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The Idea of the ANC by Anthony Butler Launched with Ronnie Kasrils at The Book Lounge

Anthony Butler

The Idea of the ANCOn a hot Tuesday Cape Town evening in the basement of The Book Lounge, an eager group of readers and listeners gathered together for the launch of The Idea of the ANC by Anthony Butler. Butler was joined in conversation by Ronnie Kasrils, ANC member and former Minister for Intelligence Services.

The ANC’s progression from a liberation movement to a large political party, which seems to have strayed from some of its original moorings and doctrines, was roundly debated, with Butler consistently stating that what he looked for was the heart of the organisation. He was searching for what originally made it “tick” and, because he is not a historian in the formal sense, he approached the task of writing about the party as one would when they have a deep-seated curiosity about something. He researched official writing on the ANC, from the organisation itself, as well as writing about it from those deemed “outsiders”. When he found disparities between the two, it interested him even more and made him question the bounds of the power structures the organisation has built for and around itself.

Butler said he found an organisation that had changed and was struggling to maintain the façade of being the same party of Mandela and the old guard, when in fact it was manipulating its own story and history to suit its purposes. What fascinated Butler, he said as he conversed with one of the ANC’s own original insiders, was that it used the facts of its earlier existence to portray validity and to maintain some former glory even as its current crop of leaders were involved in self-enrichment, to the detriment of the same people who voted them in. He was interested in how the organisation maintained cohesion in the face of change, and sometimes a level of fracturing.

Kasrils offered a rounded view of what the ANC beginnings were all about, right up until the new dispensation in 1994. Butler seemed to sum up the current regime by mining anecdotes and instances from the organisation’s own history. After some time talking about how his own Marxist-Leninist views shaped him and his role within the ANC and within the SACP, Kasrils wound down the launch to say that the current struggle of the country was how the workers would deal with power, and how the ANC would have to respond to them. He and some members of the audience talked more about the failings of the ANC to address the class struggle, and workers’ rights. Butler ended off by saying “I’m not averse to a bit of class analysis”. Butler thanked Kasrils for his penetrating thoughts, which brought the insightful session to a close.

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Luso Mnthali tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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