When political expediency proves less honest about our struggle history
The debate on the re-launch of the UDF on this significant date of memory on this its 34th anniversary, remains clouded with less original thought but political expediency. We had heard this before five years ago when some Western Cape based independents threatened the re-launch of the UDF. Now in 2017 in the week of its 34th Celebration we hear it again from some who back then played a role, this time in response or as an extension of the modern campaign of an ANC leadership tussle.
It is also a debate that floats in vaults of emotion. To argue for the re -launch is to misunderstand the very purpose for which over 400 formations, structures of communities and civil society came together or should I dare assert were forced together by a unique moment in our history of struggle against a common enemy, apartheid.
The UDF in origin of history had apartheid as base and context. There are those today who argue the context is no different than the apartheid past South Africa. They attempt to corroborate their claims for similarity immanent in emotional claims of, ‘South Africa is falling apart’, the government is failing South Africans and a whole host of mostly well crafted and opposition engineered rhetorical media sentimental claims of how dysfunctional South Africa is as led by those who are black.
When the likes of Mario Wanza back in 2012 and some today in 2017 threatens again a re-launch or resuscitation of the UDF it is less informed by either objective reasoning nor an attempt at sanity of reason or an honest reflection of where we come from.
These in a moment of blindness of electioneering and protesting our current reality attempts to capitalize on the very challenges we deal with in this post-apartheid context,. These anomalies which mirrors a confluence of challenges of stubborn apartheid legacy and our post-apartheid new challenges created by our dispensation.
These new anomalies emanate from the hashed 1994 Consensus that many of us have commented on as problematic, if not a political and particularly economic cul-de-sac. A compromised TRC process aids these anomalies that lends it to be overshadowed by the personality of Archbishop Tutu. It then became the farce, where truth was sacrificed for reconciliation at any costs. Justice was never attained for we rushed to be one, to play rugby in green and gold.
We have equally seen the veneer of Tutu’s less consulted ‘rainbowism’ that some of us outrightly rejected from the start, fade and tear as the real issues of the 1994 Consensus began to emerge in full colour. These anomalies are further exacerbated by our constitutional democratic consensus that uncritically appropriated race (a discarded enterprise) as means for human agency if not the totality of our collective political identities.
The subsequent adopted policy positions and frameworks extrapolated from the premise of a questionable national question of black in general and African in particular produced employment equity and empowerment schemes and deals that inadvertently entrenched the apartheid racial classification paradigms. Yes these are our collective realities and the democratic state since Mandela must own up to that as the new anomalies its leadership of State produced.
However, the fundamental axis that must be dealt with is the question WHAT WAS THE UDF? Any claim to have the UDF resuscitated must deal with this undeniable reality. My challenge with those who argue for its re-launch resonates in this critical aspect of their perceived lack to answer what the UDF was.
What was the UDF, to ask this question on the cuff appears easily understood self-explanatory and somewhat rhetorical and for some even a stupid question, yet close examination shows its much more complex than what meets the eye.
The truth is dealing with this question perhaps constitutes the crux for the irrelevance if not impossibility of its re-launch because South Africa fundamentally, constitutionally and in every sense of definition in 2017 can simply not honestly be compared with the South Africa of 1983.
My first challenge with the protagonists of a UDF Resuscitation is the fact that they are less honest with themselves and us. The claimants of a similarity between back then and now are less honest and have not appreciated who the UDF was. The simple reality is that the UDF came about in a season when every legitimate structure of apartheid resistance was banned, banished, exiled, jailed and on the run. Backs then structures were banned almost every week and this is no exaggeration, for as quick as the banning order was announced leaders and the people had new names for the movements and activities.
These today in narrowness of personality election arrogance shortsightedly if not deliberately want to divorce the UDF from its pre-history known in many epochs of resistance exemplified in for example the 1956 Defiance campaign, the 1962 Lilies Farm arrests, the subsequent trials, the Black Consciousness arise of the late 1960’s and early 1970’2, the 1976 student Uprise led by the Soweto based students against Afrikaans as medium of instruction and ultimately the 1980’s student Uprise led by the Cape Based students coupled with the Mass Democratic Movement initiatives of the early 1980’s.
Yet this snapshot picture to determine the aorta of who the UDF is in definition also must include the very many movement, initiatives, campaigns like the mass consumer boycott.
Our third challenge with our friends who prognosticate a re-launch resonates in them being held immured by the actual venue (apartheid’s Mitchells Plain) of its launch as that which proves dominant or significant to the people that packed the actual venue and parking lots. These give the venue a paramount identity at the expense of the cause.
To therefore understand who the UDF was is to naturally understand that its launch though a Rocklands Civic Centre event in Mitchells Plain (back then the biggest ‘Coloured’ Township in apartheid South Africa) in 1983, was the assimilated conglomerate coming together of many structures that defined the contours and frontier of apartheid resistance that confirmed a see synapsis of political organisation that spans the entire geographic space defined as South Africa.
One is therefore remonstrating, it was not a specific group understood in narrow race classification of definition for their human agency, but the masses of South Africans consolidating their collective effort in one final push of resistance to say to apartheid unequivocally we are united not only are we united but we share the ideal of a democracy. A democracy that until then was non-existent and offered on toxic piecemeal Bantustan and Tricameral party definitions, clearly strategies employed by apartheid’s up-keepers to destroy if not delegitimizes our collective case for a freedom of equality of humanity as inalienable right.
Those who argue for its resuscitation has firstly done a complete hash job of the UDF history. Such warrants rightful condemnation, for any dabbling with our history in such an evanescent manner warrants the strongest reprimand.
Not only have those who today cheaply attempt a re-launch misunderstood our history but also they equally have resorted to the precarious and toxic sanitation means to rewrite our history in snapshot definition informed by a myopic and almost blatant disrespect.
These equally seek to confuse our current social challenges and known anomalies (a reality this epoch must deal with) with our historical political landscape challenges and conflate the two in simplicity of emotion. One cannot argue that the contexts that warranted the formation of the UDF back then now exists, unless one has not understood or proved willing to take the time to read on such history.
It is almost as those who argue Marikana was worse than the Defiance Campaign Massacre, you simply cannot compare the two, and any attempt at such warrants engineering of truth. Yet, one concluded a long time ago ‘truth does not straddle, it desists ambivalence, but proves one-sided, faithful to what the sun captured and the moon attests too’.
Another challenge for those who argue that the UDF must be revived, resuscitated, or re-launched is that they think of the UDF in a one-dimensional somehow romanticized fashion. As much as one may seek to understand the proverbial ‘longing back’ syndrome of some to an era of mass mobilisation and mass action defined in culmination of a structure named the UDF, the truth is we cannot remake or recreate the conditions for the UDF’s formation in willy-nilly sense.
Any true respect for the UDF is a respect for our history of struggle which had many high moments less orchestrated by personality political electioneering intention of a few, but the will of the people who refused to be silenced into the night of avenge and killings, torture, Section 29 arrests and detention, victimisation and banishment.
Our friends who today threatens a re-launch of the UDF, is blindsided for they have erroneously superimposed a tainted ‘Coloured – coded’ definition of meaning for the UDF as a racial group party.
Again these did not understand the UDF because the UDF was not a ‘Coloured’ movement, it was not a tribal African movement, it was not a Christian or Muslim religious movement, it was not a CBO or a NGO, it was not a business forum, it was not an intellectual group of leaders, it was not a student movement, it was not a worker’s movement, it was not a women’s forum, or gender parity group, it was not a youth movement, or friends of the struggle – the UDF included all these sectors and groups but could and should never be misunderstood in narrowness of convenience in any of these as a means to define it’s totality of definition.
I dare assert there are those who wrongly want to make the UDF a ‘Coloured’ Movement but these have not understood the role of the erstwhile and now late worthy of celebration Harry Gwala, Oscar Mpetha, Archie Gumede, and many others who though Cape (Langa and Gugulethu) based were leaders of this FRONT called the United Democratic Front. I am deliberately raising these names not to over-emphasize their roles but to educate those who wrongfully think of the UDF as a movement that belonged to the ‘Coloured’ people. Though as Khoisan, one was classified by apartheid as part of this group who were wrongly defined, as ‘Coloured’ one dare not prove choosey on our history.
As much as its patron was the charismatic Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak he too understood like all of us it was never about a group, a racial group, or a specific set of leaders. The UDF was simply the umbrella name for a host of structures banned and unbanned, renamed etc., that embodied its ultimate vision of unity for democracy proving a front.
The UDF represented a time in our history in which we struggled to destroy apartheid that which racially classified in shades of colour, heaviness of tongue and coarseness of hair families, neighbours and friends.
The UDF was the final push of a struggle that started centuries ago when the first defenders of land resisted the invaders of rightful geographical space, my ancestors those Khoi- San defenders then knew that resistance was no luxury but a necessity.
The UDF stood in that same tradition that saw the establishment of the very structures that gave birth to the African National Congress in 1912, the UDF was the final push of resistance in exemplified historical context of the adoption of the armed struggle, the loss of the ‘Coloured’ vote in 1955, the defiance campaign of 1956, the Lillies Farm arrest of 1962, the now famous Rivonia Trials that saw our leaders banished to Robben Island’ s lime quarry and many setting driven across borders into the unknown.
The UDF cannot be understood unless we reject the rise of Black Consciousness in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The UDF must be seen as the outflow of the 1976 Student Uprise and the 1980’s student Uprise and the Mass mobilisation of our people, regardless to colour, creed or any definition, at all levels and fronts hence its launch with no more equally a name, no more befitting a mandate and no more pristine a mission (the overthrow of apartheid).
Any claim of a re-launch for a narrow political agenda of protesting against a sitting ANC leadership is not perceptive in understanding of this historical context, if not driven by this mission, of not birthed from this conviction, if not supported by the masses across all mellifluous self-centred divisive definitions of classification, is a solitary walk by one who has less understood.
The Western Cape provincial chairperson Marius Fransman in 2012 of the ANC was therefore correct to say ‘such attempts warrants resistance and rejection with the contempt it deserves’ for we would say in Afrikaans ons mag nie die verskansing selfs verbruiseling van ons geskiedenis ooit toelaat of duld nie”
Pardon me for resorting to my mother tongue to express the centrality of my thought consideration, that is to vehemently remonstrate that we may never allow such attempts and white-washing and sanitation of our history, we may not ever prove tolerant to such attempts, for any people that forgets its history has no future.
In conclusion, to all those who yesterday today and tomorrow intend threatening us with a re-launch, just like an individual cannot re-launch the ANC, one simply cannot re-launch the UDF, because it was not dreamt up in clever political expediency. It was not concocted in political dream, but the resultant effect of a prevailing situation, circumstance unique in apartheid meaning, the same that simply do not exist now. It simply was not engineered in political campaign for a preferred candidacy.
This moment may call for new responses but it can never be the UDF. To those who believe they can threaten every year at the time of our commemoration its re-launch we say start your party, create your formation as this epoch demands but leave our history intact, for we paid for it and will not allow you or anyone to run roughshod over such for short-sighted political gains.
The UDF is our history and on this day we who were there on that significant day dated on August 20, 1983 in the Rocklands Civic Centre will never allow such history to be meddled with for silly political expediency or personality emotional benefit.
Our people in the Western Cape are facing serious challenges. Of these we know is a DA led administration that exacted an identity of economic refugee-status, threatening to close certain schools, requests for army invasion to deal with the Cape Flats gang infested communities. We know the legacy of Apartheid prevails when white wealth is juxtaposed to black poverty. The Western Cape under the DA attests a need to use the courts as a means to deny the youth their constitutional rights to claim they can make the province ungovernable, these are serious indications of who and what we deal with in the Western Cape, but the answer is not the UDF, can never be for this moment requires new formations and structures that will answer the challenges of this moment.
Today we celebrate, the UDF, its place in history unparalleled its time unmeasured and its impact pivotal if we have a democracy today.
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
On behalf of Inkululeko Foundation