Watching the funeral of Albertina Sisulu last weekend was a very personal and emotional experience for me. It was a reminder of the potential for greatness that South Africa possesses if we just get our act together. It reminded me of the purity of ideals and conviction that our struggle for liberation was built on. It was a reminder to us all that there was a time when South Africa was the moral leader of the world in the heady days of Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation.”
As I was watching the funeral proceedings throughout the day I was struck by the fact that we are a nation that was blessed with a great generation of leaders who had a great moral compass and inspirational vision: Nelson Mandela. Walter Sisulu, OR Tambo, Helen Joseph, Robert Sobukwe, Anton Lembede (I could go on because the list is quite extensive but I will stop here).
In the midst of all this a friend of mine (who just so happens to be white) commented that the current generation of ANC leaders had betrayed this rich legacy of leadership and had made it difficult, if not impossible for white South Africans to embrace the ANC and its undeniable leadership of South African society. This is a comment that often gets thrown around by white South Africans in public discourse. They claim to have liked and respected Mandela and his generation but to have a problem with the current generation with the likes of Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma. They claim that they would embrace the ANC if it had leaders of the calibre of Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo in government today. This is something that white South Africans say all the time and no one dares challenge them on this.
Here is the simple truth: even when the ANC was under the leadership of great moral leaders such as Nelson Mandela, white South Africa never embraced it. Instead they were branded as communists, atheists, terrorists and many other derogatory terms and labels. This is the view that most white South Africans held about that generation of ANC leaders. White South Africa has never accepted the ANC and its leadership and their non-acceptance of the ANC right now has nothing to do with the quality(or lack thereof) of its current leadership. It is just the continuation of a historical pattern which white South Africa has not managed to break itself out of. Even if the ANC was being led by its “golden generation” of leaders at present, white South Africa would still not accept it because they didn’t accept it in the past when these guys where in leadership.
It’s time that we call a spade a spade. It’s time white South Africans stopped blaming Malema, Manyi or any other contemporary ANC leader for their inability to support the ANC. They ostracised, vilified and ridiculed Mandela and Tambo’s ANC and hence it is no surprise that they still do the same to Zuma and Malema’s ANC. The more things change, the more they stay the same.