A TALK DELIVERED BY NELVIS QEKEMA AT THE FREE STATE PROVINCIAL CONGRESS OF AZAPO IN ZAMDELA ON 1 AUGUST 2015
As we are gathered at this Free State Provincial Congress of AZAPO, I realise there are some devoted Comrades who are not here today. I can put my neck on the block that they would have been here singing, dancing and contributing in the deliberations to build the organisation. But due to the constraints of nature, our beloved Comrades are not here with us today. To mention but a few, Cdes Menziwe Mbeo, Mzimkhulu Ndweni and Maswayi Mabitsela are conspicuous by their absence. They are not just absent, but they are no more.
What we need to ask ourselves is whether we are doing enough to make them proud and ensure that they did not die in vain. Spare a thought for those who laid their lives for a cause that their Comrades later abandoned; or just ignored and simply indulged in the niceties and luxury of life without caring to keep their legacy and realising the ideals for which they died. To do so is to spit on the graves of our martyrs. It is to ridicule and insult them. By so doing we are suggesting that it may ironically be us who killed them. How do we think their families and their destitute children look at us when we are urinating on the graves of their relatives and parents? If we have a conscience, an honest and practical answer to this question is what we must occupy our minds and our hearts with.
There is no doubt that we belong to a great Movement – the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). When others could not take the heat and deserted the Azanian masses in the 1960s, this Great Movement came forth and bravely said, Send Me Lord. Young women and men (in fact, young girls and boys) surged forward and chanted, Send Me Lord! We are talking about none other than Steve Biko, Onkgopotse Tiro, Mthuli ka Shezi, Mapetla Mohapi, Abubaker Asvat, Muntu Myeza, Thiza Mazibuko, Strini Moodley, George Wauchope, Debs Matshoba, Zolile Ghost Ndindwa, Fezile Tshume, Kuku Mamputa, Menziwe Mbeo, Lerato Monnakgotla and many others.
When others who claimed to have been trained and having weapons were dilly-dallying, this Great Movement marched forward in the 1976 uprising and chanted, Send Me Lord! If it is said that there is independence and democracy in our country today, nothing of the sort could have come about without the gallant sacrifices of this Great Movement.
When it seems like others are finding it difficult to build and maintain hospitals; to build schools and teach our children; to grow food and feed our people; this Great Movement did all those things without any political power, and while fighting against the white settler-colonial regime. This Great Movement built and ran the Zanempilo Clinic for our people free of charge. This Great Movement initiated and ran literacy projects for our people free of charge. This Great Movement initiated self-help community projects and built the Njwaxa dam to help irrigate the agricultural fields of our people free of charge. This Great Movement needed no tenders and no bribes to accomplish this work of development for our people.
In this Great Movement we belong to a tradition of activism and fearlessness. We are not remembered necessarily for what we said, but what we did. Our leaders and our members were killed not necessarily for what they said, but for what they did. If all we did was to irritate the white supremacist regime by what we said, they could simply have closed their ears. But it is our militant and mobilising revolutionary activities that they could not ignore. And for that we got killed.
Be that as it might, but it worries me that I am talking about this greatness in the past tense. We used to be this and that. We did this and that, and so forth. The easiest way out would be to analyse the organisation in order to find answers to this anomaly. I don’t want to that because an organisation may come across as an abstract entity in this regard. Let us examine the human beings who hide behind the organisation. I am reluctant to talk about the leadership because the leadership is drawn from the membership; and that leadership is the reflection of the membership, just as much as the organisation may be a reflection of the membership it has.
There are many more types of members in AZAPO, but I am inclined to single out only four types. In these convenient four types I am careful to not paint all the comrades with the same brush. While there are comrades who may be beyond reproach in a particular category, but I am confining myself to the tendency in that category that requires political treatment.
The Old Member: This is the member who has been there in the beginning, and therefore presumably knows the ins and outs of the organisation. In the march of time they relax in their rocking chairs and find fault with everything that others initiate. They are sure to tell you that this is not how things were done in their time. This is not how it is done. They never do it the way it is done, but wait for others to do it before they come after the fact with red pens. This is bad conduct that does not acknowledge and reward well-meant initiative. In fact, it kills all initiative. This member watches and fold arms while the branch is dying. When others re-establish it and take up leadership responsibility, this member moans and grumbles about not being told about developments in the organisation, and further show disdain to the elected leadership instead of lending a shoulder for them to lean on. For this member what works is what was, rather than what is, or what should be. This member lives in the past and is mechanically opposed to any new thing or innovation.
The New Member: This member prefers to sit back and watch while others are doing things. This member has good ideas and is daring to go, but is held back by the phenomenon of newness. But there can never be anybody new in the struggle; nor can therefore be anybody “new” in the organisation. If you joined the organisation a day ago, you are a day OLD as a member. Your rights of membership are equal to everyone else in the organisation. So stand up and speak your mind and contribute in the building of the organisation without any delay. In fact, you just may be the one with the sensitive nostrils to smell and deal with the stench that all of us have adapted to in the organisation.
The Mercenary Member: This member is here to benefit something from the organisation, rather than sacrificing and contributing to the building of the organisation. Members like these sell their services to the organisation. If there are posters to hang on the poles or paste on the walls, this member demands to be paid, transported and fed for that “job”. If there is campaigning to do, this member demands to be paid for that “job”. If the organisation needs party agents, this member demands to be paid for that “job”. If there is a rally of the organisation to attend, this member needs transport to fetch them from the gate to and from the rally venue. This member also needs to be fed at the venue, and be given a free T-Shirt. This member degenerates further when the only meetings of the organisation they attend are those that talk about benefits of one sort or another. There is nothing wrong to get some of the benefits that all of us are entitled to by virtue of our contribution to the struggle. But the accessing of those benefits cannot be the Alfa and Omega of our participation in the struggle to liberate black people. There is a revolution to be waged.
The Young Member: “Young” here is not a reference to children. We are talking here about the founders of AZASM, AZAYO and AZASCO. They are only young relative to the first generation leaders of the BCM. These members have become not only parents, but grandparents. They are accomplished academics, professionals or executives. But these members are regarded as perpetually young in the organisation. Perhaps that is not a problem. The tragedy is when these members also regard themselves as perpetual toddlers despite their experience and achievements. They cannot continue blaming everything on the first generation of the BCM for the ills of the Movement. The BC Stalwarts did a splendid contribution in conceptualising the BC philosophy and building the Movement. It is now up to the second generation leadership to take the baton and run with it. The “Young” Member needs to make their distinct contribution in the development of BC and reengineering of the Movement. They need to establish their own legacy.
In its attempt to develop a new cadre, the organisation needs to find a political treatment for the negative tendencies identified above. The new cadre must be cultured in the tradition of activism. The defining character of AZAPO must be activism. Don’t get me wrong, general meetings are important, but there is no people or country that was ever liberated by merely attending meetings. There is no country that was ever liberated by merely attending congresses. There is no country that was ever liberated by merely attending commemoration services. There is no country that was ever liberated by merely issuing press statements. A revolution requires that more drastic and radical action exceeding those minimum “administrative” routines be embarked upon by the Movement.
I suspect that it would be said there are no adequate resources to fund the execution of militant activism. There is a trial in progress involving a black person who died after being dragged for metres handcuffed behind a police van. All you need is 50 cadres – 50 cadres is too much – you just need 20 cadres wearing colours of the Movement to protest with their placards in front of the court. If toyi-toying and singing is too much for our comrades, they may simply stand in front of the court and do or say nothing. It is called a silent protest. It is only after such an activity that you may buy a newspaper expecting to read something about AZAPO; or watch news expecting to see AZAPO in action. The arrangement of electoral politics is such that if it is not in the media, then it did not happen. If you are not in the media, you don’t exist.
Let us therefore recast AZAPO into an organisation of action. Let us get out of the meetings and go to the streets and wage the struggle to liberate black people. Let us go to the villages and set up self-help projects in the mould of self-reliance. Let us get in the habit of waging protest actions against corruption, and in defence of our people. Let us restore the organisational efficiency and political might of our Great Movement. Let us all in a chorus of readiness and fearlessness chant,
Send Me Lord!