ANC's January 8th statement has gradually lost its allure over the years

ANC's January 8th statement has gradually lost its allure over the years

When I was a young man involved in the struggle against apartheid, the January 8th statement by the ANC was one of the most significant events of the year.

The ANC was a banned organisation then and we were not allowed to listen to or read their views - let alone share it as widely as we did, among thousands of our youth members throughout the Western Cape. If we were caught, we could be convicted for promoting the aims of a banned organisation and sent to prison for five years, a risk we were prepared to take. 

But the January 8th Statement, which marked the ANC’s birthday, gave us a sense of the mood in the liberation movement and told us about what was needed to be done to advance the struggle in that year.

In the early 1980s it was not uncommon for us to take dozens of youth members from Mitchells Plain, where we lived, to the hilly parts near Strandfontein Pavilion, armed with a short-wave radio, on which we would try, with great difficulty, to tune into the speech by then ANC president Oliver Tambo.

Through the crackling and scratchy sounds on the radio, we would listen to him instructing us to “make the country ungovernable” or to “seize people’s power”.

We had scary, and now funny moments, when, for instance, the broken down kombi that I borrowed from my brother-in-law to transport more than 30 youth members, broke down and, after trying to push-start it, we gave in and I had to hitch-hike a lift from Strandfontein Pavilion to Mitchells Plain to fetch my VW Beetle and then transport everyone home, in small batches.

The ANC’s January 8th has lost some of its allure in recent years. Instead of being an event where ordinary members and supporters of the party can listen to their president talking about what needs to be done to take our country forward, it has become a big party with everyone jostling for positions.

It was no surprise when a senior ANC member expressed his concern on social media last week about the party providing VVIP status at the January 8th rally in Kimberley to “people who don’t even vote for the party, while ignoring their own stalwarts”.

Bishop Vusi Dube, a member of the KZN legislature, wrote on Facebook: “(I) hope VVIP accreditations won’t be given to girlfriends who are there for selfies. Who don’t even know what door to door is. Our ANC is our legacy of hope.”

It is sad that the once-proud movement has been reduced to a party where it appears that politicians, business people, celebrities and blessers matter more than the stalwarts who helped to build and guide the movement for much of its 108 years.

The January 8th event has also become one of the major fundraising event for the party, with business people wanting to show off their political connectedness, being prepared to pay hundreds of thousands of rand to attend a gala dinner and play golf with political luminaries who are supposed to be there for the president’s speech.

Where did we go wrong? When did politicians become more important than the people they are supposed to represent? Since when did your bank balance mean that you can consider yourself more important than the poor people who vote for the ANC and who continue to have hope that the organisation will one day deliver?

This situation is probably not much different to anywhere else in the world, but that does not make it right. The ANC needs to learn to focus more on their message and actions - rather than on promoting a warped celebrity culture - like we did when we listened to the January 8th speech on short-wave radios many moons ago.

* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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