South Africa: Ronnie Kasrils calls for 'no vote' for African National Congress
Former ministers Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and Ronnie Kasrils at the media launch of the Vukani! Sidikwe! (Wake Up! We are Fed Up!) Vote No! campaign at Wits University. Photo by Antoine de Ras.
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April 21, 2014 -- Former leading member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and former government minister Ronnie Kasrils, together with another former minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, has launched the Vukani! Sidikwe! (Wake up! We are fed up!) Vote No! campaign. It calls on South Africans to "vote no" at the May 7, 2014, general election to the corruption and neoliberal economic policies of the African National Congress (ANC) and the right-wing oppostion, the Democratic Alliance (DA). Kasrils' call has provoked widespread debate on the South African left and condemnation from the SACP and the ANC.
Below, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal publishes an article by Kasrils on the reasons behind the campaign, as well as some commentary from the left.
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By Ronnie Kasrils
April 20, 2014 -- On returning home from exile Chris Hani referred in many a speech of the need for political tolerance. What a contrast to the current leader of the SACP, Blade Nzimande, and the invective he spews at his opponents or those he simply does not agree with. The Public Protector tells “white lies” and comrades who oppose the ANC are insulted as “factory rejects” and “enemy agents”, similar insults hurled at Hani in 1969 for speaking out against corruption and nepotism in the then ANC. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe descends to similar abuse, detracting and undermining serious political debate.
What sad commentaries these two and their acolytes let loose as they rush to divert attention from the real substance of debate and desperately try to cover up the rotten state of affairs in the ruling party and government as the time comes for our fifth national election in a democratic South Africa. What has led to this current situation in which longstanding members of the movement have taken a dramatic step to call on the public not to cast a vote for the ANC?
The massacre at Marikana and the obscene expenditure at [President Jacob Zuma's compound at] Nkandla are two of the most publicised events that come on top of a long series of scandals involving Zuma and numbers of senior party and government officials. Good comrades within the structures of the movement have not been able to challenge these developments, let alone speak truth to power.
They believe that by remaining within the movement and raising the issues they can alter the disastrous state of affairs, but to many of us the rot has gone too deep. The ANC, which we once thought of as being an exception to the rule, looks like going the route of other liberation movements that have lost their way.
This is why the Sidikiwe-Vukani campaign came into being. It calls on all registered voters to turn out at the polls on May 7 to make their mark in protest at the levels of corruption and the disastrous economic policies pursued by both the governing ANC and the major opposition, the Democratic Alliance.
Contrary to misleading media reports and to similarly misleading and often abusive comments from within the governing party, this campaign does not -- and never has -- advocated abstention from the electoral process. As democrats, we are encouraging the greatest possible involvement, calling on those millions of South Africans who usually abstain, to come out and vote.
But we say: don't vote for either of the two major parties that have worked in ways that contradict the spirit of the Freedom Charter and the Bill of Rights. At the same time, we are under no illusions that our call will result in the ANC losing the election nationally or the DA probably remaining the main opposition. I personally respect Helen Zille, but as a socialist I reject the DA's economic policies.
So we want to send a warning to the ANC that it can no longer take its traditional support base for granted. Many people are heartily fed up with the way the country is being run and with the policies pursued by both major parties, with the evident corruption at official levels and an electoral system that has alienated millions of voters.
As a result, there seem two choices: either vote tactically for a minority party this time round or spoil your ballot by writing NO across it. Whatever you do: become involved in the democratic process -- it is your right.
Many of the matters we are complaining about have been raised within the ANC over the years, but there has been no improvement. In the light of recent scandals, things have become worse and I felt I could not longer remain silent.
From my point of view, therefore, the campaign is an example of tough love: I wish to do all I can to pull back, from the brink of disaster, the movement to which I devoted all of my adult life.
Nelson Mandela gave guidance when he said the people have the right to vote us out of power if we fail to deliver. Chris Hani said the same thing when he became secretary general of our once proud communist party.
He once noted: “If that ANC government doesn't deliver, I won't hesitate to march against them.” He would then chuckle and add: “Look, it's going to be our government, the people's government, they won't tear gas us or shoot us like this apartheid bunch.”
How infinitely tragic was that last remark.
Democratic Left Front on the Vukani! Sidikwe! Vote No! campaign
Statement of the Democratic Left Front
April 19, 2014 -- Though the Democratic Left Front (DLF) is not standing in the 2014 elections we cannot and will not be silent. We support the vote no campaign as articulated by Vukani! Sidikwe! This is a step forward in breaking with support for parties that collaborate with or represent capital and its interests.
The Vukani! Sidikwe! Vote No! campaign must be placed in context. As we mark 20 years since the end of apartheid and the advent of democracy, there is a deep rupturing of the post-apartheid social consensus in the face of intensifying class struggle. The signal for its end was the Marikana massacre and the great mineworkers’ strike and farm workers’ rebellion of 2012/2013, as well as the low-intensity service delivery revolts that have spread to all corners of the country.
It’s not just the negotiated settlement that is rupturing but the legitimacy and effectiveness of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance as the political guarantor of the 1994 historic compromise. The Vote No Campaign led by some of the most committed and honest leaders of the ANC and the SACP is further evidence that Zuma’s ANC has become too ghastly to contemplate.
This initiative is providing a wake-up call for the thousands of honest cadres and activists who fought for the liberation of our country and built the mass democratic movement, and who believe South Africa has to break the shackles of capitalism and imperialism to be truly free. It is an opportunity for our compatriots to regain their voice.
This is not a call for abstentionism. On the contrary this is a call for intensified activism, for political renewal that goes beyond placing a cross on a ballot paper every few years. Those who decry this campaign for turning its back on those who gave up their lives for fighting for the vote are just being opportunistic. Though the franchise is very important, our liberation struggle can never be reduced to the vote alone. Fundamentally it was a struggle to unite workers, communities and youth through regaining control of the wealth of the country. Our struggle continues and the vote, parliament and government are sites of different moments of struggle as we march to fulfill the forgotten aspirations of our liberation struggle.
When it comes to the election the Vukani! Sidikwe! Vote No! campaign provides opportunities for the millions disaffected by an ANC that has bought into the game and which plays by the rules of the global elite and the rest of the one percenters. The call for votes to either be spoilt or given to smaller parties is understood as tactical as part of a holding operation until a credible left and radical electoral alternative emerges.
And who are the smaller parties we believe those who exercise their vote should tactically support? These are parties that say yes to a living wage of R12,500. These are parties that fight with our people for radical land and agrarian reform and for decent public services. These are parties that campaign for nationalisation of the heights of the economy under popular control and say no to capitalism.
Breaking with the ANC is neither to be cold nor to enter the political wilderness but to join many committed activists that never believed the negotiated settlement ended the struggle for freedom. It is to be in solidarity with a generation of new activists embedded in hundreds of trade unions, social movements and popular organisations that take on the good fight for social justice.
We see Vukani! Sidikwe! Vote No! as a bridge that will help our comrades trapped in the wilting and discredited Tripartite Alliance to cross over to begin the long path of renewal of the progressive, anti-capitalist and socialist traditions of our struggle for emancipation. The embrace of people fighting for their dignity 20 years after the end of apartheid is very warm. Working in solidarity with those fighting for a living wage, decent work, shelter they can call home, for land to grow their food and feed their families, for education that opens the doors to knowledge, literature and culture, for safety and security that guarantee women and children can walk our streets freed from fear, for decent public services, for a society free of corruption, is to be warm.
As the DLF we believe the Vukani! Sidikwe! Vote No! campaign can be an important step among several towards the building of an anti-capitalist electoral platform for the 2016 local government elections.
By Richard Pithouse
April 16, 2014 -- South African Civil Society Information Service -- In recent days Ronnie Kasrils has been referred to as "a rebel, a Judas, a scoundrel", as "Satan", and as a "disruptive, reckless and counter-revolutionary" figure spitting on "the long struggles and the sacrifices of our people". Alistair Sparks, who is routinely introduced as "Respected journalist Alistair Sparks" despite the fact that he’s often little more than an unthinking hack for conservative orthodoxies of various sorts, has opined that the campaign led by Kasrils and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge will not make an "iota of difference" and that the “ANC will not be shaken at all". He’s right in so far as the campaign is unlikely to make an iota of difference to who wins the election and by how much. But the often cartoonish vitriol directed at Kasrils in particular, as well as the "Vote No" campaign in general, shows that Sparks is entirely wrong about the ANC being left unshaken by the campaign.
The ANC’s moral authority and its hold on the idea of the nation, along with popular hopes for its redemption, were never absolute but for a long time they were overwhelming. But they are both in precipitous decline. On the electoral front, COPE [Congress of the People] and the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema] have split off, on the trade union front AMCU and National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) have stepped out of the fold, there is mass protest on the streets, some of it taking the form of sustained independent organisation, and in the symbolic realm Jacob Zuma is squandering the symbolic capital built up over a century with the same sort of abandonment as his architect squandered public money on Nkandla.
It is no small thing when figures like Pallo Jordon and Mavuso Msimang make their disquiet clear. It’s no small thing when the ANC, despite having turned the South Africcan Broadcasting Corporation into its own instrument rather than a public project, setting up its own newspaper and effectively buying a good chunk of the established press is still unable to find any credible intellectuals to sing its praises in the public sphere. It’s no small thing when its president is booed in public and its leading figures booed, insulted or chased out of communities when they go campaigning.
On Saturday, Gwede Mantashe lost his cool campaigning on hostile ground in Soweto. Potential voters stood firm on their critique of Nkandla, corruption and unemployment. In an exchange that neatly illustrated the contradictory political potential in growing popular anger one resident asked what the ANC was doing about ‘foreigners’ while another declared, “We feel like outsiders, foreigners, non-South Africans”.
Last month, in Jacksonville in Port Elizabeth, Zuma was booed and heckled by an angry crowd. John Fillies, a local resident argued, “We are victims of a corrupt state. We live in shacks while those we voted for are living in luxury. Zuma should not have come here. We don’t want him here, he is not welcome in Jacksonville until we have decent houses like other people.”
A couple of days before that the police and ANC officials opened fire in Bekkersdal, at a taxi rank now named Marikana, as angry residents protested at the ANC’s presence in their community. In October last year Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane told protesting residents in Bekkersdal that “People can threaten us and say they won’t vote but the ANC doesn’t need their dirty votes.” Thabang Wesi from the Bekkersdal Concerned Residents Association responded that “If the ANC does not need our dirty votes anymore, it is fine. We will take them to other political parties that will wash them and once they are clean utilise them effectively, taking care of the voters, unlike the ANC.”
In moments like this the wider process in which the ANC is steadily losing its once grand stature are illuminated with striking clarity.
The "Vote No" campaign certainly resonates with a growing popular sentiment. It’s very common to hear people, usually expressing a personal view but sometimes part of a collective project, declaring that they will not vote. And since 2004 organised popular movements have often actively called for a boycott of the polls. Of course the "Vote No" campaign is asking for spoilt ballots or votes for smaller parties other than the DA. But the sentiment animating this, a desire to withdraw support from the ANC, sometimes in the hope of waking it up, is often the same as that informing decisions not to vote at all.
The "Vote No" campaign also has a certain resonance with NUMSA’s decision not to campaign for the ANC, or to offer it financial support, during this election.
Nonetheless the "Vote No" campaign is not rooted in popular organisation and struggle. It is a move on the part of a dissident elite, some of whom have drifted into the kind of dubious version of left politics that takes the form of bussing in poor people to attend NGO meetings over which they have no control and pretending, perhaps to themselves as much as anyone else, that this paternalism – a world apart from mass democratic politics – constitutes movement building. But while this campaign is located at a considerable organisational distance from the struggle on the streets, our public sphere is very much an elite space and people of the stature of Kasrils and Madlala-Routledge have a genuine capacity to shake it up.
José Saramango, the communist writer, and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, began his final novel, Seeing, first published in Portuguese 10 years ago, with an election in an unnamed city in an unnamed country. The novel opens on election day and there’s a hard rain, an almost Biblical rain falling. No one comes in to vote. At around four in the afternoon voters start trickling in. When the votes are counted 70% are blank. Error is assumed and a second election is set for a week later. This time, despite considerable pressure from the media, 83% of the ballots are blank.
The politicians suspect an anarchist conspiracy. With the legitimacy of the politicians called into question they turn on the people and there are arrests, interrogations, an avalanche of propaganda and even a siege of the city as the politicians become ever more desperate to insist that the people must offer them the ritual show of support on which their power rests. The point of the novel is that the power of the political class in certain kinds of democracies depends on people accepting the reduction of democracy to the prospect of making a choice from a set of entirely inadequate alternatives. The novel has acquired a certain contemporary resonance in recent years as electoral boycotts have been staged against the venality of the political class, its intersections with corporate and other elites, and its complete lack of social imagination, in countries like Greece, India, Mexico and Spain.
The "Vote No" campaign does not assert electoral abstentionism as a principle. On the contrary the suggestion that votes are either spoilt or given to smaller parties is understood as a conjunctural and tactical intervention that is in part a holding operation until a credible electoral choice or choices emerge and in part an attempt to make it clear that there will be fertile ground for credible alternatives.
The campaign can’t claim to be genuinely rooted in popular struggle and organisation. But the hysterical response to it from the ANC is telling. It shows that as the party limps and stumbles into its decline, sustained by the idea of the ANC rather than its tawdry reality, and buttressed with patronage and repression, it feels itself to be vulnerable to symbolic interventions that mark out the steady accumulation of withdrawal from participation in its fantasies about itself. It’s clear that the ANC sees heretical ideas that have the temerity to question the notion that this election offers voters a credible choice, one that would, as its slogans imply, meet the approval of Nelson Mandela and Chris Hani, as a threat to its political legitimacy.
[Richard Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University.]
Today is Freedom Day here in South Africa, but what are we really celebrating? Corrupt government spending and backdoor policies? Continued abuse by those in power against those most vulnerable? Food parcels handed out in time to sway votes?
This is not the freedom we dreamed of for South Africa. We deserve better.
Thus, the Sidikiwe! Vukani! Vote No! Campaign was born.
As the ruling party and government are no longer listening, we believed it was important at the time of elections to loudly raise our concerns and criticisms and embark upon a campaign which enables voters to show their discontent through the ballot. It is only through such a collective action that our voices can be heard.
While some of our comrades are opting for a boycott of the polls, this only gives the ANC a bigger majority. So please come out and register your protest vote.
We are calling upon all those who are fed up to vote NO – either by:
Signing our petition to let the ruling party know that enough is enough!
Spoiling your ballot by writing a NO across the paper, or voting tactically for a minority party of your choice
There is strength in numbers and every voice counts! Go to the Sidikiwe website at www.sidikiwe.co.za to sign the petition and join in the conversation on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Sidikiwe) and Twitter (@Sidikiwe) and share with all of your social networks.
Take the message to your families, your friends, your communities, your place of worship, everywhere! The ruling party needs to understand that enough is enough!
*If you have any ideas, would like to help or are willing to host events or discussions,
please post on the website or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our mailing address is:
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Cape Town, Western Cape 8001
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06 May 2014
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement
The ANC Must be removed from Office
For nine years our movement has boycotted elections. We have been clear that no political party represents the interests of the poor and that it was necessary for us to build our own power in order to present our own needs and demands to society. In these nine years we have won many victories but most of us remain in shacks. Twenty years of shack life is a disgrace in a democracy.
Corruption is also a disgrace. In Durban you get nothing without a membership card for the ANC. All development goes through the councillors and their ward committees and ANC branch executive committees. Development is there to make ANC leaders rich and to control the rest of us by only making it available to ANC members. Development is not for the people. This kind of corruption is a disgrace in a democracy.
But an even bigger disgrace is the repression that we have faced from the ANC, its members, its leaders and its assassins. They have banned our marches; attacked our marches; arrested us on trumped up charges; assaulted us in detention; used armed men to drive us from our homes with police support; used death threats, attacks in our homes and torture in police stations to intimidate people to manufacture evidence against us; detained us for months and months while we wait for a trial that gets thrown out of court because there is no evidence against us; used their anti-land invasion unit to evict us for political reasons and beaten and shot us in our communities. Senior members of the ANC and the Municipality have made public death threats against us. Two activists were assassinated in Cato Crest last year and another, an unarmed teenage girl, was executed by the police.
We cannot go on with this level of repression. As everyone knows we are not the only people who face this kind of repression. We all know about Andries Tatane and all the others murdered by the police on protests. We all know about the Marikana Massacre.
In Durban court orders are just ignored by the Municipality and so the courts cannot protect us. Mostly the media and civil society tend to agree that because we are poor and black we are automatically violent and criminal and too stupid to think our own politics and so we do not get that much protection from the media and civil society either. We have some valued comrades on the left among the middle classes but mostly this left just wants to bus us into its meetings so that it can look credible without having any interest at all in our struggles, our ideas or our safety. NUMSA asked us to support their march in Durban but they have not shown any concern to support us when we face repression. The EFF also asked us to support their march in Durban but, like NUMSA, they have not supported us when we face repression. So far our experience of both these organisations is that they are operating like the left NGOs – we are treated as if our only role is to provide the large numbers of people that they need to be bussed in to justify their politics.
Because we cannot carry on like this we took a decision to vote against the ANC. We did not want to split our vote. We decided to collectivise our vote in order to make it stronger. Our main priority was that the ANC must be removed from office. We knew that this will not happen in this election but we were still clear that if we can weaken the ANC then we must do that. Also we knew that if we collectivise our vote all the political parties will know that there is a large bloc of votes that will be available at the next election for the party that does the best job in opposing repression and takes the best position on shack settlements.
We decided that all political parties except the ANC would be invited to make a presentation to the movement. Some of our members did not want to invite the DA to make a presentation as they are known to represent the rich and, in Cape Town, they are no different to the ANC when it comes to illegal and violent evictions. However we debated this at length and decided to invite them to make a presentation on the grounds that the removal of the ANC was our first priority and the weakening of the ANC was our second priority.
The DA, EFF, NFP and WASP all accepted the invitation to make a presentation to our members at the Diakonia Centre on 25 April and they all came and made their presentations.
The delegates to that meeting then returned to their branches to discuss the presentations there. We met again on 2 May and held a general meeting. At this meeting the general leadership did not vote as their role was to facilitate the meeting. The rest of the delegates voted and the results were as follows:
2 - undecided
2 - WASP
16 - EFF
26 - NFP
146 – DA
The DA and the EFF returned to witness the voting. WASP did not return. The NFP arrived three hours late with lots of car, bodyguards and their senior people. But by that time we were already dispersing.
The whole meeting was recorded on video and this video can be made available. Even those who were very disappointed with the results agree that it was a highly democratic process. The collective discipline of a democratic organisation requires that we all accept this outcome. Of course this decision is only for this election and it does not bind our members in Cape Town. When the next election comes we will again decide whether or not to vote and, if so, which party to vote for.
The main reason why the majority of the delegates supported the DA was because they wanted to have the strongest possible opposition to the ANC to put the maximum pressure on the ANC and to prevent it from doing what it pleases – which includes murdering us. We negotiated a legal agreement with DA which commits them to support some of our more basic demands. We hope that they will stand up for these issues and that they, and all other parties, will realise that if they want the support of the shack dwellers they will have to support us rather than see us as a problem to be eradicated or forcibly removed from the cities and taken to the human dumping grounds.
We will vote, as one bloc, for the DA tomorrow. We will not take membership of the party, we do not endorse its policies and we will continue to insist that no one can hold a position as an elected leader in our movement if they join a political party. We do not love or trust the DA. Already they are telling lies about our choice and we are not surprised. We have made a purely tactical choice. We will certainly continue to organise against all and any attacks on the poor in Cape Town by the DA government there.
One of the lies that is being told is that the DA are saying that we have endorsed them for this election in the Western Cape. This is not true. Our Western Cape branch has endorsed our decision to make a tactical vote for the DA in KwaZulu-Natal. Our Western Cape branch has not decided to make any collective vote for any party in this election.
Over the last nine years we have protected our autonomy from NGOs very carefully even though we do work with some NGOs. Now that we feel that it is necessary for our safety and our ability to continue to organise to use our numbers to make deals with political parties we will protect our autonomy from political parties in the same way.
Our politics puts people first. We cannot do nothing but wait for socialism to come one day in the far distant future. Our children are dying from diarrhoea right now, our old people and disabled people are dying in shack fires right now, we are being evicted and disconnected right now and we are being beaten and shot during evictions and disconnections right now. We been repressed, and even murdered, right now. We have to act to do what we can to make our members’ lives better right now. We have to act to protect our ability to organise and to sustain our living politics right now. This does not mean that we have given up on our vision of a world where land, cities, wealth and power are shared fairly. We call this a living communism and we remain committed to it. But we also remain committed to the human beings that we are now and to our families, neighbours and comrades. We will make what deals we have to make to protect our politics and improve our members’ lives right now but we will not give up on our political vision. We represent thousands of people who live in shack settlements. Those people who sit in university offices and NGO offices only represent themselves. Their children are safe. Their lives are not at risk. They are free to put ideology before people because they are not accountable to oppressed people and because they are not themselves oppressed people. But the fact that we do not enjoy that freedom does not mean that we have given up our politics. It means that we are searching for a practical way forward in a difficult and dangerous struggle.
The new Abahlali electoral position has offered us a lot to learn about. There is a lot to learn about party politics and its dirty campaigning tactics. There is a lot to learn about the deeper politics of our time. And, yes, there is a lot to learn about who cares and doesn't care about the struggles of the poor and the working class.
Ideology and principle are vital but if they both fail to house the homeless and rescue the repressed and recognise the humanity of the inhumanized then the oppressed are not doing any harm to anyone in trying to emancipate ourselves by taking practical action now to keep people safe and to make their lives better while always keeping a bigger vision of freedom and justice in mind.
We share a sadness that we have had to make this decision. Very few people outside the movement have been witness to what we’ve been going through in the hands of the ANC. We do not have words to explain the pain many of us have gone through. We do not have words to explain our pain of twenty years of shack life and all the state repression that has come to us when we stood up for our humanity. Last year we came to the ceiling of hopelessness. It was clear that we are people that can be freely killed. The stress that this created led to some intense internal conflicts. We knew that we could not carry on with our old politics. Our new position has enabled us to rethink our struggle. It may not be the perfect way but it brought a robust discussion about us that was seriously trying to find ways of creating a new hope from no hope.
We are not surprised at the way some people on the so called left have reacted on our position. We are not surprised at the usual lies from the usual people on the internet. Many people and organisations on the left do not accept that we have the right to think our own struggle and to make our own decisions. They think that because they are on the left they have the right to tell us what to do. We do not accept this. These people see our decision as stupid and as a sell-out while they are nowhere to be seen in our times of great difficulty. It makes us to think that such people enjoy our suffering or even benefit from it. Why will people who claim to be in our support judge us instead of contacting us to first understand our decision? It may be a wrong decision but the reality is that we cannot deceive ourselves purposefully on our pain. Why should we be made to struggle in a way that is only designed to try and impress other people simple because they say that they are on the left? We will never do this. Our members must live in shacks and they must try and survive repression. Their organisation is theirs and it will be directed by their decisions. We have never compromised on this and for this we have always been attacked by the regressive left that only want us to take their money so that in exchange we can arrange for people to be bussed into their meetings. This is not emancipation. It is another kind of oppression.
Is the left doing enough to care about our struggle? Or do they see our struggles as projects from which they can prove and debate their findings and analysis rather than as a struggle to genuinely confront the forces of darkness? Our decision aims at trying to keep the space open for us to liberate ourselves by making a tactical move. We do not love the DA or agree with its policies. Why do people who failed to condemn the ANC attacks on us get so angry with us when we try to punish the ANC by making a tactical vote for its enemy? Maybe for these people it is better for us to be oppressed by the ANC than the DA. For us it is better not to be oppressed. Some of the left is just like some of the development NGOs and some of the state. They want to experiment on us, to use us for their own projects. We say no. On this there is no compromise. We continue to say ‘talk to us, not for us’ and ‘think with us not for us’.
Our position remains honouring those who have supported and who continue to support us. Since we all don't know the answers in this struggle to humanise the world we will keep hunting and trying. Sometimes we will make wrong decisions but at least we offer debate and learning for ourselves and all our friends and comrades.
The ANC are a serious threat to society and to right of the poor to organise freely in this society. They must be removed from office and until we can remove them we must do all that we can to weaken them.