My fellow South Africans,
This is my first letter of 2016. Even as I wish all of you the very best for 2016, I know that this is going to be an extremely challenging and difficult year. The awakening youth activism will, however, chart a new course for our country.
Succeeding generations of every country’s youth enjoy the privilege of an opportunity to make history. And generations of the youth of our country have not been exceptions in this regard; as indeed, the present generation of youth is faced with the opportunity to make history in the face of our democratic country’s steepest challenges yet!
It is, however, important for every generation to learn to know how to make history. And the first and best teacher is the successes and failures of those who have gone before. And while the youth must resist the restricting hold of the old guard, it must have the humility not to wholly discard the experiences of their predecessors!
Compatriots allow me to recall how people of my generation, in their youthful exuberance, joined the South African Students Organisation (SASO) with black consciousness as their driving philosophy. We thought then that we were unprecedented innovators. It was only when we met those who had seen better days than us that we realized that many of the ideas we held as uniquely original, were not as novel as we had imagined until that moment!
As soon as we realized that the struggle did not start with us, we understood the dictum that one must not repeat mistakes of one’s predecessors. It is indeed the privilege of every generation to inherit without shame the wisdom of its elders. But we must also not parrot or mechanically repeat what has been handed down. We must exercise the freedom to extract the essence of past lessons and dexterously apply that to the new conditions that evolve.
This is one of the great lessons of the history of the generation of Walter Sisulu and those around him. Whilst they appreciated the value of the constitutional methods of their mentors they analysed the conditions of their time and did not hesitate to introduce extra-constitutional methods of struggle once they had made that determination. Similarly, guided by domestic and international conditions of their time in 1960 they escalated their activism to an armed struggle.
Struggles have to be waged guided by clear analyses matched with concomitant revolutionary action-taking. It is for this reason that we responded enthusiastically to the call for a United Front in early 1983. It was clear that without a large-scale mass resistance the apartheid machine would remain impregnable. The unity of purpose among community organizations through which the populace expressed itself was a critical element for success.
Even more important, however, is objectivity in defining the goal of the campaign and in identifying the obstacle in the path to the people’s interests. We could not have mobilized for an alternative to the regime while flying its flag!
It showed serious lack of analysis last year for university students to demand reduced fees or free education from an order of society led by the ruling party while wearing doeks and T-shirts of the same ruling party. From whom then were they demanding subsidization of education or free education? University vice-chancellors do not control the national fiscus. They do not determine national policy on education, health, etc. They are key implementers of policy decided upon by those who have been entrusted with power to make policy.
It was, therefore, misguided militancy to hold hostage and demand reduced fees or free education from public employees. They simply do not have financial resources to finance fees of students or sustain free education for that matter!
The clarion call in the Freedom Charter was that at the dawn of freedom, ” The doors of learning would be opened for all!”
Opened by those elected and entrusted with power by the people – the government of the day! Not by the employees who implement policies determined by those who employed them!
In some instances students seemed to be angrier with those that were daily fighting the ruling party for squandering public resources on structures of self-aggrandizement like Nkandla. Militants who were demanding #Fees must Fall! Should have focussed on attempts by the ruling party to capture the state and empty the national treasury.
This mixed-massala approach betrayed a serious lack of analysis that should have occurred at the very beginning of the campaign. It, consequently, provided an opportunity for the ruling party – the real culprits, to send in their agent provocateurs to point fingers at the genuine supporters of the students’ cause as usurpers, whilst they instructed their employees from Luthuli House to rush to the head of the students’ protest and blunt its militancy!
With deeper analysis of the real cause of the problem, the youth of our nation will do what we did in our time: they will lead the right response to the challenges they are being confronted with because of the misdirection of national resources by the ruling party. I have great confidence that they will help to seize the future.