By Carl Niehaus
It is with increasing incredulity that one has been watching the recent developments concerning ANC Member of Parliament, Mervyn Dirks.
In order to understand why there is so much outrage among those of us who know comrade Dirks, about the manner in which he is being treated by those who are in control of the levers of power within the ANC - and in this instance especially the ANC Caucus - it is important that we remind ourselves about who this humble servant of our people, and loyal ANC comrade is.
I know comrade Mervyn as a dedicated ANC member, who takes his duties as a Member of Parliament (MP) very seriously, and has done excellent work in every position that the ANC parliamentary caucus deployed him to.
Comrade Mervyn has a long history as a grassroots community activist who started his political activism participating in the Happy Valley rent boycotts in the early 1980’s. His whole adult life was dedicated to the liberation struggle.
He joined the United Democratic Front (UDF), and became the organization’s head organizer in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. Before 1994 he was detained numerous times by the apartheid regime, and held in solitary confinement for many months.
With the dawn of democracy comrade Dirks became an ANC councillor of the Pietermaritzburg municipality. Following the 2006 local government elections he became a member of the Executive Committee of the Msunduzi Local Municipality, and was elected as Deputy Mayor. He was also elected as a member of the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. From 2014 onwards comrade Dirks became a Member of the National Assembly (NA). In June 2019 he became the Chief Whip of the ANC in the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA).
Why is it important that we remind ourselves about the long struggle history of comrade Mervyn Dirks?
Because the manner in which politics is currently being reported in our country - especially by the White Monopoly Capital controlled mainstream media - is a-historical, and it strives to deny those among us, who have expressed our concerns about the direction that the current leadership of the ANC are taking, the dignity of being given recognition for our long standing service in the liberation struggle.
I have been treated similarly, and thus I know the pain and indignity that can be inflicted.
Such treatment only serves to undermine our own identities as liberation struggle fighters, and adds insult to injury. Those of us who know comrade Mervyn, the personal sacrifices that he made in the liberation struggle, and the immense contribution that he made, dare not allow him to be treated so disdainfully. We dare not become complicit in the silencing, and public lynching, of a longstanding fellow comrade.
That is why I have decided to write this short piece to remind ourselves, firstly, of the liberation struggle credentials of comrade Dirks, and secondly, the real context within which the current ‘precautionary suspension’ by the ANC of comrade Dirks as an MP, should be understood. Having made the point that comrade Dirks is certainly no Johnny Come Lately in our liberation struggle, let me now deal with the latter.
By his own admission, in the letter that he had written to the Chairperson of the Standing Committee of Public Accounts (SCOPA), the Honorable Mkhuleko Hlengwa, comrade Mervyn agonized long and hard before he took the decision to request for President Ramaphosa to appear before SCOPA. I am aware that before having done so comrade Mervyn battled with this decision, and discussed it extensively with some of his fellow comrades.
The audio recording of President Ramaphosa acknowledging in an ANC NEC meeting that he is aware that public funds were/are misused for ANC party political activities disturbed him deeply, and shook him to the core of his being as a public representative who takes his duties very seriously.
What featured centrally in comrade Mervyn’s thinking, and what eventually convinced him to write the letter to the Chairperson of SCOPA, was the Oath of Allegiance that he took when he was sworn in as a Member of Parliament (MP).
In that Oath he swore to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and that he will obey, respect and uphold the Constitution and all laws of the Republic of South Africa.
Those of us who know comrade Mervyn, know that it is in his character to take such a commitment very personal and extremely seriously. Thus the letter that he wrote, requesting for President Ramaphosa to be called before SCOPA, must be understood in the context of the life of comrade Mervyn, and the kind of genuine and sincere comrade that he is.
It can never be seen as a betrayal of our party the ANC, and the leaders of the ANC, but as an act of faithfulness to his country and to our Constitution.
For comrade Mervyn to face a repressive suspension at the hands of the ANC Chief Whip, the Honourable Pemmy Majodina MP, who obviously acted under instruction of the ANC leadership, is not only shocking in its brutal audacity, but it is illegal and unconstitutional in as far as the initial letter by comrade Majodina instructed him to withdraw his letter to the Chairperson of SCOPA, and when he did not do so he was summarily placed on 'precautionary suspension'.
What an ironically revealing description for his suspension! As a 'precaution' to prevent the wrongdoing that the President, in his own words admitted to, from being further exposed?!
This evidently amounts to him being instructed NOT to play his oversight role as a Public Representative. Such an instruction can never pass constitutional muster.
What makes this whole sorry saga much worse is that in the history of our Constitutional Democracy there are examples of ANC Members of Parliament, such as the late comrade Ben Turok, having called on SCOPA and the parliamentary Ethics Committee to investigate allegations against senior fellow ANC comrades without having suffered any censure from the ANC, not even to speak of suspension, such as what comrade Mervyn is now faced with.
Once again there is no even handed and equal treatment. This is evidently an ‘Animal Farm’. The top pig, Napoleon, in George Orwell’s seminal novel says: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. To which Boxer, the side-kick pig and Napoleon’s main enforcer replies: “Napoleon is always right”.
The truth of the matter is that a comrade whose commitment and loyalty to our liberation struggle is unquestionable, and who on the basis of substantive evidence is trying his level best to execute his oversight duty as a Public Representative, is now selectively being targeted and persecuted.
This is the bare unjust essence of the matter concerning comrade Mervyn Dirks. No-one in the ANC who believes in fairness and justice can turn a blind eye to what is being done in the name of our Liberation Movement. As ANC members we have a revolutionary duty to stand up and say: NOT IN OUR NAME!
If we allow what is happening now to continue, we will not only allow a gross injustice being perpetrated against a fellow comrade, we will ultimately allow the critical oversight role of Parliament to be eroded and eventually destroyed.
Each one of us will eventually become the victims of such mafiosi-style politics of intimidation and repression.
We should remind ourselves of that unsettling quote by the German theologian, Martin Niemöller, who warned during the early days of Hitler’s reign, when the Nazis similarly attacked the German Constitution and the oversight role of MP’s of the Weimar Republic in the Reichstag (German parliament): “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no-one left to speak out for me”.
It is critical for all of us who believe in justice, and who are committed to upholding our constitutional democracy, to speak out against what is now being done to comrade Mervyn Dirks.
Failure to do so will have further severe consequences that all of us will surely live to regret.
*Ambassador Carl Niehaus, is a former member of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC). He is an ANC veteran, and served as South Africa's ambassador in The Netherlands.