Blade Nzimande. Picture: SIYASANGA MBAMBANI
Blade Nzimande wears three crowns, says the writer. Picture: SIYASANGA MBAMBANI

ONE OF the by-products of the African National Congress’s slow, painful implosion is hypocrisy. To be sure, it was there at the best of times but, when chaos and confusion becomes the order of the day, hypocrisy becomes ubiquitous. And today it’s everywhere.

Without moral authority there are no consequences for doublespeak. Both words and consistency are stripped of meaning and value alike. And the urgency of the contemporary crisis means the public mind is generally distracted from those positions and arguments previously put forward. Hypocrisy fairly thrives in this sort of environment. The South African air is heavy with it.

In the thick of all that fog is Blade Nzimande, South African Communist Party (SACP) secretary-general, Minister of Higher Education, and a Jacob Zuma devotee. Of his three loyalties, history will probably record his endearing commitment to the latter as the most egregious. Ironically, Nzimande will be thankful for that: it will help hide a shameful record regarding the other two.

On the grand spectrum of relative failure that should tell you everything you need to know.

They sit uncomfortably, these three crowns. Like magnets with only one pole, slowly being forced together.

Daily, he lives out an ideological contradiction. His party, which is committed to the socialist ideal, watches as the government it has helped form squirms and winces every time the watchdogs of global capitalism suggest another credit rating downgrade is due.

There was a time when the SACP had its young guns to turn to. A few years ago the Young Communist League (YCL) would at least have put up a good fight, even as its national counterpart became, by association, ever more enmeshed in the international market. But today, the Economic Freedom Fighters have eaten it alive. Does the YCL even exist anymore?


IT’S typical of the party’s irrelevance. In the national fight for socialism, the SACP under Nzimande has been reduced to a hapless bystander, occasionally waxing unlyrical in antiquated language about the noble battle it’s committed to, but, in truth, fundamentally remaining trapped in the 1940s Soviet Union, from where it broadcasts. Like a Japanese soldier left on some forgotten island, the SACP doesn’t know the war is over — its war at any rate.

Personally, Nzimande has on occasion found the accessories of modern capitalism a little too appealing to resist. The 2009 decision by his department to buy a R1.1m BMW 705i made for the kind of contradiction reserved for movie scripts. Even the New York Times got into the act. "Roll back the greed, corruption and selfishness of capitalism," Nzimande had pleaded a week or so before. After the purchase, his spokesperson would say the luxury car was a necessity.

Today, seven years later, the minister of finance has proposed a R750,000 cap on new ministerial cars. So "necessity", it would seem, is a moving target.

Nzimande’s three stations seem constantly to play out a set of contradictions.

He is a minister but his party has never stood for election. He is loyal to a left-leaning president, but, through rank mismanagement of the South African economy the president has relinquished much power to business and capital. He believes in one kind of revolution but the students he oversees are busy trying to instigate a revolution of their own, and his head is one of the first items they want on the platter.

Nzimande has, however, one other fundamental double standard up his sleeve and it was the recent conduct of students at the University of Cape Town that brought it to the fore. In an act of self-harm and proud ignorance they took to burning university art in an imagined war against "whiteness".

"The ministry is extremely concerned and strongly condemns the burning of the vice-chancellor’s office and the incineration of artwork paintings," Nzimande’s office said in a statement. This was Nzimande the minister, protector of paintings and property.

A week or so later, Nzimande visited the Wits university campus to be shown the library and archives — home to so much history. As a result, he redoubled his commitment to protect such assets.

"Enforcement agencies must intervene firmly without fear or favour," he said. "This necessary move is being taken to ensure the rule of law and to bring to an end all criminal acts and the destruction of national assets which are crucial to the empowerment of individuals, students, families and communities through teaching, learning and research."

And there was a personal element to his concern. "It was a touching moment," Nzimande said, "when we were shown the historically significant collection of the Rivonia Trial papers, which could be the only set still in existence in the country."


NZIMANDE the ideologue couldn’t resist getting in on the show. Of all the history housed at Wits it is the ANC’s that matters most.

"Just imagine if acts of criminality, such as those that have been witnessed on some campuses, were to result in the irreparable loss of this invaluable heritage," he pondered.

Well, quite. But don’t think for a moment this had anything to do with principle. For Nzimande destroying art is a perfectly legitimate course of action. It just depends on what art. And archives are valuable, when the thing they house relates to the ANC and its history. Generally though, the state of SA’s national archives on the ANC’s watch is so dire their condition is hard to distinguish from the result of an act of blatant vandalism.

The response to Brett Murray’s painting, The Spear, a portrait of President Jacob Zuma standing Lenin-like with his phallus exposed, was a defining moment in the devolution of the ANC’s moral authority under Zuma. Likewise, it allowed to manifest for the first time all the demagoguery the president has introduced into the party.

It is difficult to say exactly when the ANC became irrevocably an anti-intellectual organisation, but the party’s reaction to The Spear is a significant marker.

And among those leading the charge was Nzimande himself. "Don’t sell it," he told the baying mob, "it must not leave this country, it must remain here, it must be destroyed once and for good."

Destroyed it was.

No, this art was different. It had insulted his master. With that, any pretence in Nzimande’s mind of a distinction between barbarism and property rights, or freedom and violence, instantaneously vaporised. Destruction was his language.

He called for a boycott of the City Press, which had found, temporarily at least, enough courage to post on its website pictures of the painting. He looked on as the painting was eventually defaced, and all the while he encouraged and fuelled the populist outrage at nothing more than a metaphor.

Don’t forget, Nzimande was minister of higher education at the time. His three crowns sat just as awkwardly on his head then as they do today. Only a different one would dominate.

As for the archives, for which the minister today seems to have found a deep and enduring appreciation, he has not said a word at the executive table about their steady decay.

It is true that their upkeep falls under the Department of Science and Technology but that is a mere technicality. If it is the principle he is so concerned about — albeit an ANC-centric one — not a word about their condition has passed his lips. And the government’s longstanding disdain for them makes the destruction wrought by today’s rampaging students look meek and mild.

The Archival Platform produced in 2014 a document called, State of the Archives: An analysis of South Africa’s national archival system (State of the Archives). It is a monster, at about 180 pages. They record a horror story of neglect and mismanagement.

The first paragraph of the summary reads: "As has been noted repeatedly by the Auditor-General (AGSA) and the South African Human Rights Commission in recent years, the state of government record-keeping is embarrassing. Public archives are neither equipped, resourced nor positioned to do the records auditing and records management support they are required to by their mandates. Poor record keeping undermines service-delivery, cripples accountability, and creates environments in which corruption thrives."

Visit one. They are, literally, crumbling.

Few tests of a society are more powerful than tolerance. It is a benchmark not just of civility but enlightenment. An appreciation of the arts, books and history is the hallmark of a mature people who value ideas and the lessons human progress holds. Good or bad, they are how a society learns and grows; how it understands. They provide perspective and insight in equal measure. Those who would destroy them, who neglect their preservation or who measure their value only through a political lens, are their enemies. And Blade Nzimande has long since nailed his colours to the mast.

It is a disgrace that someone who might advocate the destruction of art should be allowed anywhere near a discipline like higher education.


A DISGRACE outweighed only by an act — for that is what it is — that he harbours any principled objection to their mistreatment. How dare he speak on the subject? He has no moral authority to do so. He mocks the public, many of whom, not so long ago rallied around his call to see The Spear desecrated.

Nzimande has a psychology degree, a Masters and a PhD. He has spent much time in libraries, on university campuses, too. But for everything he learnt, he learnt nothing about learning itself. The person in charge of South African universities does not love ideas and knowledge. No, of his three crowns, he is the true king of only one. As he flays about pathetically feigning compassion and understanding, what he really carries in his right hand is a torch. And, given his marching orders, he will not hesitate to set ablaze the principle he is entrusted to protect.

He is the violent, ignorant and lawless student he objects to.

There are no real consequences for hypocrisy in SA today. We take it as read that no idea or position holds firm, so routinely is our trust violated. Our short-term memory, wrecked by a million crises, means we often forget what happened yesterday, let alone a year or two ago. What a mess. What a time to be Blade Nzimande.