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Thomas Sankara – he who taught us power can be used to serve the people, not politicians

Photo credit: Koulouba.com

By Andile Mngxitama

We shall one day tell the story of how we brought Thomas Sankara to the EFF and how they erased him from their founding Manifesto as soon as we were expelled. Sankara taught us that political power can employed to serve the people and not politicians. Truth is, Sankara doesn’t go with Louis Vuitton’s and Range Rovers.

We drafted the Oath to operationalize Sankara’s leadership values. For this we are eternally proud. Here’s a piece I wrote in 2010 which was first published by Sowetan Live titled, “Sankara inspires those who want change”:

THOMAS Sankara – every child and every adult who wishes to change our society for the better must remember that name.

We need to learn from honour and try to emulate the great example of this young man who was brutally murdered by the enemies of black people.

On October 15 1987 in Burkina Faso, the enemies of Africa opened fire and killed one of the most brilliant of our African leaders.

The media, academy and even the arts world has not raised the name of Sankara, precisely because his example threatens the interests of those who are against the genuine development of Africa.

Sankara had to be killed because if they didn’t, the African masses would have known that change can happen in their interests and they would have demanded that all their countries be run like Burkina Faso.

Last Friday I attended a documentary screening in honour of Sankara, hosted by Blackwash at Wits University.

The debate that followed showed that young people in our country care about our liberation and are refusing to accept that the so-called liberation of 1994 is what their elders fought for.

It is a shame when we compare the example of Sankara and what the ANC has achieved in 16 years. In a short four years Sankara inspired the creative energies of the people to rebuild their country.

The first thing our leaders do when they get to cabinet is to order cars worth more than a million rand.

They give themselves salaries of millions of rand and other benefits. They surround themselves with bodyguards and throw crumbs to the people. One can’t help feeling that our politicians are a democracy mafia.

Sankara shows that it can be done differently. Instead of arriving in a flashy Mercedes-Benz, Sankara attended his first cabinet meeting on a bicycle.

Later he sold luxurious government cars and made the Renault 5, the cheapest car at the time in Burkina Faso, the official service car for ministers.

He reduced his salary plus that of all government officials; he ended the use of chauffeurs and first class airline tickets. Can our leaders do without their many cars and drivers?

Sankara also took the issue of women oppression seriously by banning polygamy, forced marriages (ukuthwala) and many other harmful practices against women.

He is the first African leader to have recognised, as early as the 1980s, that Aids is a big problem for Africa. Sankara helped distribute land to the poor and doubled food production and thereby ended food insecurity.

Unlike our leaders, led by Thabo Mbeki, who have reduced themselves to “dignified beggars” at the G8, Sankara opposed foreign aid and said: “He who feeds you controls you.”

He called for other African leaders to refuse to pay foreign debt, but they didn’t listen to him.

Sankara teaches us that developing the people does not require clever programmes and long speeches.

It is clear that our leaders would have murdered Sankara themselves had he been among us today. But those who want change must be inspired by his great example.

The discussion I saw among Wits students gives me hope. Thomas Sankara might still live!

Andile Mngxitama is the President of Black First Land First (BLF), a radical black consciousness organization.