In 1819, American author Irving Washington published Rip Van Winkle, a short story that has become part of literary folklore. Van Winkle joins a band of men playing a game. He takes an alcoholic drink and falls asleep. For 20 years.
On the eve of the ANC’s 108th anniversary celebrations in Kimberley, ANC stalwart Carl Niehaus penned an opinion piece titled Cry The Beloved Movement. It is a truly touching piece on the crass materialism that has become part of the celebrations. But it is 20 years too late. It is as though the author just woke up from a Van Winkle nap.
Niehaus is one of the most brilliantly gifted ANC leaders, especially in articulating his views and his record speaks for itself. Up to a point. In 2009, the year Jacob Zuma became ANC president, Carl Niehaus tearfully resigned after admitting to owing a number of ANC leaders a lot of money and admitting to fraud.
He then disappeared from the political landscape, only to reappear as part of the ANC faction aligned to president Zuma’s radical economic transformation. He even became a regular pundit on the faction’s Gupta mouthpiece, the television station ANN7.
Why does Niehaus’ disappearance or reinvention matter in relation to his piece so eloquently and emotionally decrying the crass materialism and “pursuit of money at all costs” in the ANC?
Because his actions over the past decade have been to actively aid a faction of the ruling party that staged state capture and looted the country’s coffers in the most brazen way. The radical economic transformation that he trumpeted alongside those who were at the centre of state capture was but a front to enable the looting of the public purse.
In fact, it can be argued that Niehaus was part of those that created the atmosphere that made state capture possible.
In his opinion piece Niehaus opens with his encounter with a “young lion”, a young member of the ruling party who epitomises everything that is wrong with the kind of materialism displayed at the ANC celebrations. The young man is dressed from head to toe in designer label clothing and is obviously part of the crowd that take part in drinking sprees, where liquor bills of up to R50,000 are not abnormal.
Contrast that with a movement that claims to champion the cause of the poorest of the poor.
Niehaus cannot be faulted for his observations. They are true and have been like that from the days the ANC had a vibrant youth league. Julius Malema and other youth league leaders dressed in Louis Vuitton way before Niehaus felt it is the truth that needed urgent attention ahead of the ANC’s celebrations.
It would be easier to speculate on why this obviously intelligent and articulate ANC stalwart chose to decry the obvious if Van Winkle’s story was not fiction.
But in a period where the remainder of the soul of the ruling party is being contested on a daily basis, with the president having to sleep with one eye open for fear of being unseated, it becomes anybody’s guess why crass materialism and conspicuous consumption are made to take centre stage. More so by an individual who was not exactly outside of the circle of those who enabled this culture in the past decade.
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