Each year, African National Congress (ANC) leader Oliver Tambo, based in the Zambian capital Lusaka, delivered the party’s collective policy statement for the year. It was officially called the January 8 Statement, but became known by many who were involved in the struggle aimed at toppling apartheid as Umkhomba ndlela (way forward).
At the height of apartheid, many in the ANC leadership were either in exile, prison or underground. Anyone inside the country found clandestinely listening to Radio Freedom – the underground ANC radio channel, which usually beamed into South Africa from Lusaka in the evenings – or in possession of the speech, expected trouble.
Tambo’s January 8 Statement told a story of the many challenges the country dealt with at the time – much different compared to today – as the ANC has transformed itself from being a liberation movement to a governing party after the successive election victories from 1994.
In his speech, Tambo would rally anti-apartheid forces around the globe to inform them of what had to be done to liberate South Africa from the shackles of apartheid. The message came across from a typical commander-in-chief, ordering his forces to go to war for a just cause.
At its core were what the ANC referred to as the Pillars of the Struggle: the international solidarity with the global community, the underground role given to those who often sheltered ANC cadres, and the armed struggle.
“Render the country ungovernable and make apartheid unworkable,” was one of Tambo’s clarion calls to young people.
The speech was carefully crafted to ensure that apartheid was brought to its knees.
Whenever Tambo spoke, he never forgot the role played by those who were executed at the Pretoria Central Prison gallows – the likes of Solomon Mahlangu, Vuyisile Mini, Chamane Thompson, Khuzwayo Mlangeni, Thomas Blayi, Nkosinam Ngalo, Mxolisi Damane, Felix Jaxa, Vanele Madikane, Vanele Matikinca, Zinakile Mkhaba, Wilson Khayingo and many more who paid with their lives for a free South Africa.
What the South African masses sorely miss today in the governing party is a sense of caring and credibility in its leaders – a shadow of its past – when it was led by men and women who displayed no self-importance and arrogance which we have come to associate with those in government today.
The Commission of Inquiry into State Capture should serve as a case study of how not to run the country and its economy. So much has come out and more still has to be revealed.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his maiden January 8 Statement – the party’s broad policy position on numerous issues facing South Africa – he should bear in mind that an effective renewal of the party will not succeed without cleaning up destructive elements and demagogues.
Granted, because we live in an era different to that of Tambo, as head of state he is expected to come up with a policy message which is clear and unambiguous on key issues like land redistribution and economic growth, as political economy analyst Zamikhaya Maseti has put it.
People are tired of long-winded speeches and slogans that do not tell us what is to be achieved, how it will happen and by when.