Thursday, 9 August 2012

Open letter to the African National Congress Youth League

To whom it may concern,

There was a time, generations ago, when an armed struggle was necessary in South Africa.

There was a time such a resistance was honorable; and throwing stones and burning tyres were symbolic yet tangible attempts at defiance against the heavy-handed, armed riot police of a racist government.

Not too long ago, we were the victims of our own skins - being oppressed for being too dark, too African, or just too ethnic.

This was the time when the ANC called for revolution against the oppressors. Our leaders, like Steve Biko, Moses Mabhida and countless, un-celebrated mothers and fathers, inspired selfless bravery in the face of brutality;  hope in the face of despair. And at the heart of this was a youth league that energised the noble ideals of the African National Congress.

But that resistance was just a means to an end, not a way of life.

I live in the Western Cape. And for the longest time I remained hopeful that one day, the ANC would come and democratically wrest power away from the current ruling opposition.
Not because of political or ethnic considerations but because like so many here, I want to live alongside our fellow countrymen under a rule of law, by a party who still bears the scars of a struggle that gave us that opportunity. The right to live, love and prosper with whomsoever we chose to do so without fear or prejudice.

Yet today I pen this letter, feeling dejected and betrayed and largely confused by the actions of a youth league  that threatened to turn our city into a war zone.

After 18 years of freedom, the youth league still sees the tactics used against the Apartheid regime as applicable today. And that saddens me deeply.

I am 27, Muslim and “Coloured” but most importantly I am South African. I am also the grandson of a man imprisoned for dissent against the old-regime and the son of parents who both rioted in the 70’s with this very youth league against racist oppression.

Yet today, I feel far removed from this once honorable movement. Instead, you find a man increasingly at odds with your actions.

What shame, pain and embarrassment for those who have to witness a legacy that is feted the world over – tarnished, neglected and preyed upon by a youth wing that openly expressed a desire to have vandals and criminals in their ranks.

Today’s unrest spoke volumes of what the league has disintegrated into: a home for hateful incitement, racist name-calling, hooliganism and unbridled anarchy.

Youth League, answer this: Are we not a nation built on respect and diversity? Where is the respect for those who do not share your political views? Where is that diversity that the ANC embraced once upon a time when they stood side by side with the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured People’s Organisation, and the South African Congress of Democrats in 1955?

Does our proud history of united action mean nothing to you?

Also, why do you decry racism so fervently elsewhere when yet there is almost no racial diversity within your own leadership?  We are all different, but equal. I state the obvious because I hope in text, it will imprint a change or at least flicker a moment a self-reflection.

I know all too well that there is an economic battle being waged in homes all across South Africa, with the poor finding no respite. Poverty is something we need to confront earnestly, together.

I agree that there is an over-representation of white males in positions of power within the private sector, but why should employees that are not in positions of power have to suffer for this? This is a battle that is best taken up with the executives of the corporations.

Yes, multi-nationals get disproportionately high profits on the backs of our own natural resources, but this is something we must confront with thought and consideration.

Unhinged militancy and incitement do nothing to build the bridges we need for resolving our nation’s many social problems. And they do even less in resurrecting our fading dreams of a better South Africa for all. All you are doing, in light of your planned actions, is burning bridges to the ground.

I turn my back on your gangster mentality, because there is no place for it in our society. And as a league of comrades, not a gang of thugs – we should be leaders with an example of our own. An example that honors the blood that have been spilt in Soweto, Rivonia, Vlakplaas, District Six and all those uncelebrated places where people have struggled for a better life.

There is an open forum for public discussion and debate: a platform that was built by YOUR predecessors at the ANC. I look at the life of Chief Luthuli and wonder:  Is this the legacy he envisaged?
He was a noble man that was known to be intolerant of hatred, he led 10 million people in non-violent protest, and he fought every day of his political and educational career for educational equality and a better life for all.

Today, as you spread anarchy, resentment and continue the cycle of hatred in our streets; his values seem completely at odds with the ones you express.

Youth League, I challenge you:
·    To see the educated and informed will of the people as more important for a peaceful society than gaining political points and power.
·    To admit and address that there exist cultural exclusivity and superiority (racism) within your organisation, effectively barring other minorities of previously disadvantaged backgrounds from full participation and membership.
·    To address the militarism and hateful incitement that does nothing for the social cohesion of a diverse constituency.
·    To recognise that through your calls to militarism and hooliganism, you are directly responsible for the destruction or theft of public and private property, the injury and trauma of innocent non-participants, the exacerbation of economic disparity by disrupting small and entrepreneurial business, and sowing mistrust and suspicion between people on the basis of race. I remind you, intimidation and violence against a civilian population for a political or ideological cause constitutes domestic terrorism.
·    To acknowledge that the problems that South Africa is facing cannot be addressed by the militarism and armed struggle that you continuously propagate both implicitly and explicitly.
My heart broke a little today when you turned your back on the legacy of the ANC.

Today, I no longer believe that the ANC holds the future of this country.

Your colossal contribution to our past will always be respected and appreciated, but if your future leaders continue on this poisonous path, then I can no longer cast my ballot for you.

Deepest regrets

Kamal Salasa