Being liberated from the liberators

by Craig Nudelman

In 1994 the African National Congress (ANC), led by Nelson Mandela, won the first democratic elections in South Africa.

Although their leaders have changed and we have seen five presidents in office since, the ruling party and their political agenda has governed over South Africa. Today we see a party where infighting is tearing it apart, weakening both the ANC and South Africa. 27 years of democracy has not resolved many of the problems we had in 1994. And try as they might, challengers to the ANC, in the guise of the Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, and other political parties, have not been able to effectively oust the ruling party (at a national level).

The liberation movement that was the ANC has led South Africa into socio-economic issues beyond the scope of this column. However, it is not the only liberation movement to do so. Across Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, liberation movements have created havoc with political and socio-economic environments. The pattern of problematic leadership by liberation movements is also not limited to the past 100 years. In fact history repeats itself, and no more so than what happened in the aftermath of our own Festival of Lights, Chanukah.

I have written in a previous column about the ‘miracle’ that was Chanukah and the reason that we celebrate it (there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day but it lasted for eight). The oily food, Chanukah gelt, and our prayers celebrate how the Maccabees defeated the Greeks (actually Seleucid Hellenists from modern-day Syria), and that we reclaimed our Jewish state. The reality of Chanukah is that it was a bloody civil war, led by the Maccabees, between traditionalists and reformists. It also began the 103-year Hasmonean dynasty that, one could argue, led to the delegitimisation of the Jewish state and created the stage for the Roman occupation of Judea and the subsequent destruction of the 2nd Temple.

Although it is hard to compare the Constitutional democracy we have in South Africa and a monarchy in the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE, there are similarities between the corruption of the state. The Maccabees fought against the Hellinised Jews through a series of guerilla tactics, and not necessarily against a foreign armed force. The ANC wanted to defeat a South Africa where non-whites tried to reform the past to show that the Africans were not capable of ruling themselves, installing a racist and colonial regime.

The Chanukah revolution was a breeding ground for a proxy war between the Seleucids and the Romans. After five years of war and guerilla tactics, Judah, our main protagonist, wanted to make an alliance with the Romans. With the growth of Rome and their desire to conquer other empires, this made complete sense. Although this pans out in the immediate victory over the Seleucids and the restoration of religious freedom in Judea, the continuation of the war and the subsequent Hasmonean rulers went back and forth between Roman and Seleucid allegiance until complete Roman intervention in 63 BCE. This is when, after 66 years of full independence, Judea became a Roman protectorate and client of Rome until 4 BCE, when King Herod lost Judea’s complete independence.

This is similar to the ANC and apartheid South Africa being proxies during the Cold War. The National Party (NP) was against the communists, warning South Africans of die rooi gevaar (the red danger) and siding with ‘the West’. Contrastingly, the ANC and other anti-apartheid organisations were part of the Communist revolution, Cuba being a major ally during the war in South West Africa.

After the rededication of the Temple, the Hasmonean dynasty began. The issue with the Hasmoneans was that they were part of the Kohanim, or priests, and technically were not allowed to rule over Judea. The tribe of Judah leading Judea and the Priests guiding them in the way of the Torah’s principles guaranteed a separation between Church (shul?) and state, ensuring accountability. The infighting over who would become the Kohein Gadol, the High Priest, was intense. The respect and honour of being the Kohein Gadol gave more nachas than any Jewish parent could klub. Out of the ten Hasmonean rulers, eight were also the Kohein Gadol, a position which was given out of greed rather than earned by divine right. The priesthood became a political position instead of one which was godly and inspirational.

The ANC shows this trait in a different way. The separation between the three spheres of government is paramount to a successful democracy, with the executive (president), legislature (parliament), and judiciary (the courts) holding each other accountable. Since 1994 the ANC has continued to have more than 57 percent of the vote (the 2019 elections being the worst performance since the first election). The President is elected by parliament, and as such the presidency will always go to the leader of the elected party. With the ANC in charge, the oversight that parliament should have over the executive and the laws it wants to impose over South Africa is almost non-existent. There is almost no accountability, which has allowed corruption to taint South Africa and turning it into a failing state (I won’t say a failed state, yet).

As Jacob Zuma often said at his opening of Parliament during his tenure, the ANC had a “good story to tell”. The story of Chanukah is also a good story to tell. However, we need to see what happened in Judea, which led to the destruction of Jewish self-determination, and South Africa, which created a state tainted with corruption and cronyism. However, we can’t always see doom and gloom. Let’s hope that we can still see a glimmer of light for the future of South Africa during this Festival
of Lights.

Chag Chanukah Sameach!

• Published in the PDF edition of the November 2021 issue – Click here to get it.

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