ANC cadres are revolutionaries no more

“ANC cadres owe their first loyalty to the revolution,” I heard Cabinet Minister Jeff Radebe say on the weekend.

One hears ANC leaders talk about “the revolution” virtually every day. Their official goal is still the “national democratic revolution”.

They still call each other comrade. At every meeting and rally they still shout Amandla! – although nowadays this is mostly exclaimed from the stage in an attempt to restore order or to shut up dissidents.

Revolution my backside.

The ANC’s faux revolutionaries are more interested in enriching themselves, empowering their rich business partners, enjoying Johnny Walker Black, blue light convoys, five star hotels and first class flights than in the plight of the ordinary people.

Or, to use the definition of revolution, to overthrow the existing social order.

Exactly thirty years ago, in July 1987, I met a realAfrican revolutionary: Thomas Sankara, then president of Burkina Faso.

I was in the company of Thabo Mbeki, Van Zyl Slabbert and a few other South Africans when Sankara met us for a chat in his presidential house in Ouagadougou.

Sankara overthrew the corrupt and oppressive government of Upper Volta in a military coup in 1983 and renamed the dirt poor country Burkina Faso, land of the upright people.

He immediately slashed the salaries of cabinet ministers, senior bureaucrats and the president himself and ordered all to only use economy class flights. He banned police escorts for VIPs and most bodyguards.

He sold the long, black official Mercedeses of the ministers and officials and replaced them with small Renaults and Peugeots. I saw him drive around in an old Peugeot 404 with a cracked windscreen.

Sankara’s philosophy embodied anti-imperialism, self-reliance instead of depending on aid and a restoration of national pride and sovereignty.

He broke the power of traditional tribal chiefs.

He did everything he could to eradicate poverty and restore the dignity and confidence of his people.

He made radical changes to the health and education systems and fired under-performing teachers and civil servants.

He launched ambitious agrarian reform projects and had millions of trees planted to combat desertification.

He gave tens of thousands of people jobs by having them build houses, roads and a railwayline instead of borrowing money and contracting big companies.

Sankara was the first African head of state to agitate for equal rights for women. He even ordered that women stay at home on Women’s Day while their husbands do the shopping, cooking and taking care of the children.

“We must produce what we consume,” was one his mantras. He boasted at international conferences that he only wore clothes from locally produced cotton, spun, designed and made by locals.

He often clashed with the former colonial master, France, and publicly criticised its co-opting of ruling elites in Francophone Africa. He publicly confronted president Francois Mitterand during an official state visit for allowing South African president PW Botha to travel to France. He spoke out against the corruption of the governments of neighbouring countries like Cote d’Ivoire.

While we were in Ouagadougou, we attended a hearing of the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in a local stadium where civil servants and politicians accused of corruption were tried in public.

It was more about public humiliation than heavy sentences, because in most cases it involved a few hundred rand or less.

We also witnessed civil servants doing physical exercises before work in the mornings, because Sankara encouraged all Burkinabe to be active and healthy.

And yes, in the end Sankara went too far by banning trade unions and opposition parties and allowing the Revolutionary Defence Committees to abuse their power.

His deputy and old friend, Blaise Compaoré, hungered after power and conspired with Sankara’s internal and external enemies. He had Sankara executed just two months after we met him and Compaoré became president. (He was ousted after a violent revolt in 2014 and fled to Cote d’Ivoire to avoid prosecution.)

Self respect. Human dignity. National sovereignty. Put the citizens’ interest first and the poor people’s foremost.

Eradicate corruption, state capture and abuse of power. Clean up state-owned enterprises.

Good schools for every child, affordable tertiary education, proper skills training and a humane, functioning national health system.

Make the civil service lean and efficient.

Use all available resources to empower people and give them a stake in the economy to undermine inequality.

Give people enough free urban land to live on and provide land and support for all those who want to be farmers.

Restore the integrity of the criminal justice system and the efficiency and accountability of the police, special investigation units and SARS.

Implement the national development plan and do everything possible to grow the economy and create job opportunities, because social and economic transformation is virtually impossible during a recession.

When you start doing this, comrades of the ANC, you may call yourself revolutionaries once again.