Get up, stand up South Africa!
- Jay Naidoo
- 26 Apr 2012 06:13 (South Africa)
This is our 18th birthday. Like a teenager our social fabric has to deal with the wild fluctuations of our hormones. We are cradled by the generosity of the human spirit and shocked at the mindless brutality of violent crime especially, against women and children. Corruption corrodes our national psyche.
Where are those fearless leaders who led our freedom struggle? Why are we so cowed into submitting to this malaise of mediocrity that sweeps our beautiful land?
We were so proud at the birth of our democracy. The world bowed its head in honour as we raised our banner of democratic victory over the evil of apartheid. Our hopes flew high on those winds of change and promise of a better life for all South Africans. We were the poster child of freedom. We stood like a baobab tree, invincible against the horror of our past.
How proudly we claimed our citizenship and how, in the remotest villages of the world, the name of Mandela was whispered in awe. Our victory in South Africa was a triumph of our shared humanity. It was the torch that lit the aspirations of the oppressed, the marginalised, the poor, and socially excluded worldwide.
There are many victories we still need to celebrate. We never thought it was going to be easy to deliver on those hopes we had. South Africa would be a scorched earth of a racial civil war if it was not for extraordinary leaders who navigated a political minefield to deliver us democracy. Our Constitution vowed that we will never again submit to the horrors of arbitrary power. Until now!
Our score card shows us that we have failed dismally the poor in our country. I was part of the fundamental mistake, in 1994, that believed the state would deliver on all the goals of the reconstruction and development programme. Our citizens, the engine of our freedom struggle became passive bystanders in delivering the better life we promised. Our arrogance grew with time and the hierarchical leadership that followed. Soon the hallways of power were inhabited by the “big leaders” who believed they knew what was best for the country.
A common, shared vision that united us against apartheid was shattered. Civil society and social movements were scorned. Our relationships became adversarial. Denialism set in with devastating consequences as our HIV/Aids debacle demonstrated. We became subjects again.
More critically, our education system failed to deliver on the hopes of our next generation. Its poor quality condemned our youth to a future with very few skills, no jobs or the likelihood of having the dignity of labour in their lifetimes.
Our movement is paralysed by factional battles. That contestation has all to do with access to state resources and little to do with delivery and implementation. And the rhetoric grows more divisive and toxic. Today we talk in the corridors about the predatory economic and political elites who are fused at the hip.
A veil of secrecy driven by state securocrats threatens to take us back to the dark days of apartheid when our voices were silenced by fear. We need a new political narrative in our beautiful country. We need a new generation of fearless leaders who will confront arbitrary power with the truth, and we need them today.
I sat down with young activists from Equal Education in Khayalitsa last year. They were earnest and dedicated volunteers like we were in the 1980s. They were committed to social justice.
I was struck by the slogan on their T shirts. “Each generation has its struggle.”
How true that is. I realised that my role was not to lead but to support these youth leaders. Not to lecture but to listen. To give them the aerial cover from arrogant political leaders who regard them as upstarts as those in power once regarded me. After all, it is my generation that has created the nightmare of unmet expectations we face today. The conversation with these activists and others I have had with dedicated youth leaders across the country does not reflect the vulgarity of the youth’s views we see in our media every day.
Soweto 1976 was our Tahrir Square. It forced us to turn our attention to the painstaking challenge of building organisation in our communities, in the factories and mines, in schools, amongst youth, women, and faith-based groups. Each person became a leader.
I believe we need to return to those simple ideals. Why do have excellently run schools in our townships and others that are run by incompetent principals where dreams are destroyed? Why do we allow local councillors to give tenders to their corrupt pals who rob us of our constitutional rights to basic municipal services? Why are some hospitals run excellently and others run down?
Can we have a real debate on performance?
There are many honest civil servants and public representatives. But the “no more tjo-tjo” Corruption Watch report on the Johannesburg Metro police shows there are those who think a state job is a licence to extort citizens. Surely that behaviour is inspired by those higher up. How often do the discussions in union halls, in the townships and around our dinner tables reflect this state of the nation? The way in which certain ministers and high-ranking officials live the high life, dine in expensive restaurants on the public purse, drive luxury cars and display the arrogance of the blue-light syndrome. Should ethical behaviour not start here? Should they not take some lessons in humility and integrity?
The question remains. What is to be done? There is no magic bullet. We have to rebuild accountability from the ground. The present electoral system gives all party bosses power over elected representatives because it is based on a list system. It is rare, as we saw in the recent parliamentary debate on the secrecy laws, for members of Parliament to vote with their conscience. How many people within the public or private sector would jeopardise their jobs and incomes because of principle? There are mortgages to pay, children to be educated, food to be bought. As we know from recent whistle-blowing experiences, it may even cost you your life.
Let us debate the electoral system to ensure greater accountability to citizens rather than party bosses.
We also need to defend our public institutions. While every country has some degree of political appointments, we do not need party loyalists appointed by some sub-committee. It has undermined public confidence and often resulted in those with not best competencies being appointed. There has to be a greater public scrutiny and transparency in this appointment processes.
But ultimately it is only us as citizens who can restore the democratic ideals of accountability. That means we must stop being subjects and become active citizens again. Let us have an honest conversation about the racial poverty we still face, the daunting unemployment that offers nothing positive to our next generation, the new apartheid that divides the haves from the have-nots.
Democracy thrives when a government fears its citizens. It dies the moment the citizens start to fear their government. We need to stop being afraid of the leaders we elect. DM
Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, former Minister in Mandela Government and Chair of a GAIN a Global Foundation Fighting malnutrition in the World. You can also visit his Facebook Page or www.jaynaidoo.org.
- Mandela's gone. But he will be with us, forever.
- Bekkersdal: The turning point in SA municipal politics – time for a line in the ground
- Africa Rising? Whose Africa?
- The scramble for the Arctic and the dangers of Russia’s race for oil
- Africa's future is clear: Youth, Technology & Broadband
- Child mortality is our human rights failure of the 21st century
- Technology can wipe out the cancer of corruption
- My open letter to South Africa
- Amputating the soul of our children
- The vision of the Invisible Children
- A humble billionaire, asking tough questions
- Cry, the beloved country; cry, the beloved federation
- Humanity at a crossroads: Fighting for climate justice
- Wanted: Ancient wisdoms to heal our planet
- The taste of power: its sanctity and its perversion
- When the town I loved burned down, or, when Heaven was visited by Hell
- As our Constitution lives, so does Mandela
- Bangladesh: Losing some battles, but winning the war
- Rana Square – the Ground Zero of workers’ rights
- Small-scale farming: simple, successful, sustainable
- A global debate needs local voices
- When will Africa be led by the needs of its people?
- The faultlines in our society: Why are we so angry?
- Nigeria: Africa's best hopes and worst fears
- Our ancient African heritage holds the key to our future
- To build a better world for all, we need a new narrative, new energy, new commitment
- A culture of service and tolerance: Lessons from Chris Hani
- Open data platforms: a tool to revolutionise governance
- Aluta continua: Why the fight for quality healthcare can’t be over
- ‘I raped her because she belongs to me’
- Would Hani and Slovo today be accused of Neo-liberalism and Counter-revolution?
- An open letter to my fellow South Africans: I am ready. Are you?
- A trip to Limpopo: The Forgotten Land
- 'I have a right to a toilet - it's human dignity'
- Matric pass rate: On the road to Nobody
- The challenges of today are South Africa's opportunities of tomorrow
- India: The ongoing tyranny of the caste system
- To my generation: Listen. Listen very carefully.
- The Lula moment and this country of ours, South Africa
- African youth: Fulfilling the potential
- Africa’s 'leadership crisis' - we have more agency than we think
- Think climate change isn't your problem? It will be when you can't eat
- The wuthering heights of disenchantment
- An open letter to Cosatu
- Democracy for all: Marikana signals our second chance
- Can't you hear the thunder?
- A new age, a new role for foundations: redefine development
- Video series - great women of SA: Emma Mashinini (I)
- Mother love: Time to add decency and respect to women's hard-won rights
- GAINing ground: The beauty of one good idea
- Education: a morass of mediocrity
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part V
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part IV
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part III
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part II
- Celebrating Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us
- Mandela day: time for the next generation to take control
- The school of sexual predation
- Rio+20: We're not colonies anymore
- Prayers to the rain gods
- Our foreign policy gets more foreign as time goes by
- Not a moment to Spear: Why, in a time of crisis, that painting is irrelevant
- Ma Emma: The true spear of the nation
- Araku - the truth, the inspiration
- An infinite vision - The story of the Aravind eye hospital
- Get up, stand up South Africa!
- Our future lies in the mothers of nature
- There's a Light in the Get Kony Campaign
- Empowerment lies in women in Indian villages talking to those in African villages
- Dear President Zuma
- Adequate food is essential component of social justice
- Durban to Rio could be our Road to Damascus
- The Grinch who stole hope
- The Grinch who stole hope
- iMaverick, Monday 28 November
- Africa at the crossroads: Let's talk Brazil
- The secrecy bill: Welcome back, Magnus Malan & Adriaan Vlok
- The powder kegs of unmet expectations in our midst
- iMaverick, Wednesday 19 October
- Finding one's humanity where little else remains
- Food security: A matter of war and peace