(This article was first published on 14 April 2018 in the Weekend Argus, a weekly regional newspaper distributed in the Western Cape, South Africa.)
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Anti-apartheid activist Blanche la Guma has accused the ANC of selectively celebrating people who gave their lives to the Struggle, creating a narrow narrative of the past.
The ANC selected La Guma’s husband Alex la Guma, a well-known writer, to build solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement in the Caribbean until the 1980s.
The couple was exiled to Cuba during apartheid after being banned for anti-apartheid activism.
Alex had been charged with treason and faced house arrest. Blanche had been detained in solitary confinement.
Alex died in 1985 and Blanche, 90, now lives in Cape Town where they are from.
Blanche reflected on their time in Cuba at a public gathering at the District Six Museum in the city centre last week.
“Only recently when (president) Cyril Ramaphosa took over, a list of names were given out of people who took part in the Struggle. I listened because I knew a number of the names that were read out. Alex’s name was not there,” she said.
“From what I can gather that list is from 1976 (onward). What is not known is what went before that. Nobody knows about the 1950s.”
She added: “It is hurtful.”
Western Cape ANC secretary Faiez Jacobs was at the gathering and admitted the party was “not doing enough”.
“We need to find ways of celebrating those who are still with us. More can be done by the ANC to celebrate everybody’s role,” said Jacobs.
“That’s what the president committed to do when he said let’s remember the Struggle and the people that played a role. Along with Winnie’s (Madikizela Mandela) passing we are seeing a whole generation that played an instrumental role passing on.
“We must tell the stories of local heroes from Athlone and Simons Town. In the Western Cape we are going to have a programme to remember local heroes and honour them.”
Jacobs added: “We want Alex la Guma acknowledged and we will write a letter to the president to find a fitting way to do that. We also want to celebrate Blanche while she is alive.”
Jacobs also commented on the perception that the ANC’s selective narrative was leading to a racial representation that does not resemble its ideals of non-racialism.
“The ANC has a long history on non-racialism and heroes come from all quarters. We have people from the Cape Flats and hinterlands from our province,” said Jacobs.
“Our challenge is to celebrate it in a non-racial way. We need to debunk the notion that we have a selective approach to celebrate our heroes. We want to change the misperception that we only celebrate black African heroes.”
Fatima Swartz, secretary of the Friends of Cuba Society, said they organised Blanche’s talk because she “represents the authentic narrative of our struggle for democracy”.
“It is important to honour her role as women are many times understated. Her story documents the role of solidarity of the Cuban people in our struggle,” said Swartz.
She said the society held regular gatherings that highlighted the historical and contemporary links between South Africa and Cuba.
“The campaign to lift the economic blockade imposed by the USA on Cuba remains the key focus of our work. We use any opportunity to encourage South Africans to break the blockade by doing business with Cuba,” said Swartz.
“We also raise awareness to the occupation of Cuban land by the US at Gauntanamo Bay (a prison island). This prison in the base is an abomination to all freedom loving people and we support the call of the Cuban people for the return of their land.”