It is my considered view that the hashtag protesters did not literally mean the occupation of the headquarters of their glorious movement. Why did the educated and sophisticated leadership of the ANC react in a manner that suggested that head office was about to be overrun by hostile hordes of barbarians? This is another demonstration of the failure of the leadership of the African National Congress.
Luthuli House is private property owned by the ANC in the city center of Johannesburg. As a ruling party, the ANC government controls the police, traffic department and army. So, Luthuli House was in no danger of being forcibly and violently occupied by a small battalion of unarmed cadres of the Movement. The police had already taken all necessary steps to protect the property long before the marchers gathered at Beyers Naude square.
If there was no real threat to the headquarters of the ANC why did Luthuli House mobilize MKMVA, Youth League and Women’s League to defend the building? Why this paranoid reaction to a harmless but militant expression of discontent by desperate members of the organisation? And if the threat was serious what would unarmed former MK soldiers, supported by young peacetime military heroes do to “defend” Luthuli House?
The only logical answer to these questions is that the ANC has lost control of the party. The office of the Secretary General was apparently overpowered by the over-enthusiastic cadres of the MKMVA, ANCYL and ANCWL. The three leagues were spoiling for a fight and the hashtag battalion gave them a rare opportunity to be seen in action. The ANCYL, with no visible programme of action, got its opportunity to shine. The militant Young Lions of Peter Mokaba would be on the front pages of newspapers and all over television in their defence of their party.
As for the veterans of Umkhonto We Sizwe, this was an opportunity to wash and iron their Angolan military uniform and remind those who were never in the armed struggle who really liberated this country from the white fascist regime. On that Monday morning, while well off and employed ANC members were at work in government and corporate offices, the ANC soldiers were marching in military formation to “defend” the Movement. They are poor, unemployed and suffering. The struggle was their life but the new, democratic and prosperous South Africa they fought for has rejected them. They live on the crumbs that they occasionally get from the rich tables of more successful cadres of the Movement running the country and corporations.
Having said all that a few questions need to be posed. Did the #OccupyLuthuliHouse protestors intend to practically occupy the headquarters of the oldest liberation movement in Africa? What would their occupation of the HQ achieve? Dud Luthuli require the three leagues to defend it?
I do not believe that the #OccupyLuthuliHouse protesters literally meant to occupy the building. It was a desperate symbolic gesture to knock sense into the heads of a weak and failing leadership. By the way these are ANC members in good standing who love their organisation. So why this paranoid reaction from the ANC leadership?In the last year for instance, we witnessed the rise of #RhodesMustFall movement at institutions of higher learning. Cecil John Rhodes died long ago and what the campaigners were doing was to dramatically drive home the point of the legacy of imperialism and what Rhodes stood for in Africa. It was an endeavour to forcefully push their agenda of transformation at universities. It wasn’t literal at all.
Is it possible that the ANC leadership interpreted literally that the hashtag group wanted to physically take over Luthuli House in a coup de tat and run the organisation? Was there a sensible in house discussion to understand what the hashtag battalion was trying to do? What measures did the ANC leadership take to engage Ndima, Lamola, Bonolo and Sasabona to understand their campaign and defuse the situation?
It all points to one thing. A weak, unimaginative and failing leadership on the part of Luthuli House. Having been hammered in the 2016 local government elections and with no new strategy for organisational renewal that would win back the trust of the people of South Africa, the ANC leadership responded like losers. Luthuli House played into the hands of the hashtag protesters by engaging in a self-defeating media war with the young cadres. Headquarters gave these mavericks more credibility than they deserved. On the day of the action, Luthuli House came out a loser as there were more cadres to “defend” the head office than the protestors themselves. It was ANC versus ANC and the media had a field day while members, stalwarts and veterans of the organisation looked on in disbelief. The ANC had hit an all time low.
The reality is that Luthuli House was in no danger of being occupied by a ragtag of young lions with no numbers and little support from the organisation at national level. So what was the paranoia about?