Praising the dead to condemn the living

    By Prof A J Mathebula

    There is probably a good reason that certain expressions survive throughout millennia and continue to resonate with people irrespective of their race, class and religion. The aphorism that we don’t speak of ill of the dead is a case in point. This advice reportedly attributed to Digenese Laërtius found expression in The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers as far back as 300 AD.

    The reason the advice resonate lies in the fact that the dead cannot speak for themselves. Secondly, because in a funeral setting people are often so overcome by emotions that it is not the space to engage meaningfully with concepts and facts.

    Those who defy this advice can at best be described as cowards since they do so knowing full well that they will not solicit a response. This is at best an abuse of a social setting. Funerals are there for people to pay respect.

    Sadly, this centuries old tradition has come under attack. This onslaught of the hallowed tradition is presently led and championed by none other than members or previous members of the ANC. It is not accident that a majority of these are individuals who lost out in the political contest that democracy demands from time to time.

    These political cowards use funerals to invoke the heroism of the dead as a means to condemn the living. Indeed, some opportunistically used the occasion to make a mountain of President Zuma’s non-attendance of the funeral. This is despite the President graciously declaring the funeral official. Cabinet had to be rescheduled so that members could attend.

    The former Governor of the Reserve Bank Tito Mboweni puts his finger on the pulse in his observation. Responding to this cowardly phenomenon he tweeted;

    Sipho Pityana is noisy! ANC activists are at the branch meetings making progressive inputs! At the branch meetings, we debate issues not at funerals!

    Mr. Mboweni could not have paraphrased it better. Funerals are not places for debates. Only those who are not convinced of the powers of their arguments will resort to such measures. Unfortunately at funerals everything goes.

    Hanekom misleads the nation

    Consider for instance, a comment attributed to the Minister of Tourism Mr. Derek Hanekom in introducing the former deputy President of the ANC Kgalema Motlanthe at the funeral. He reportedly said, “Comrade Kgalema you are respected by the rank and file of our country”.

    One does not need to read between the lines. The comment was provocative in light of the presence of the anti-Zuma brigade. Hanekom knew full well that such a comment was meant to suggest that unlike President Zuma, Mr. Motlanthe is respected. The many tens of thousands that wait and enthusiastically greet President Zuma at our national stadiums are probably mere phantoms to be wished away in Hanekom’s imaginary world.

    Interestingly, Hanekom’s version is contradicted by history. President Zuma was overwhelming elected during the last two elective conferences. In the last conference of 2012 which Mr. Motlanthe contested, Mr. Motlanthe was only able to scrape a mere 24-26% of the vote. By any stretch of imagination this is not just a defeat but a rejection. However at funerals such facts are of no consequence. Hanekom also wants to white-wash this political history. Besides, there is nothing that prevents Mr. Motlanthe from trying his luck. This is the only generous interpretation one can provide in Hanekom’s abuse of the funeral occasion.

    What matters is the emotional impact and the intended political damaged they are supposed to deliver.

    Instead of rewriting history, it might serve Hanekom well to read the 2007 Secretary General report to the 52nd National Conference. He will discover that it was under Motlanthe’s watch that certain alien tendencies found themselves entrenched in the organization. This is what Motlanthe said after ten years at the helm as Secretary General.

    “Reports of `gate-keeping`, `ghost members` `commercialisation of membership`, `rent-a-member` and other forms of fraudulent and manipulative practices that seek to influence the outcome of elective process remain much too widespread.”

    Motlanthe went further;

    “Whereas the role of leadership is to guide and provide direction to branches, during times of electoral contestation, certain leaders abuse their positions and impose predetermined decisions and outcomes on branches, thus violating the basic democratic principle that these decisions are the prerogative of the members of the ANC, organised through their branches.”

    These are tendencies that the Secretary General was supposed to fix. Evidently, from his very report, he failed dismally. If anything Mr. Motlanthe’s report sounds more like a lamentation. In summary, Hanekom’s version comes down to a case of reinventing history. And the best way of doing so is at the funerals.

    There is however one area where I find common cause with sentiments of Mr. Motlanthe’s 2007 report. It is in his invocation of the Lenin`s warning to the 10th Congress of the CPSU in March 1921:

    “No profound and popular movement in all history has taken place without its share of filth, without adventurers and rogues, without boastful and noisy elements ———- A ruling party inevitably attracts careerists”.

    As Mr. Mboweni suggests, the ANC activists debate issues in the branches, while rogues and opportunists abuse any platform to malign their own organization and its leadership.

    • Professor Mathebula is a Professor Political Science Department at Uni Ven


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