Letter from Hobeni, 11th December 2014


Mandela in George Square, 9th October 1003

In my previous letters, I have tried to avoid making statements about party politics in South Africa.   But when the President of the country says publicly that the ANC, the governing party, is “in trouble”, it does seem that the issue is unavoidable.   I have only one problem.   It is very difficult, in a remote rural area like Hobeni, to keep a track on what exactly is going on.

There is the issue of the relationship between COSATU and its largest trade union affiliate, NUMSA.   There is the issue of the relationship of COSATU to its two partners in the Congress Alliance, the ANC and the SACP.    There is the issue of corruption in government, which has been raised with me, in one way or another, by everyone I have met.   There is an issue around the behaviour of members of the Parliament.   Jeremy Cronin has gone to the heart of the matter by saying that the real issue revolves around attitudes to the scale and pace of economic transformation in South Africa.

He has written a lengthy article in response to a speech by Zwelinzima Vavi, the General Secretary of COSATU.   I do not have the space even to attempt to summarise what they have said.   But Cronin has raised an issue that is central to the work of a solidarity movement: the issue of improving people’s lives.

We cannot intervene in the internal disputes of COSATU or the South African Parliament, nor should we attempt to do so.   We do not approve of corruption anywhere, but it is up to the South African authorities to tackle that issue.   In my view, we British would be better employed dealing with the corruption endemic in our own political system – so deeply embedded that we regard it as normal – rather than denouncing corruption elsewhere.

We, as a solidarity movement, are working to deliver a better life for all the people in South Africa and its neighbours.   We, as a solidarity movement, should concentrate our efforts where we can be effective.   This does not mean that we should not speak up when we know that something is wrong, and that we should not work to right injustices.   Of course, we should.   It is why we campaign for democracy in Swaziland.   It is why we have raised issues about elections in Zimbabwe.   It is why we are campaigning for justice for miners who are dying from silicosis.   Righting injustice is in our DNA.   ACTSA is, after all, the successor organisation of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Our job, in part, is, as Desmond Tutu put it, to speak truth to power.   But our job is also to do things that are practical, and to help the peoples of Southern Africa transform and improve their lives.

Let it be our legacy to Mandela that we can truly say that we have tried to do these things.


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