What do you do when you need more clarity about your history lesson?
If you are the history department of Westerford High School in Cape Town, you invite a former president, to literally give you his firsthand experiences as he was part of that history and was among those who shaped South Africa’s future.
This afternoon former president Thabo Mbeki relived his experiences as an ANC member in exile, and as one of the ANC leaders who participated in “confidential talks” that led to the unbanning of liberation movements, the release of political prisoners and eventually brought about the new dispensation in 1994.
Mbeki gave a history lesson about the ANC in the 1980s, covering the so-called four pillars of the ANC at that time – mass mobilisation (inside the country), the armed struggle, underground organisation and international mobilisation.
The subject of discussion is part of the matric syllabus, and the school thought what a better way to learn about that period than hearing from the horse’s mouth.
They learnt about:
» How rugby bosses Louis Luyt and Danie Craven were amongst the first people to have secret meetings with the ANC in exile. There were also meetings with a number of business and religious leaders, the youth organisation and the trade unions.
» They also heard about a shouting match between the then Minister of Sports and Recreation FW de Klerk and Luyt over the latter’s talks with the ANC.
» Mbeki also spoke about how the apartheid government’s propaganda painted an image of the ANC as an organisation that would “nationalise swimming pools and nationalise wives”.
» There was no real armed struggle but individual acts of armed propaganda rather than a sustained armed struggle.
» That the ANC offered the sunset clause to the National Party, saying the ruling party at the time never asked for that clause but they were offered without asking.
According to South African History Online, a sunset clause is “a provision that terminates portions of the law after a specific date, unless further laws are made to extend it”.
Then it was time for questions; and the pupils didn’t hold back. They asked a wide-range of questions, not limited to the subject of discussion. One asked whether Mbeki thought South Africa had achieved what the ANC sought to achieve in the 1980s. “No!” was his emphatic answer.
“There is a lot of work to be done. There was an obvious need to eradicate the legacy of apartheid as you can see, well… it’s going to be a big struggle to do all these things.
“If you look at the human settlement areas in the country; they haven’t changed, it’s still the same apartheid patterns.
“Here in Cape Town, you can actually tell who stays where just by looking… up to today. That’s apartheid legacy,” he said.
Another wanted to know how South Africa could fix its economy whose growth has stalled since his departure from office, a question Mbeki treaded really carefully in answering.
He said he preferred talking about the 1980s economy but went on to talk about the 2008 economic meltdown and how it affected economies across the globe.
A parent sneaked in a question about succession in the ANC, asking whether Mbeki had a specific candidate that he thought should take over from President Jacob Zuma, a topic that Mbeki preferred not to discuss.
The former president even fielded a question from one of the leaders of the UCT’s Rhodes Must Fall movement, Chumani Maxwele who had gate-crashed the event.
Members of the history department James Bissett told City Press that they invited Mbeki a few months ago “to come and add onto what they were already learning as part of their matric syllabus”.
Bissett said they invited Mbeki, in particular, as a member of the ANC in exile who played a crucial role in the talks leading eventually to a democratic South Africa.
“It is something we thought he would be an expert on, be willing to talk about. It’s so exciting to get someone who was there as part of the history to come and explain it to you,” said Bissett.