YONELA DIKO: ANC's Jan 8th statement must be a rallying call for harder work


When the African National Congress (ANC) was formed in 1912, two years after the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, a union that excluded the black native majority, the 1912 gathering was intended to be the real and true union of South Africa by native South Africans and all those who identified themselves as Africans. That is why when Oliver Reginald Tambo wrote the first formal ANC January 8th statement in 1972, he said the address was more than an anniversary of the ANC's formation, but also a commemoration of the birth of a nation.

The ANC may be be one of the political parties today, but its formation and its programmes hence have always been about the people, their struggle, their rights, their land. In all its messages - particularly the annual message of January 8th - it has always sought to take stock of how far the struggle is to attain these rights and what the new year's programme of action would look like.

The January 8th statement is therefore a statement of a nation.

This year, the statement will be delivered under dark clouds, a country under siege from one of the most devastating and deadly viruses the world has ever had to endure, with South Africa having lost more than 30,000 lives since it reached our country. Naturally, this year's January 8 statement will have to speak to this tragedy and how the next 12 months will be managed.

The past year

Year 2020 has been characterised by government's valiant effort to manage and contain the spread of the deadly and contagious coronavirus. Through public health communication, the minister of health and ANC National Executive Committee member Dr Zweli Mkhize has kept the nation informed with timely and accurate information, empowering all those who have been willing to do their part in ensuring they and others are protected from the virus.

To complete all this work, the January 8th statement must give the people an edge, a galvanising sense that can make the fight personal and a war-like courage to fight and stand up and make the victory over this virus a patriotic act. It should be a true defence of themselves and the nation against an invisible and deadly enemy. The statement must find the words to make all the sacrifice, discipline, feel like a bark of guns in defence of our survival.

ANC role in the COVID-19 fight

The role of the ANC, as we take stock of the bruising year that has been, has been rather subdued. For an organisation that has a footprint in every square kilometre in this country - a branch in every ward, presence and capacity to assist its government to instill the needed discipline and empathy - feels wasted and a great let down.

From the days of underground cells and exiled camps, ANC structures have always been the breeding nests of the most disciplined, informed and patriotic citizens. For structures that have literally built a nation and an army of credible, capable and disciplined citizens, it is unacceptable that the role of ANC branches in fighting this pandemic has been pitiful and almost non-existent.

The ANC in the past year, outside its governing responsibility, has missed an opportunity to assign practical responsibilities to each and every structure and cadre of the movement in the battle of our lifetime. ANC fabric has not fully played its role in monitoring and coordinating the efforts of government on the ground.

The people's power at local level, ward committees, community development forums and even community policing forums, to ensure community participation in our collective responsibility to save our county and the world, has also been meagre.

In 2021, the real battle against coronavirus must be won street by street, home by home, community by community and ANC braches have a huge role to play in making that happen.

The size of the fight

Three hundred days is a long time to live under quarantine for a people who cherish their hard-won life of liberty. The strain of not being able to go outside freely, the have look at your fellow man with suspicion and caution, to not visit granny in the villages as is most South African's annual pilgrimage, and to cut down on the usual treats of life has been too much to bear. As a result, many people have struggled to adjust to this new reality and have paid a high price, mostly with their lives. Yet more paid the price because of the ill discipline of others, especially those close to them.

Many of us feel that it is the government's responsibility to keep us safe from the virus. That is the primary task of any government - to protect its citizens against enemies, domestic and foreign. But unfortunately this is a different kind of enemy and government does not have the artillery and war chest to fight an invisible enemy alone.

The tools to fight this enemy are in us, in all of us. It is in us as individuals, as organised units and as collectives, and in all 60 million of us. As we take stock of the year that's been, it's important to look at what we have all done (and neglected to do) that has led to us having the kind of year we have had.

Hard choices and collective responsibility

The tough question is, what counts for the fact that at the time the virus was rising at alarming pace in other parts of the world, we made the sacrifices we needed to and got the results we desired? Today, our infection numbers and death rates are heartbreakingly high. Why have we brought so much misery and death to our lives with no clear end in sight? Why have we lost our battle with the virus when we started so courageously, so well?

We made the difficult decisions before and we can make them again, smarter, but more disciplined as a people to save our lives and our livelihoods.

What could these choices look like? By now, all of us know a person who does not wear a mask, who does not sanitise, who does not social distance, who parties, goes to funerals, buys alcohol from the black market, lives recklessly and we laugh it away until they are gasping for air in hospital and have infected many more. We can no longer allow such people to get away with this behavior - 30,000 thousand deaths is too much for us not to have courage to speak out to those people and report them if we must.

No one person in our circles of influence and concerns should be allowed to get away with contagious behavior in a virus that kills so quickly.

Given that 2021 will most likely give us the same monster to battle as 2020, we are given a unique challenge to correct the mistakes of last year.

In 2021, every community member, family member and citizen should let no day pass without actively doing something to lessen the spread of the virus. All of us, in our corners, homes, schools and work need to be active champions of fighting against the spread of this killer virus. The vigilance of public health workers needs to be our vigilance. The caution, the protocols and strict measures that are followed in the most vulnerable spaces needs to be our individual and collective responsibility.

We need to work harder this year to make discipline our life's core driver for those we have lost and those who are battling in hospitals, our families, our country, our home.

We need to treat COVID-19 as the struggle of our lifetime. Depending on how we individually and collectively respond, future generations will judge us as the people that altered the world they would inherit, setting them back by generations in human welfare and cumulative debt that did not go towards solving the problem - a generation that destroyed both what had been built in the past and the potential of the future.

The year ahead

We have to work hard in 2021. We have to make measurable and quick wins in the first quarter of 2021 to change the course of this year, otherwise it will be another wasted year.

In this year, we have to resolve with absolute certainty that we will end the pandemic and begin the work of healing our nation and building our communities. We should do that as an alliance of people, government, workers, health professionals and even critics.

All must do their part. Government must pump enough money into the economy to keep it afloat and even growing. We might fight corruption with the level of vengeance we have not witnessed before. We are facing too deadly an enemy to be dealing with frivolous things like people's insatiable greed. Companies must also dig deeper in their reserves to support people who have been supporting them - workers, customers and suppliers - because once this is over, relationships and how they were handled is going to matter most.


We must honor those who have left us by putting an end to this epidemic. If we do not do that, South Africa will soon lose its place as a leader on the continent, a continent that has done a better job at managing the spread of the virus than the rest of the world, and we will no longer be the gateway to the rest of Africa and a respected member of international organisations.

In 2021, let's end this thing.

Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on @yonela_diko.

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