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Speaking notes on the occasion of the debate on the Centenary of Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela to the Plenary sitting of the National Council of Provinces by the Honourable Seiso Mohai, ANC MP

26 June 2018, Cape Town

Honourable Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces;
Honourable Minister of Communication, comrade Nomvula Mokonyana;
Distinguished Special Delegates;
Leaders and representatives of the Organised Local Government;
Honourable Members;
Fellow comrades and compatriots;

Today the eyes of millions of South Africans and the global community are surely cast on this debate with great sense of expectation not only to hear about the story of these two titans of our struggle, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Mama Albertina Sisulu, but most importantly, how our generation live true to their legacy. Accordingly, this debate coincides with the month of youth which compels us to respond to the burning question; can our footprints inspire the present generation of youth to claim the legacy of Mandela and Albertina Sisulu as their own in the 21st century?

Honourable Chairperson we raise this fundamental question not in abstract and ahistorical terms but because the story of the 20th century is the story of the youth rising in collective action as the architects of their own future. The founding conference of the ANC in 1912 was the political coming of age of the generation of John Langalebalele Dube, Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, and many others to respond to the burning question of their times.

This generation left the baton to the generation of Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and many others who later founded the ANC Youth League in 1944. As Frantz Fanon proclaims; "each generation must discover its mission, fulfils or betrays it, in relative obscurity". We must add that no generation can discover and fulfils its mission under the conditions of its own choice. As Karl Marx reminds us in his Eighteenth Brummaire of Louis Bonaparte:

"Men makes their own history, they do not make it as they please, they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."

To determine the extent to which we are true to the legacy of Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, and whether our youth will claim this legacy as their own, the starting point should therefore be the analogy of the historical epoch of these two titans of our struggle and our own epoch. We do this not out of natural affinity for idle political rhetoric but because the laws of change demand a sense of appreciation of the connection between the past, the present and the future. As Pallo Jordan put it in one of his seminal treatises on leadership:

"To grow and develop, a political formation must maintain a balance between continuity and the necessity for change. Its organisational culture should permit sufficient political space for new initiatives, ideas and strategies to percolate, keeping it vibrant and alive. The art of leadership entails successfully managing the tension between continuity and change and the mismanagement of this often causes movements to collapse".

This brings into sharp focus three interrelated fundamental questions that this debate must confront if it has to have a meaning to our people, namely; what values and norms have shaped Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu we know, under what historical circumstances have these values and norms evolved, and what is their relevance to the present realities facing the youth of our country? The Mandela generation is a generation that emerged during the global transition from capitalism of free competition towards global monopoly capitalism characterised by the global competition for cheap labour, financial and commodity markets among the super powers.

This gave rise to the colonial conquest of parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America which precipitated the emergence of the anti-colonial struggles by the colonised indigenous peoples. In the South African context, the system of white minority domination was institutionalised through disenfranchisement, land dispossession and super exploitation of the indigenous African majority. The inhuman suffering of the indigenous African masses inspired immense sense of solidarity, love for education and freedom amongst the successive generations of young South Africans.

This translated into organisational and political resilience which evolved and matured into a full scale liberation struggle that took the settler white minority regime toe to toe Honourable Chairperson, we must emphasise that this was not a walk in the park or a drawing in the 'Kinder garden' but life and death struggle for the restoration of the human dignity of the dispossessed Africans under the banner of the African National Congress.

The 1955 Peoples' Congress in Kliptown was the greatest assembly of the legitimate representatives of our people, men, women, youth, workers, religious leaders, traditional leaders and intellectuals of different political persuasions from the rural and urban centres of our country. This marked a critical watershed in the evolution of the vision of a free, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society we all aspire to build today. We owe this to the generation of Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, and the subsequent generations of young people who responded to the clarion call of the 1955 People's Congress which proclaimed, among others:

This clarion call inspired courage of conviction among our people that; through collective action shall born a free, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and united South Africa from the shambles of apartheid white minority domination. The period following the adoption of the Freedom Charter which marks 63rd anniversary today was accompanied the upsurge of militant struggles by our people across racial, class and gender divide never seen before.

This intensification of struggle cannot be isolated from the broader global context of discontent against the deepening crisis of capitalism, fascism and colonialism. The 1969 ANC Strategy and Tactics characterised this epoch of our struggle as follows:

"The struggle of the oppressed people of South Africa is taking place within an international context of transition to the Socialist system, of the breakdown of the colonial system as a result of national liberation and socialist revolutions, and the fight for social and economic progress by the people of the whole world."

Honourable Chairperson, it did not require Oliver Tambo to be a prophet when he assured the international community at the 1985 ANC national consultative conference that; Kabwe conference was the last of its own to be held in foreign land. This was based on the scientific analysis of the balance of forces which were qualitatively shifting in favour of the democratic forces led by the ANC. We owe this to the mass mobilisation, the political underground, international solidarity and military combat that the enemy could no longer govern in its own terms. This pushed the apartheid regime to the negotiation table.

Nelson Mandela we know would reject with contempt any attempt to count him alone as the embodiment of these struggles outside the collective of the leadership of the African National Congress, its membership and the masses of the people broadly. He articulated this in his first public address after his release from prison in 1990 at the Grand Parade in Cape Town:

It is for this reason that we stand here unashamedly to contend that; the history of our struggle will be incomplete if it does not have chapters dedicated to the sufferings, resilience and leadership of women in the fight against the apartheid white minority domination. The footprints of this resilience can be traced back to earlier years before the formation of the ANC Womens League with Charlotte Maxecqe and later Mama Albertina Sisulu who were among the first female delegates at the inaugural conference of the ANC YOUTH LEAGUE in 1944. This was before women were accepted as members of the ANC.

Mama Albertina Sisulu suffered banishments, detentions and treason trials at the time when her family, the children in particular needed her most during the imprisonment of her husband, the late Walter Sisulu. She kept the fires of the revolution burning within the Federation of South African Women, the political underground of the ANC, the United Democratic Front where she was charged together with others for Treason during the 1980s.

As the President of the Transvaal United Democratic Front, she faced many house arrests, banishment and detentions during the state of emergency. She was a source of inspiration to men and women, young and old alike and a disciplined member of the African National Congress till the end.

What does this rich collective heritage of the people of South Africa means to the current generation of young people, the bedrock of our future? The 21st century youth of South Africa has the future to build and claim. The first task of this youth is to jealously guard and claim the legacy of its predecessors, the generation of the 1940s of the ANC YOUTH LEAGUE and the subsequent generations. This youth is faced by more complex and immense socio economic challenges than its predecessors characterised by the global reorganisation of capitalist production and accumulation which continues to precipitate mass poverty, unemployment and inequalities.

The deepening inequalities, mass poverty and unemployment constitute the single most threat for the unity and cohesion of the current generation. These socio economic conditions promote and entrench the values of survival of the fittest which is erode the African spirit of Ubuntu and human solidarity among the youth. Gangsterism, crime and other forms of social ills that continue to pervade our society are mostly associated with the youth as perpetrators as the means of survival.

Without a strong and visionary leadership capable of defining and leading a common national agenda towards a national democratic society based on the values of justice, equality and peace, the future of our youth is bleak. Honourable Chairperson, much as the youth must define its future, society has a role to nurture and harness its energies and resourcefulness. As Moses Kotane once said:

"At this hour of destiny, your country and your people need you. The future of South Africa is in your hands and it will be what you make of it."

The ANC led government has put the aspirations of the youth at the centre of its policies and programmes for fundamental transformation. We have provided free and compulsory basic education for all since 1994 which has provided many young people from poor families to have access to education. Our school nutrition programme and child support grant have reduced the rate of school drop outs from age 9 to 15 and with our free higher education policy beginning this year, we are yet to see improvement in the lives of many youth of our country.

The ANC socio economic policy trajectory of radical socio economic transformation continues to open many social and economic opportunities to the majority of our youth who were marginalised for many decades of apartheid rule. The growth of the black middle class in South Africa over the last two decades is not a coincidence of history but an outcome of conscious policy choices of the African National Congress.

Honourable Chairperson, we are always advised by some in this House about the vision of one nation with one future built on freedom, fairness and equal opportunities for all. This so called vision treat the current social realities of the youth of South Africa defined by unequal historical access to opportunities as God-Ordained not an outcome of conscious social engineering by successive apartheid white minority regimes over many decades. It denies the reality that to create equal opportunities amongst the youth, we must consciously affirm those who were marginalised and excluded from the mainstream of social and economic life.

In his address on the Freedom Day Celebration Rally of 2018 in Soshanguve, the leader of the Democratic Alliance Musi Maimane broke ranks with the rapacious neoliberal orthodoxy of his party on freedom, fairness and equal opportunities for all by publicly conceding that; "white privilege and black poverty" must be confronted. Chairperson we say this because, among the abiding lessons of the OR Tambo was that; the truth must be told even if coincides with the enemy.

There is no better way to describe the proximity of Musi Maimane's articulation to the ANC position than to quote the 1969 ANC Strategy and Tactics:

"In our country - more than in any other part of the oppressed world - it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation."

Chairperson, we can differ politically as political parties around many issues but the truth be told, the titans in whose names we are debating today will forever remain the moral compass of our society for many decades to come. Their lives stood in sharp contrast to greed, self-enrichment and the culture of consumerism which define the youth of the 21st century. Let's emulate their legacy for the better future.

I thank you

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