By Mogotsi Mogodiri

On Saturday, 8 January, the South African Native National Congress, rebranded in 1923 as the African National Congress, will be turning a whopping 110 years.

It is on this historic day more than a century ago that our forebears – women and men, rich and poor, educated and organically developed, kings, chiefs and their subjects – from not only our country but also Southern African region and the rest of our continent gathered in Mangaung in the Free State.

This was the founding conference of what was to become a gigantic movement – an arrow and shield of and an inspiration for the dispossessed and downtrodden.

Those visionary, trailblazing patriots had realised that the continuing divisions among black people meant that the colonisers were shielded and land dispossession and political oppression with their attendant inequalities were going to not only be further entrenched but also continue unabated.

This was a momentous occasion for African unity as a call was made and heeded for the demons of tribalism, ethnicity and other colonial-induced divisions to be defeated.

Emerging from that conference, people committed to unite to wage a struggle against colonialism and for total liberation.

It is common cause that theirs were mainly about deputations and appeals to the Queen of England while engaged in other non-violent activities, including pickets and demonstrations with the hope that they will appeal to the colonisers to relinquish our land out of benevolence.

It was never to be, as a plethora of racist laws were enacted and enforced to further enslave natives and turn them into sojourners and nomads in the land of their birth.

Although trade unions like the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) that organised African workers waged militant struggles on the shop floor, it wasn’t until the 1940s that a major paradigm shift and change of strategy and tactics occurred.

The youth of that era, namely Duma Nokwe, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and many others questioned the insistence by the leadership of the time on liberal tactics that were inadvertently not delivering the desired outcomes of decolonisation.

Through their active involvement in the actual struggle and guided by the ANC’s Programme of Action, the youth of that time were able to not only influence the policy and strategy direction of the ANC, but were also able to get elected into the leadership positions of the movement.

They injected a new sense of urgency, militancy and radicalism within the ranks of the African National Congress. Hence, programmes like the Defiance Campaign, bus boycotts and mass demonstrations were embarked upon. As a response to militant struggles, including those against the Pass Laws etc, the racist regime heightened its repression that culminated in the Sharpeville Massacre and the banning of liberation movements, imprisonments and some being forced into exile.

This was a major turning point in the struggle for total liberation as political organisations were muzzled, if not crippled and an apparent political lull occurred.

As the leadership of the ANC was imprisoned with others banned or in exile, President O. R. Tambo was mandated to hold the forte and lead the masses in struggle.

The need for constant communication between the leadership and the people became even more necessary and urgent.

The exiled leadership agreed on an annual address to reflect on past successes, advances and failures whilst projecting into the future by providing political direction.

It wasn’t until 8 January 1972 that the first ANC National Executive Committee annual statement, that grew in stature to be popularly known as the January 8 Statement, was read by President-General Tambo and released all over the world and most significantly, to the people inside our country.

The Statement, that was issued annually, except between 1973 and 1978, took stock of the progress made or lack thereof, challenges faced and outlined a clear, concise and inspiring programme of action for the year ahead.

It is also significant to point out that each January 8 Statement was anchored around a theme that suited the prevailing material conditions e.g., “The Year of the Cadre”.

Fast track to post-1994, we have seen a progressive deterioration of the quality of the January 8 Statement as its message began to be and is overshadowed by the morally-decadent activities unfortunately involving mostly, leaders of the ANC. It is saddening and morally objectionable to have this major activity in the political calendar of the ANC being associated with leaders who are now referred to as “blessers” mingling and engaging in despicable activities with skimpily-dressed young ladies, some of whom are as old as or younger than their daughters.

Over years the January 8 STATEMENT has deteriorated in political and moral standing – to a point where it is seen as part of the social not, by necessity, political calendar of our country,
that the so-called slay queens look forward to flaunting themselves for crass materialism and conspicuous consumption with the so-called blessers (read ANC leaders) funding these morally-repugnant activities.

The current crop of leaders does not seem to put much, if any, premium on revolutionary morality and it shouldn’t be surprising that the ANC and the country have lost their moral compasses – what with our Republic replete with despicable cases of child molestation, gender-based violence and other social ills.

As part of genuine renewal, the ANC has to introspect in order to mend its ways, if it seeks to reclaim its standing as leader of society.

This then, leads to the question: is the January 8 Statement still relevant? As alluded to earlier, the statement has been made to lose its political content, bite and shine. There is an urgent need for the ANC to change course – not only its content, but also its positioning and related activities, including the conduct and posture of the leadership.

Unless there is improvement on content, as informed by the current context of the ANC being the governing party and the material conditions being completely different from that obtained during struggle years, the statement runs a risk of becoming irrelevant and further damaging the ANC and contributing to its demise.

As we approach the 110-year celebration, especially the leadership and members genuinely need to approach and handle these festivities with dignity.

This momentous occasion and its statement celebrating more than a century of existence that has come about at a great prize of sacrifice through sweat and blood, cannot and should not be associated with moral decadence where the significance and relevance of its message will be lost due to attention being drawn away from it and placed on unnecessary and destructive noise.

This new posture and approach become even more critical given the recent lifting of the lockdown curfew. To state the obvious, the optics do not look good. On the one side, it looks like the government capitulated to pressure from the opposition and other counter-revolutionary forces that have been calling for the lifting of the curfew before the end of 2021.

On the flip side, the impression (in life perception is reality, mind you!) is prevalent that the lifting of the curfew might be for the purpose of creating a conducive environment for the infuriating morally-decadent behaviour and conduct of the past, that are unfortunately related to the January 8 Statement.

The “blessers” and “slay queens” have cost the ANC dearly especially in terms of reputation.

The sooner the ANC desists from this crass materialism and despicable conduct, the better. Anything else will be the greatest betrayal of our forebears, who sacrificed life and limb for us to be where we are today; enjoying limited freedom.

This misdemeanour will also mean that the talk about “renewal” will remain just that, cheap talk.

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