positioning themselves as an alternative to the incumbent, dominant ANC faction in anticipation of the inevitable event of its falling out of favour with the Mineral Energy Complex.

They are salivating and can’t wait to ascend to the highest echelons. Whatever optics they throw at us shouldn’t fool or blindside us.

All of us have an inalienable right to associate freely and even form our political parties. What is hypocritical and even horrifying is disguising our noble or not-so-noble attempts, by even using our collective history to advance narrow, selfish interests.

Unlike the makoya United Democratic Front,  the UDF40 is not about the natives and their quest for land repossession and economic emancipation (genuine decolonisation). No amount of rhetoric, spinning, obfuscation, and gerrymandering can change that fact.

It will be heart-wrenching if natives would be made or allow themselves to become cannon fodders as it has hitherto been the case. Once again, beware, natives. Let’s be even more vigilant!

Mogomotsi Mogodiri is an ANC member,  former Chairperson of COSAS Soweto, founder member of SOYCO, AZASO leader, and former MK combatant and media specialist.

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