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Dennis Bloem hopes that the commemoration of the UDF in August will begin to make South Africans think of an alternative rule of government

The United Democratic Front (UDF) was founded in 1983 to establish a non-racial, united South Africa in which segregation is abolished and in which society is freed from institutional and systematic racism. The slogan was, ‘UDF unites, Apartheid divides’. There were national patrons like Govan Mbeki, Dr Allan Boesak, President Nelson Mandela, Helen Joseph, Ahmed Kathrada, and many others. The national executive had three Presidents; Archie Gumede, Oscar Mpetha, and Albertina Sisulu. Popo Molefe was the National Secretary, while Terror Lekota was the National Publicity Secretary. There were two vice Presidents, regional Secretaries, and additional executive members.

Dr Boesak proposed a Front with civic organisations, churches, trade unions, student organisations, and sports bodies. A conference was held on 23 January 1983, and his proposal was accepted. It was not a formal proposal, but part of his speech.

The people associated with the UDF were respectable people who loved to serve the country and not serve themselves like we see now. One must just know about some of the names associated with the UDF to confirm this. People like Rev Chikane, the late Mos Chikane, Rev Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, the late Walter Sisulu, Cheryl Carolus, Trevor Manual, Joe Phaahla, and many more.

The apartheid government did everything in their power to oppress the black masses of South Africa by banning all political parties. The UDF acted as a force to be reckoned with in the absence of political parties because it was a conglomeration of so many other organisations. Indeed, to unite about 400 different organisations was no mean feat. Pressure started mounting on the apartheid government and its legitimacy was slowly fading. The UDF was so effective that it took them only seven years to bring the apartheid government to its knees and the late President FW De Klerk announced the unbanning of all political parties. The following year, he announced the release of political prisoners.

It is my belief that, currently, the country needs the spirit of the UDF, the one of uniting people for a common purpose. I believe that the revival of the UDF is what the country needs. The then UDF slogan is still relevant—‘UDF unites, corruption divides’. This slogan is even more relevant in that those in power are fighting against each other. While they fight against each other, the problems of this country remain and are getting worse. Poverty is increasing, lack of education, crime, and unemployment are on the rise. Those in power do not have the interest of this country at heart. The name United Democratic Party was not only a name, but the unity within UDF did not discriminate against race or gender like it is happening now. That is why UDF had people like Elias Motswaledi, Govan Mbeki, Dorothy Nyembe, Cheryl Carolus, Vali Moosa, Dr Allan Boesak, Trevor Manuel, the late Prof Ishmael Mohammed, the late Mewa Ramgobin, Dr Beyers Naude (Oom Bey), and Helen Joseph. They were in the forefront and were highly appreciated and respected. There was no discrimination against anyone.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think the leadership of the UDF erred at the time the ANC asked them to disband. Some of the senior leaders of the ANC were opposed to this idea because their argument was that the UDF leaders understood the problems of grassroots people because they were working with them. I need not tell how South Africa has deteriorated since 1994. Many believe that South Africa is gradually becoming a failed state. If it is not a failed state, it is on its way there. It is a failing state. It is failing because those in power are not interested in bettering the lives of the citizens of this country. It will be appropriate for them to change their slogan from ‘a better life for all’ to ‘a better life for some’.

Men and women of South Africa believed in the aims and objectives of the UDF and were willing to sacrifice with their lives. The apartheid government killed many members of the UDF and many remain unaccounted for to date. I write with no fear of contradiction that had the UDF continued to exist, South Africa would have been a better place. After 1994, some of the leaders of the UDF became members of the government and took up senior positions in the government.

One can make one’s own analysis about the calibre of their leadership. Trevor Manuel was one of the best Ministers of Finance this country has seen. None of those members have been associated with corruption. They understood that their role is to better the lives of South Africans and not to make it worse. It is painful to hear people coming from apartheid rule comparing the apartheid government with the current government. It is so unfortunate that the present government has made the apartheid government shine. They made it to look good.

The ruling party has made many of its former and current members think long and hard about the direction that our country is taking and are looking at alternative ways of ruling SA, where the leaders will serve their people and not the other way round. The commemoration of the UDF planned in August is but one of the ways of mobilising society to adopt the philosophy of the UDF, that of uniting South Africa for the benefit of South Africans. The divisions along racial lines and gender are not serving the interest of progress. All races have a place in the land of their birth, South Africa. Black and white need to harness their skills for the betterment of this country.

The commemoration of the UDF will be an important milestone in changing the direction of our country. The servant leadership was at the heart of UDF leaders. One may ask about Dr Allan Boesak, who was taken to jail because he was accused of embezzling funds. The truth of the matter is that Dr Boesak never embezzled money. There were many people who benefited from the money that was in the care of Dr Boesak. I personally made it my mission to make sure that he is released from jail. None of the leadership of those in power were interested in releasing him from jail. It is laughable that today, the Zondo Commission has pointed out that many of the leaders of the government have either directly or indirectly benefited from corruption and none are in jail.

I may venture into saying that, currently, I submit that Dr Boesak may be the right person to lead this country. I need not go into explaining the saga of Popo Molefe when he indicated to the leadership of the government that there was corruption at Transnet and he was ignored.

Trevor Manuel was a very good Minister of Finance who can still be in government today. He was worked out of government because he refused to be corrupted. People like Cheryl Carolus can still make a very good contribution to a stable government.

Many of the people who sacrificed their time in fighting the apartheid government are left to hang. Their sacrifices have amounted to nothing. They are poor and are beggars. They remain unskilled. They have not benefited from their commitment to dismantle apartheid.

It is my hope that the commemoration of the UDF in August will begin to make South Africans think of an alternative rule of government; and that the servant leadership becomes the order of the day for anyone who wants to rule this country.

Dennis Bloem is a former activist of The United Democratic Front (UDF).

By Editor