ANC Moses Mabhida regional leaders attending Sunday’s United Democratic Front (UDF) 40th anniversary celebrations in Pietermaritzburg have been warned to stop purging the party’s veterans or risk losing next year’s crucial general elections.

Launched in 1983 as an umbrella body for organisations opposed to apartheid, the UDF, known for its mass mobilisation campaigns, became an effective weapon against apartheid.

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Addressing a crowd gathered at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall for the UDF’s 40th anniversary celebrations, SACP national chairperson, Blade Nzimande, said the current ANC leadership should view party stalwarts, most of whom participated in UDF campaigns in the early 1980s, as a “fountain of wisdom” rather than a threat.

We even hear stories that these comrades in some branches are being branded as the old ANC. They get told that there is now a new ANC. As a result, some of them end up not being active within the ANC. Of course, we do support the youth’s demand for a bigger role in the ANC, but this should not mean that older ANC cadres should be sidelined. They are a source of knowledge, and the new generation of ANC leader have a lot to learn from these old comrades.

Former ANC Moses Mabhida regional chairpersons were among those who attended the UDF event.
The UDF, which mobilised workers, the youth, religious groups and other formations in the struggle against apartheid, succeeded due to its mass-based campaigns.

“It was precisely because of the UDF’s mass mobilisation that the tide turned against the apartheid regime,” Nzimande, who was the key speaker at the event, said.

ANC MP and one of UDF’s prominent activist in the then Natal Midlands, Yunus Carrim, told the gathering that governing a diverse country such as South Africa was a mammoth task.

“We can’t do it on our own, we need strong alliances,” he said.

Similar to what the UDF did during the struggle against apartheid, Carrim said, the ANC should work closely with civic organisations.

The ANC, Carrim said, also needed to mobilise members of other race groups instead of only focusing on the black African constituency.

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The UDF 40th anniversary celebrations in Pietermaritzburg took place against concerns that the ANC, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, is overlooking members of other racial groups when it comes to the allocation of positions within the party.

While Carrim admitted that some of the people who supported the ANC during the liberation struggle have since “disassociated” themselves from the ruling party, he said leaving the ANC was not an option.

There is no other alternative to the ANC. Yes, there are some challenges but its even worse in opposition parties.

Former ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) president, Bathabile Dlamini, said there was a need for the ANC to look into issues of internal democracy.

“During the UDF period, people spoke freely — they were not afraid to express their views. But, if you look at what is happening now within the ANC, some people are not bold enough to speak their minds — they are scared of losing their positions,” she said.

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The UDF Pietermaritzburg event was organised by the ANC in the Moses Mabhida region.

ANC Moses Mabhida regional chairperson, Mzi Thebolla, who is also the Msunduzi Municipality mayor, said there was a lot which the ANC could learn from the UDF phase of the liberation struggle.

The current South Africa needs that level of activism. That phase of the UDF struggle is the one which forced the apartheid government to come to the negotiating table.