The death this week of ANC stalwart and former treasurer-general Mendi Msimang marks the end of a significant era of leaders who were not only selfless but dedicated to the cause of freeing the people.
After Nelson Mandela’s death in December 2013, many of these leaders took a back seat. This was not their choice – but their stance to oppose anything they saw as being un-ANC in the way the party and the country were run made them unpopular with the leadership that emerged from Polokwane.
These stalwarts, who sacrificed everything for the sake of the people, insisted that ANC values – as espoused by Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and many others of their generation – cannot be compromised.
Whether the ANC likes to hear it or not, there was a stage between 2007 and 2017 when there was complete chaos within the ruling party.
In the process, those who believed the party had detoured from its track were determinedly pushed to the political and economic margins because they were regarded as irritants.
Their presence and contribution to restore order and bring sanity were not appreciated – or completely ignored. We saw the 101 Stalwarts with their message of “For the sake of our people” being publicly vilified for trying to correct things.
We witnessed how stalwarts of the struggle were isolated from the structures of the Alliance components after Polokwane.
It was not only the ANC that gave a cold shoulder to some of its own, but the SACP’s stalwarts found themselves being rendered idle because they were seen as belonging to the wrong faction after Polokwane.
The formation of the so-called 101 Stalwarts was as a result of their disillusionment as the then leadership failed to deal with divisions in the party and corruption in the state.
In fact, it became clear that the Polokwane leadership thrived on divisions.
The divisions that ensued within the ANC over the past decade almost killed the party. It not only lost membership, but many voters became disgruntled by what they saw happening.
Any party whose leaders keep on bickering always suffers at the polls because the perception of instability at the top invariably breeds anger and apathy.
Parties such as the Congress of the People, the Pan Africanist Congress, the Azanian People’s Organisation and others that were involved in infighting over the years come to mind.
Now, with the generation known famously as the “Rivonia Trialists” dying, people are struggling to find real heroes and champions to take them forward.
Even Msimang was not accorded the respect he deserved by the Polokwane gang because he did not belong to them.
Isn’t it time for the ANC to do introspection about what it is doing about its stalwarts while they are still alive?
Instead of choosing a few that must be engaged in tasks, they should have a programme for them all to participate in. Otherwise, the current leadership will run out of excuses or scapegoats – as the fingers will be pointing at them for having done nothing when they had a chance.