The ANC has heroes and commemorates them even if no one loves them. So it is with Manto Tshabalala. She is one of many (Joe Modise, Ivy Cassiburi, Stella Sigcau, for example) – despised in life but revered in death. When it comes to the ruling party, state funerals, SABC coverage, and national vigils are no respecter of persons. It does not matter what struggle heroes do or don’t do in office, the taxpayer will honour them whether they want to or not.
Dereliction of duty, kleptomania, international embarrassment, not even genocide disqualifies one from being rewarded with a state funeral. So the question is: what do you have to do really wrong to disqualify for a state funeral?
The news of Manto’s death came as a gift to the Zuma administration as they sought to eviscerate her legacy from our memories and clear the way for a new dispensation. Reversing the legacy of a thousand deaths a day, the proliferation of AIDS orphans, mother-to-child transmissions, and the lack of accredited sites for ARV rollouts, is no joke. Yet it is the Zuma-ANC that is going to honour her death.
I just don’t get it.
I was going to dedicate this column to congratulate Jacob Zuma for redirecting the debate on HIV/AIDS; for appointing the Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi who is executing his duty with urgency and compassion and for being serious about monitoring the distribution of ARV rollouts. The country was impatient for change in discourse around the pandemic and for a change in leadership on the matter. Tragically, many people have died and are dying because Mbeki had a bee in his bonnet about male sexuality. Uncannily, he was able to get women struggle heroes and even former ANC feminist activists to support him in his idiocy. To secure her place in the cabinet and the ANC after-life, Manto supported him to the hilt. She was prepared to bear the brunt of Mbeki’s unforgivable obstinacy, and reduce herself to a Grace Mugabe-like creature, despised and rejected by all sane people.
Despite this, when it comes to Manto, the ANC will never admit defeat. It will shove her down our throat and lie about her in the face of evidence to the contrary - all because her husband is Mende Msimang, an ANC ancestor. As liberation leaders they have perfected the art of the divine right to rule, a doctrine supposedly so contrary to their socialist beliefs. They have the divine right to determine who is a hero; who deserves the highest orders of the land; who deserves state funerals, and who deserves to die.
By letting Manto slip away quietly, the ANC would have done us a big favour by showing that we have indeed turned the page. Instead we will get an overdose of TV and radio coverage extolling her virtues, when all we want to do is puke.
Manto was a bad politician; she was a personality disorder who needed therapy; she caused us untold embarrassment at the International Aids Conference in Toronto in 2006 extolling the virtues of vegetables when she should have been advocating safe sex and medication to help people survive the disease. She epitomized so blatantly the levels to which humans would stoop to retain power. She suspended her intellect, to placate her Master, Mbeki, in the process creating obstacle courses for those, like Dr Farid Abdullah, who wanted to do the right thing. She called him a traitor for implementing the definitive prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme in the Western Cape. And, ironically, it was NNP Minister of Health, Dr Nic Koornhof, who allowed an ANC Director of Health, the opportunity to practice the Hippocratic Oath in ways that he was trained to do.So, on Tuesday, when the SABC, with the ANC’s help, shoves its revisionist history of Manto Tshabalala down our throats, it shall be another tick against their name at the next elections. Long live beetroot, garlic, and the African potato. Long Live!