Tshidi Madia, News24
Kgalema Motlanthe (File)
Motlanthe made the remarks while speaking to journalists in Houghton, Johannesburg, on Wednesday night after he had delivered a keynote address in honour of three ANC stalwarts at the John Nkadimeng branch in the suburb.
Wally Serote, Keorapetse Kgositsile and Mandla Langa were honoured by the branch for their contribution through art, culture and literature during the struggle for liberation.
“If you own up to the truth and take responsibility, people would be able to identify that,” said Motlanthe, reflecting on the ANC’s handling of the Nkandla saga.
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Next week marks a year since the highest court in the land handed down a damning judgment against President Jacob Zuma and Parliament over his refusal to pay for non-security upgrades to his private home as ordered by former public protector Thuli Madonsela.
The Constitutional Court found that through his actions Zuma failed to uphold, defend and protect the Constitution. The ANC had also been criticised for its own response and handling of the matter.
Motlanthe said the ANC had committed its fair share of mistakes but that the question was whether or not the party was able to draw the right lessons out of the errors.
There are three cardinal sins human beings commit, said Motlanthe.
The first one, he said, could be a case where a thief takes someone’s belongings. “If they come back and still find all of those intact they will go out and say this person changed, is no longer a thief,” explained the former president.
He said in the second scenario, a person could be a “thug” but runs away when given the opportunity to kill those who witness the act.
“But if you are a liar and don’t tell the truth, the punishment, the penalty is for people not to believe you even when you are telling the truth. Because when you say: ‘No, you know what I was telling you yesterday is not quite the whole truth but what I am telling you now is the truth’. What do you believe?” he asked.
He said the scenario was also relevant to the organisation, explaining that all people want from the ANC is the truth.
“If you don’t learn from mistakes, then chances are that you will repeat those mistakes and of course the electorate, the nation at large, will only go along with the ANC if indeed it’s convincing in its contrition, not only by words, but in action,” said Motlanthe.
‘Art complemented political work’
The former president spoke fondly about the three artists’ contributions to the liberation movement, and emphasised that the reach artists have in society is far wider than that of political parties.
He said during the struggle for liberation artists such as Serote, Kgositsile and Langa provided an outlet for comrades to clarify their thoughts on some of the pressing issues of the day.
“The works of art complemented political work through providing means of self-reflection,” said Motlanthe.
In what was largely seen as a jab at the ANC, he said artists should not be limited to being used by political parties. The party relies, to some extent, on artists to campaign on its behalf in communities, especially ahead of elections.
“In virtue of their reputation on this and other accounts, artists tend to have a far wider reach than political parties, thus it’s ill-advised for governing parties to expect artists to pledge personal support to them, so they put their craft at the service of narrow party ends,” he said.
He also weighed in on some of the growing incidents of racism in the country, warning against leaders chasing after each incident or individual said to be racist.
“If the leadership spends an inordinate amount of time chasing after backward-thought people they’ll never have time to focus on real issues that take this country forward,” said Motlanthe.
He said leaders are meant to point the country towards the future, and the way to do that in these instances is to work on addressing racism from a systemic and economic perspective.
Motlanthe said some of the stalwarts at the event were openly backing Stanley Letsoalo who is a councillor candidate in the ward, which is home to the former president and his predecessor Thabo Mbeki. Former president Nelson Mandela was also based in the area.
Motlanthe said Letsoalo was a young leader, which he believed is what the ANC needs.
“When you have older people in office the mantra is ‘as it was, so shall it be’, and that’s a barrier to progress. This is why we endorse the young, fresh ideas,” he said.
He also emphasised that the only way to groom young people is to give them responsibility.
Motlanthe, who has been mentioned in some circles as the ideal person to take over from Zuma when he steps down in December, dismissed the calls again, instead reiterating his belief that it was time for the younger generation to be given a chance to lead.