A time for real reflection

Posted on August 10, 2020


(Published on Fin24 platform, August 7, 2020)

The annual Women’s Day anniversary is upon us. Like other anniversaries, it can serve a useful purpose in reminding us of past events and, in so doing, help us to have a better understanding of where we are now — and where we may be going.

But that is only if anniversary celebrations are honest reflections that take in as much of the past as we can discover. All too often, they are not honest and indulge in distortion, half-truths and outright fakery. When this happens, they can serve to promote particular agendas or confuse our views of the past.

Over recent weeks there have been two classic examples: the heavily promoted “celebration of the 84th birthday of SAfm” and announcements about the preparation for the centennial celebrations of the SA Communist Party (SACP) next year. Both leave out essential aspects of their pasts.

Yet what is left out or fudged are perhaps crucial aspects that deserve, at the very least, to be exposed to the public. In the debates and discussions that should follow, we could all become better equipt to deal with the future by gaining a much clearer understanding of what went before and the effect the past has had on the present.

The SABC, for example, has existed as a state-owned broadcaster since 1936, but SAfm only came into being in 1995. In between, there were different names for various SABC stations, and, throughout much of this time, the national broadcaster, in all it forms, was a propaganda service. This was true during World war 2 and, certainly from 1948 until the transition from apartheid, it was largely the mouthpiece of that government within a government, the Afrikaner Broederbond.

How much of a political plaything the SABC became during different periods of its existence is something that should be openly discussed and clarified. That would be the best way of celebrating 84 years of what was always supposed to be a public — not state — broadcaster.

Perhaps, just as importantly, the SACP should openly discuss the history of communism in South Africa, back to the support for the white miners’ strike of 1922 and the controversial strikers’ slogan: “Workers of the world unite for a white South Africa.” Crucially, there should be an honest and transparent appraisal about the reasons for — and the dissolution of — the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) before it was banned in 1950.

An apparent minority in the CPSA opposed the dissolution, and it was only in 1953 that a group of former CPSA members came together to form the underground SA Communist Party (SACP). There seems no need now to hide this history, and especially the relationship between the ANC leadership of Chief Albert Luthuli and the then emergent armed struggle, along with the involvement of Nelson Mandela.

The actions of many of these anti-apartheid fighters, often reported on — and denigrated by — the SABC, as well as the way in which such reports were presented, would be a useful educational exercise. But there are also other anniversary dates over this Covid-19 period that could serve the same purpose, especially as Women’s Day looms at a time when the lockdown has closed the childcare sanctuaries for millions of pre-school children and caused widespread hunger.

One such could be the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the Blouvlei nursery school and health centre in Cape Town, just one week before the adoption in Kliptown, Johannesburg, of the Freedom Charter on June 26, 1955. The driving force behind this venture was Dora Tamana, a survivor of the Bulhoek massacre, a mother, early education advocate, trade unionist, ANC leader and communist.

She was supported by two friends, Jean Bernadt and Margaret Molteno who had founded Cape Town’s iconic Maynardville Open Air Theatre as a fund raising venture for nursery schools in Athlone. Or, even earlier, in Johannesburg, there was the work of Monica Lolwane, Emma Brosius and Katie Kagan, whose names are commemorated in still existing childcare centres.

Their names may be known, but little of their work, dreams and plans are remembered today. And they were not alone: there were many more women — and some men — whose names may never be known who worked, often against incredible odds, for the rights of young children.

However, their ultimate aim was to make a reality of the goals now enshrined in the South African Bill of Rights. And this document provides a clear road map to the sort of future they envisaged.

In 1981, then aged 80, and speaking to younger women about all those who had battled over the decades, Dora Tamana, noted: “We have opened the road for you.”

Today that road remains open, with its established potholes and barriers ahead, and now cluttered with the detritus of Covid-19 bureaucracy. But a road map also exists, along with apparently increasing numbers of women and men prepared to repair the surface and clear the way to a better future.

And that future, as always, belongs to the children of today.

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