Moses Mabhida Eulogy: Blatant Propaganda

Eulogies to what are termed “struggle icons” have become commonplace in Independent Newspapers, the one on Moses Mabhida (June 8) being a case in point. In terms of free expression, there can be no substantial objection to historic recollections just as the Mercury carries the series by Catherine and Michael Greenham depicting early twentieth century Natal. However, the difficulty with articles about ANC “struggle icons” is that they are purely eulogistic and, therefore, devoid of objectivity and context.

The only objective aspect of Vusi Shongwe’s lengthy tribute to Moses Mabhida concerns his lament that Mabhida “would decry the present era where the moral compass ….has lost its bearings where an avowed distaste for individual possession of wealth has been replaced by a merciless contest in conspicuous consumption.”Well said, Dr Shongwe, and too true!

But in acknowledging that Mabhida was an avowed Marxist-Leninist, does Shongwe really believe that if Mabhida’s ideology had triumphed we would be free today? The Soviet Union, with which he was closely aligned and enjoyed material support, prohibited democracy and freedom. Instead, it coerced socio-economic mediocrity.

Also absent from Shongwe’s tribute is the role of Mabhida as a hardline commissar within the SACP. Although sympathetic to the ANC, Stephen Ellis in his book External Mission – the ANC in Exile (2012), notes that Mabhida was a feared and powerful figure within the SACP security apparatus and Central Committee. He was directly involved in repressive measures carried out in the notorious Quatro detention camp and the Shishita purge of 1979-1981. Executions and savage beatings were rife. Often victims were left tied to trees for days (pp. 154; 172-173).

The omission of such facets is at odds with Shongwe’s account of Mabhida as an avuncular figure. History without context and attempts at objectivity degenerates into propaganda.

Regardless of the persuasion of past figures, unless publication thereof is reasonably dispassionate and objective, articles such as the one by Shongwe on Moses Mabhida constitute blatant propaganda.

Sent into The Mercury and published, 10 June 2018.

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