After former President Jacob Zuma’s recent appearance in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, last Friday (30 November 2018), where MKMVA members, including myself, joined him in MK combat uniform, a certain Mr. Leon-David Viljoen wrote the following on my Facebook wall (see the quote below). I responded to Mr. Viljoen as follows, and I thought it useful to share my response with a wider audience.
THE FACEBOOK POST BY MR. VILJOEN: “Dear Mr Niehaus, like you I am an Afrikaans speaking South African. It is how I identify myself. Secondly and just as critical in my thinking is that I am African, my roots firmly entrenched in this continent. My skin color provided me with opportunities to study and have the benefit of a privileged education. It also opened doors that others did not have access to and for that I am grateful but at the same time saddened by the fact that so much human potential was lost through a discriminatory system that judge people on their appearance alone. That does bring me to the point of my mail. A soldier dresses for war, it is the basis on which he (or she) argues their cause. They take up arms to defend and if needed to sacrifice for a cause. Conscripts, soldiers, career militia all define this as their sole objective, for some it is money for others it is power. I look at all the people of my generation who reflect in anger on national service and how others have claimed and stole the right to think for themselves. I pity those who still have a tunic in a cupboard with their boots and beret neatly folded, but I do respect those who can turn around and say we fought and we should not have, this should have been avoided.
I see you in a soldiers uniform, I am sure you too have been in many a battle and the scars run deep (your history is well documented) but it is time for a new uniform, I simply can not agree with the way that the new militia and I include the red berets claims the right to war for if that is what the focus is then we have a new battle on hand. Not one about the Nkandla’s and the Guptas, but one about the battle for dignity as that is a cause that I can respect.”
MY REPLY TO MR. VILJOEN: “Leon-David Viljoen my apology for having taken some time to respond to this thoughtful message from you. I had a bit of a hectic weekend, and I did not want to respond to you in a rush, because you deserve for me to respond to with careful consideration and in detail. Yes, you are correct we are both South Africans whose mother tongue is Afrikaans. I am glad to read that you consider yourself to be an African, rooted in this lovely African continent of ours. I am especially glad that you acknowledge that you were/are privileged because of your white skin color, and I am sure from the tone of your message that you would agree with me that white South Africans have to acknowledge that they have unjustly benefitted from the opportunities and the wealth of this country, because of racist apartheid policies that benefitted them at the cost of the majority of black South Africans (especially Africans), and that restitution in favor of black South Africans is an absolute necessity for any semblance of justice in our country.
A critically important part of the long history of the liberation struggle was the huge contribution of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the liberation army of the ANC. The members of MK were/are South Africans who joined the people’s liberation army as poor and downtrodden South Africans, and got trained as soldiers to fight apartheid. They did all of this at great personal cost. They often left their families behind, crossed the borders into neighboring countries at great risk, and went for military training as far away as the then Soviet Union and Cuba. After they have received training they returned and fought on the battle fields of Angola, together with the MPLA and Cuban troops against the SADF invaders, and their UNITA surrogates.
They joined ZAPU in military operations against the Rhodesian Army, and returned to the underground in South Africa to fight the apartheid regime here. Often these courageous liberation fighters paid the ultimate sacrifice, and laid down their lives in the liberation war against racist oppression. Those who have survived still carry many physical and psychological scars. We were the soldiers of the poor, in a poor and down trodden people’s liberation army, fighting for freedom and basic human dignity.
We are disciplined liberation cadres who understand that political analyses always comes first, and that no liberation soldier can ever operate without a proper political foundation. As disciplined liberation fighters, steeped in liberation politics we have accepted the negotiating process that led to an end of the armed struggle, and a negotiated settlement.
As disciplined soldiers we also accept and defend the South African Constitution, and our young democracy. MKMVA was established as the custodian of the rich liberation struggle traditions of MK, and to take care of all MK veterans. It should never, and can never, be mentioned in the same breath as militias, whether it is the ‘red berets’ (to use your words), or any other paramilitary groupings.
MKMVA does not hanker back to war, our members are disciplined liberation fighters who are committed to peace and full justice. Such full justice must include full economic liberation of black (especially African) South Africans, to the point where black South Africans will truly own and control the South African economy.
Honesty demands from us to acknowledge that this is not yet the case, and that white monopoly capitalists still control our economy, and continue to exploit the majority of black South Africans. MKMVA, in the proud tradition of MK’s commitment to full liberation – which must include the Second Phase of our National Democratic Revolution (NDR) – will never rest until that is achieved.
At the very heart of achieving this is the return of the land that was stolen from the black people (especially African people) by white colonists, who have a direct lineage to the current white monopoly capitalists (WMC). That is why we in MKMVA are such ardent proponents of Radical Economic Transformation (RET), and are committed to the expropriation of land without compensation.
We do not don the MK combat fatigues in order to declare and get ready for war, we wear it as a respectful acknowledgement and remembrance of the liberation battles where we come from, and in reverence to our fellow liberation soldiers, who have laid down their lives for our freedom. When I wear the MK uniform I do so with a great sense of reverence, and in acknowledgement of the huge sacrifices of my fellow MK soldiers. I do not do so lightly, because I know the traditions of MK.
In the instance of wearing the MK combat uniform when joining former President Jacob Zuma when he appears in court, it is a very deliberate act of acknowledging that Msholozi was one of the most successful and revered commanders of MK. The visible presence of MKMVA at those court appearances, as the custodian of the values of MK and representative of all MK veterans, is critical in making it clear that we will not forsake a fellow soldier and commander who fought for the liberation of South Africa. Our visible MKMVA presence in MK uniform, as proud liberation soldiers steeped in the rich traditions of MK, states for all to see and hear that we will never forsake Msholozi as our commander (in fact former Commander in Chief), and leave him behind on the battle field.
So when my fellow MKMVA members and I put on the MK uniform, we say all of this – and I repeat that we do so with the greatest of reverence. Wearing the MK uniform is a deliberate and sacred act of expressing our continuing commitment to the full liberation of our people. I understand the heavy responsibility that rests on my shoulders when I wear the MK uniform that is revered by so many South Africans, who know that MK soldiers literally fought for their liberation, and spilled their blood in the first line of defense for their basic human dignity.
Wearing the MK uniform is not an act of war, nor threatening violence, it is a disciplined expression of commitment to the full liberation of our people, and reemphasizing and renewing that commitment to this very day. Those who are derogatory to me, or any other MK liberation fighter, for proudly wearing the MK uniform are therefore insulting all of our liberation struggle traditions.
There are journalists like Ranjeni Munusamy and Karien du Plessis (among others), who make fun of me and other comrades wearing the MK uniform. They even go as far as calling it “Pep Store overalls”, in doing so they insult all and every member of MK, including those who have laid down their lives in the liberation struggle. They expose themselves as shallow bigots who have no respect for the liberation struggle, and for the sacrifices that have been made. The reality is that they literally show the proud liberation army, and its members, the middle finger. In doing so they expose themselves for the reactionary, counter revolutionaries, that they are. They are provocative in the extreme. They must understand that we in MKMVA who, as I have said, are the custodians of the proud history and unfinished liberation task of the ANC and of MK, will not allow this kind of provocation and desecration of our struggle credentials to continue. They need to be called out and exposed, every patriotic South African needs to know who they are, and they must carry in public the shame and consequences of their despicable conduct. Enough is enough!
We in MKMVA will take them head-on within the parameters of what the law and our Constitution allow us to do. The time has come for them to face the consequences of their provocative actions. They cannot literally urinate on the graves of our liberation fighter ancestors, and then try to hide behind the flimsy excuse that they have a right to freedom of speech. We are not fooled by any of this sophistry. No! We understand very clearly that there are limits to freedom of speech, especially when the words these reactionary journalists write and speak are nothing else but a desecration of our liberation struggle, and trying to stoke on hatred against those who were the greatest fighters for liberation and our proud MK traditions. Leon-David Viljoen this is very much part of the battle for dignity that you write about, and we will always fight for the dignity of our people.”
Issued by Carl Niehaus, MKMVA NEC Member, and National Spokesperson.