I usually don’t write about the ANCYL president, Julius Malema. Not because I loathe the fire brand leader, far from it. It’s just that he gets enough attention from mainstream media of the republic. But this is an exceptional case. On the March 22, Malema addressed a gathering of the governing party in the North West. He claimed that the Pan Africanist Congress had ‘hijack’ the African National Congress’ idea of organizing people to hand themselves over to the police as an act against unjust pass laws. He said that the events that took place in Sharpville and Langa ‘belonged’ to the ANC. Is he trying to ‘challange’ a historical fact, and if so how accurate is he? It is a historical fact that the anti pass law demonstration of that particular day was organized and led by PAC under the guidance of Mangaliso R Sobukwe amongst others. That the ANC had planned to hold their our demonstration is an open secret in political history circles, but the fact that it didn’t materialize renders it a victim of positive or negative speculations. The plethora of literature regarding that fateful day unambiguously tells us that Sobukwe went as far as informing, in writing, the then Police Commissioner, General Gert Rademeyer, of his party’s intention to stage a non violent protest against pass law. Further more Sobukwe released a press statement stating the following: “I have appealed to the African people to make sure that the campaign we embark on must be conducted in good spirit and non violence. I am certain they will heed my call.”
Is it necessary to state who organized and led people on days upon which innocent blood brutally spilled by the gallons? Does it matter whether or not the ANC, PAC, Azanian People’s Organization or the United Democratic Front made the call for protests on such bloodied days? Well, if you take in consideration the magnitude and far reaching implications of those days, particularly March 21st then you would understand what gives rise to the historical contestations. Up until March 21st the National Party hadn’t had an opportunity to, sadly, showcase the brute capabilities of their police force. Preceding anti pass law protests had been rather easily managed without deaths but not in Sharpville and Langa. After those mournful events, South Africa divorced from the colonial Commonwealth and was excluded from the United Nations, Olympics and FIFA. Here at home all liberation organization were banned and the ANC and PAC formed thier armed wings: Umkhonto weSizwe and Azanian People’s Liberation Army/Poqo respectively. All these events were made possible or their resolutions were speedily arrived at because of the blood shed in Sharpville and Langa. So, who wouldn’t want to claim the day that would be the cog that turned and tightened the screws of State relations with politically dissenting people? Who, fifty years later, wouldn’t want to say that the party that they belong to led the march on the day that the United Nations Security Council would declare as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination? Not many would wish for the opposite. This is the nature of days whose significance is accentuated by blood. Nothing screams sacrifice like blood spilling does. June 16 is another day that is claimed by all and sundry. It is generally accepted that the youths who took to the streets of township across the country, particularly Soweto were influenced by the Black Consciousness Movement, who had occupied the lull that had been left since the banning of liberation movements in 1960. If June 16 didn’t enjoy the accidental martyrdom status that it does, I doubt it would be subject of heated contestations. From bloodied sacrifices comes with glory that is cemented into history’s memory.
In all honesty the governing party has tried and possibly succeeded in convincing people particularly those born after the epoch that was 1994 that it was the sole and authentic liberation movement. The prescribed history syllabus can attest to such historical manipulations. Crumbs of name mentioning is made of the likes of Bantu S Biko but even then it is made it such a way that suggests that Biko and those like him belonged to the ANC even though there exists little documented proof to aid such posits. President J.G Zuma missed an opportunity during the State Of The Nation Address to acknowledge the contributions made by the PAC and AZAPO amongst others, but was quick to recognize the ‘contributions’ of the Inkatha Freedom Party. The same party under whose name township and hostels burnt between 1990 and 1994. Such is the double standards of the governing party. The said tendencies ought not amaze people. It is the nature of those who are victorious to make mention of only their efforts. It is so much easier to remember varsity Graduation Day but forget grade 1’s preparatory phase. The best way to ensure that contributions of all political and civic bodies are known would be through the documentation of local histories. A library in every community must be compelled to have a detailed history book(s) of the township and/or suburb and of those people who chipped in their capabilities that amounted to an eventual national front against the machinery of Aparthied. For as long as we are dependent on governing parties to tell balanced and all encompassing account of historical events then we shall forever be represented in a one dimensional way. The very nature of what constitutes National Memory and Heritage is one based on selection. The chosen historians and archivists select from the vastness of a nation’s past what will (or not) make it into the history books, after whom monuments and streets shall be named and all that is packaged, stored and presented National Heritage which in turn informs the feelings, thinking and conduct of those who shall occupy our country once we are one with the soil.
It is an act arrogance for former liberation movements to want to monopolize and claim our political history. The contested days required everyone’s effort for them to have significance. When calls for defiance were made people answered those calls. Oppression didn’t choose which party’s members to affect. Every person who made an effort whether through stone throwing, donations, petitioning, fund raising, prison detention, artistic works and including death contributed to the body of resistance against a crime against humanity. When it’s all said and done, we ought to realize that from the earliest Khoi Sans who rebelled against the settling Europeans, to those of Shaka, Moshoeshoe, Sekhukhune, Makhondo, Hintsa, Bambatha, the 1956 Women’s Protests, Sharpville/Langa 1960, Soweto 1976, Vaal Rent Boycotts 1984, CODESA 1 and 2 of the 90s and eventually April 27 1994, all inform the constitutional democracy that we live under today.
I can’t wait for the day when politicians will claim that they belong to a party that ensured that everyone has the dignity of owning a house that has clean running water. When will politicians boast that under their governorship people had functioning toilets and not the dehumanizing bucket system? I’m waiting for the day when political party will say that they gave people a great health care structure and an education system that prepared its citizens adequately and didn’t chain them to insidious social grants. In the meantime I will have to make do with politicians who are quick to claim the blood stained days of our collective histories as their own, yet are agonizingly slow to honour the same historical sacrifices in the best way possible: Faithful and ethical service to the public. The 19th century South America revolutionary, Simon The Liberator Bolivar- Bolivia was named after him- summed it up when he said: “To history belongs neither falsehood or exaggeration, but only truth.”