To give this piece an appropriate context and accord it a right tone, I will borrow from one of many of South Africa’s struggle songs sung recently by the former premier of North West and current Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa at the memorial service of the late Minster of Public Service and Administration Collins Chabane. Calling her colleague and fellow comrade Ayanda Dlodlo, who was Chabane’s second-in-command before his untimely departure, to the podium to pay homage to her boss, Molewa summoned in song the spirit that was once the innate character of cadres joining the People’s Movement when she sang, ‘eANC eya setjenzelwa…’It is often said that African people are a people of song, a people of rhythm and melody. If I may borrow from a large wealth of beautiful African languages we have in South Africa, that popular belief is captured thus: Mo kutlobotlhokong re a opela, jaaka le fa re le mo boitumelong re opela. This means that as an African people when we grieve we sing just like we do when we party. I say this not only to brag about the beauty and pride of African culture but to emphasise that a lot of songs were sung at the memorial service, just like they were on the day South Africa, Africa and the world bade a final farewell to Minister Chabane, for we were celebrating a life well lived to paraphrase the words of Edna Molewa.
To say that this is the only song that stood out for me at the memorial service would be a white lie. Unexpectedly and from nowhere Don Laka and his keyboard, accompanied by a gentleman that I am ashamed and embarrassed to say I do not know, serenaded us with an emotional, melodic rendition of Hamba kahle mkhondo. Suffice to say that never before would I have imagined that this powerful African chorus could be performed with such moving passion and high energy as if to drive home Molewa’s words: we are celebrating a life well lived.
But yet the words of the song I mentioned in the first paragraph stuck with me: eANC eya setjenzelwa. Two reasons made the song stand out for me. First reason is without a doubt the man whose sad passing had compelled patriotic South Africans to reflect on the wealth of talent they were endowed in the likes of Collins Chabane and those who left us before him. Newspapers, radio stations, social networks and television shows were inundated with messages of grief and support highlighting the undeniable fact that Oom Collins-a name young, digital savvy South Africans called him in the canals of social media- was a humble, hardworking cadre of the ANC, the People’s Movement. Those of us who know and understand that to become a disciplined cadre of the ANC is to accept a call to serve the ‘great masses of our people’, a call Collins Chabane carried out with distinction.
Among the characteristics that kept coming up when messages of tribute were pouring in, the multitudes of our people from all corners of the country spoke highly and warmly of Collins Chabane’s disarming humility and remarkable ordinariness; attributes that today are as common as an Eskimo. This humility and ordinariness could be gleaned from his choice to stand in a long queue among the ordinary masses, his people, for a toilet instead of making use of the VIP toilet despite being a high ranking government official. Who can forget his quiet, respectful demeanour when dealing with journalists, a job that could be both infuriating and testing, during the memorial and funeral services of the late ANC president and South Africa’s Founding Father Tata Nelson Mandela while continuing to make sure that everything runs smooth? Such was the person of Collins Ohm Chabane, a village boy from Xikundu, Limpopo who took it upon himself to dedicate his life to serving his people. Addressing the memorial service in his capacity both as Deputy President of the ANC and South Africa, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa remarked thus of the humility and ordinariness of Collins Chabane: ‘It is difficult to remain “a man of the people” when you are wearing the robes of power, but Collins Chabane showed us how to do it.’
So when Edna Molewa led those who attended the memorial service in a chorus on that particular day, chanting eANC eya setjenzelwa, it was both befitting and correct; for Collins Chabane epitomised the spirit of hard work. He worked for the ANC; he worked for his people.
The second reason is what one might define as a paradox if one listens to the message carried in the song and how it stands in stark contrast with the first reason I proffer above. In a recent radio interview on 26 May 2015, speaking with John Perlman on Kaya FM, the erstwhile Deputy President of the ANC and South Africa’s 3rd democratic president Kgalema Motlanthe made a colourful observation of the sort of cadres that joined the ANC post 1994. In his true nature affirming his famous traits of being composed and thoughtful, Mkhuluwa observed thus: ‘There was a time when the ANC was not a governing party; when the only rewards that you could get by being associated with the ANC was injury, or death or prison or exile. But of course after 1994 the character of the ANC changed, and unfortunately we didn’t have the requisite mechanism of ensuring that the ANC continues to be characterised by the commitment to serve rather than to pursue personal aggrandisement and benefits.’ Motlanthe was bemoaning the fact that the ANC was no longer attracting the best and brightest but instead has become a private club for those who seek personal glory and wealth. Earlier while serving as ANC General Secretary Motlanthe had lamented this moral decline in the ANC when he observed that ‘the central challenge facing the ANC is to address the problems that arise from our cadres’ susceptibility to moral decay occasioned by the struggle for the control of and access to resources. All the paralysis on our programmes, all the divisions in our structures, are in one way or another, a consequence of this cancer in our midst’. Motlanthe was of course right. It is not unusual these days to hear a person say, ‘I too need to get an ANC membership so I could get a tender.’
The once illustrious movement of A.K Soga and Meshack Pelem, the broad church of Charlotte Maxeke and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and the home of Thabo Mbeki and Pallo Jordan has with sadness fallen prey to the unbridled greed of those who see the People’s Movement as a mere gravy train. Once famous for being the intellectual and political incubator of astute ideologues like Anton Muziwakhe Lembede, the mind that conceived the EFF’s popular mantra, ‘Economic freedom in our lifetime’, the ANC has become a shadow of itself, now at the mercy of thieves and megalomaniacs.
Later in his heartfelt homage Ramaphosa echoes that question that each and every one of us who regards themselves as patriots asked when the news reached us that Collins Chabane was no more, lamenting thus: ‘When we sing, lala ngoxolo qabane, kade uzabalaza, we must ask who will pick up your spear in our on-going struggle to create a just and humane society.’ Thus when Edna Molewa accosted the attendees of the memorial service for not exuding energy and zest in singing ‘eANC eya setjenzelwa’, complaining that a cadre of the ANC does not work for their organisation so lazily, reality struck me like a thunderbolt: cadres no longer work for the ANC. It is the other way round, or so they believe. Kgotsong!