Sunday, 23 February 2014

The hard edge of hammer politics  

Ferrial Haffajee, City Press

This guy, hammer man, keeps me awake at night.

The image was shot last Wednesday before the DA’s aborted march to the ANC headquarters at Luthuli House.

I’ve tossed and turned most nights, waking up to this image. It scares me.
What was the guy planning to do with the hammer? And if not for quick-thinking cops, would he have used it?

Last week scares me because we have rolled past it, so quickly, as we do Mzansi-side.

Why has nobody said anything? As if it’s quite okay for ANC cadres to run through town carrying hammers. And bricks.

Now we are on to the trial of Oscar Pistorius and the launch of manifestos this weekend.

I’ve strained to listen this week for an ANC statement on its members’ violence, but I’ve heard nothing except that it was the DA’s fault.

Really? It sounds like an abrogation of duty and history to me, and here’s why.
There were times when I wanted to throw a rock or a stone.

I remember running through the streets during the funeral of the doctor Neil Aggett, who was tortured to death, and wanting to pick up a stone and hurl it at the cops who lined the path of the funeral cortege.

At court when one of our best teachers, Jansie Lourens, faced terrorism charges, we wanted to disturb proceedings and obstruct the obnoxious prosecutors.

When lawyer Bheki Mlangeni was bombed to smithereens by a Walkman-bomb that was sent to his office, the instinct was to burn a police station.

And, yes, guerrillas did retaliate. It was an armed struggle. But they did so within lines of command.

Foot soldiers were not simply allowed to run amok like wild Seleka rebels without a cause.

What I know of tolerance, peace and consensus-seeking comes from the pages of liberation movements, notably the internal organisations allied to the ANC.

At funeral marches, memorials and court vigils, discipline was tantamount. Order was rigorous and the line was held by marshals you simply did not disobey.

The form of resistance was strategically (often brilliantly) planned to match the occasion.

If something was planned to be done in peace, it would be, and tolerance for different views was high.

Within organisations, our ability to debate and argue was honed by readings and long discussion.

The ANC has peaceful protest in its bones. Take the 1956 march by women to protest the dompas.

Twenty thousand women stood almost silently, thumbs raised. The call: “Wathint’abafazi. Wathint’ imbokodo” – you strike a woman, you strike a rock.
It’s worth noting that they didn’t carry rocks. They carried petitions – weapons of proof and persuasion, which the ANC might have tried last week instead of hammers and bricks.

If the organisation was still sharp as a knife, why did it not arm the young men with posters proclaiming the good work it has done in running the economy and the country?

Where I learnt, consensus was achieved when debate was exhausted and when the best arguments were won.

I am forever grateful for learning good values like this which taught tolerance, discipline and the power of thinking.

I am grateful that political and community organisations took me, a raw kid from quite a rough ‘hood and moulded me into a decent citizen.

I wondered last week why they have not been able to do the same with the hammer man and his fellow citizens.

And why they taught them to think it’s okay to run around armed as if the struggle is not over. It is. And the ANC won.

Good values have been hammered, and last week’s march is a symbol of a decline in these values in the governing party.

By what measure, by what ANC policy, by what system of cadre development can the thugs who donned ANC T-shirts be called comrade?

Those brick-wielding, stone-throwing, yellow T-shirt-wearing, hammer-bearing young men keep me awake because they shatter the history of what the ANC was and what, I thought, still is.

But perhaps I’ve been wearing rose-tinted glasses for too long.

Those young men are thugs and gangsters, not an army arranged to protect anything.

Worthy descendants, inheritors of the green, black and gold? One has to say not.
They were more like a declining empire’s rag-tag mob; a symbol of power that does not know how powerful it is.

Only a weakened and insecure ANC could have allowed an event like last Wednesday to unfold.

Only an insecure ANC with a low self-esteem could have allowed might to trample right.

As ham-handed as the DA’s march was, it had the right to march. With no mass protest culture to speak of, there was no threat to the ANC. Neither was there political threat.

The ANC is going to romp to another spectacular victory.

It’s only the opposition, abetted by a bored media, that pretends this will be an election of surprises.

It’s not. What would it have harmed ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Jessie Duarte and ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu to let it proceed, hillbilly helmets and all?

We would all have been richer for it, our founding values of tolerance reinforced.
Now that I ponder, it really was naive of me to think things might evolve differently.

Perhaps because Duarte was a leader in the area I lived in and one of those who taught us tolerance and debate, I expected differently.

Or perhaps because Mantashe has the longest pedigree of leadership, I expected 

But experience should have been my guide.

During the Spear painting experience, when a City Press art review of Brett Murray’s drawing of President Jacob Zuma as a naked Lenin somehow caused a national crisis, we felt the hard edge of hammer politics.

When I took down the image from our website to facilitate the debate and consensus-seeking I’d been nursed on, the ANC did a victory dance and beat me up with my olive branch.

And when the two men who ruined the work were treated as latter-day Solomon Mahlangus, liberation heroes, perhaps I should have known my political world had changed.

That, of course, was before its members in yellow T-shirts burnt copies of City Press in Durban’s streets.

And nobody said a word about the burning or the fact that an artist had been forced into hiding and an editor forced into self-censorship.

When did the ANC become a party that burnt newspapers, egged on despoilers of art and allowed its members to carry hammers against a marching opposition party with a permit to march?

When did the party of Mandela begin to flirt with the tyrant’s ways and eschew debate and tolerance for hammers and bricks?

When did this happen and why isn’t anybody saying anything?

It keeps me awake at night and it makes my heart ache.