Not entirely omniscient
25 October 2014 22:24 (South Africa)
Opinionista Jay Naidoo

To my generation: Listen. Listen very carefully.

  • Jay Naidoo
Nelson Mandela famously said that the day the ANC does to us what the Apartheid government did, we should do to the ANC what we did to the Apartheid government. Corruption, greed and the rising discontent in our society should have us very concerned indeed – and more so the ANC.

Having lived through the brutal repression of the Apartheid state, I developed more than a healthy mistrust of securocrats of any political colour, including the current crop that seem intent on taking away a number of our Constitutional rights.

And what a short memory our leaders have. The preamble to our Constitution calls for “a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights and lays the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law.” 

The SA I fought for, alongside millions of fellow citizens, and that Nelson Mandela personified as our founding father, was at the forefront of freedom of expression, enshrining it in our Constitution, ostensibly for an eternity. Freedom of expression is not a neoliberal principle. It is the embodiment of the democracy we fought for. 

The security cluster's rise has been a steady trend over the last decade, from the cowboy behaviour of “shoot to kill” to the increasing militarisation of the police forces. I, you, we all should be very afraid of the increasing influence of intelligence sectors that are being subordinated to political agendas, intent on drawing veil secrecy across our country. 

In its essence, this process has little to do with the media, which is purely a soft target and stalking horse. It is first and foremost an assault on the very essence of the citizens’ rights that we fought for. The endgame is a delivering a battering ram of political enforcement against the people. It comes close to the rise of populist authoritarianism that will crush dissent and our ability to expose the corruption and maladministration of predatory elites in our country. Our covenant with our people in 1994 to deliver a better life to all will all but have disappeared.

It is therefore disingenuous to argue that the “Secrecy Laws” are needed in the interests of “national security.” One does not deny that every state, even a democratic one, has secrets whose compromising constitutes a national security threat. But we have a right to question our ANC government or, for that matter, any public leader. Citizens have a right to demand accountability and transparency around the expenditure of public taxpayers’ money and hold the feet of public representatives to the fire on the issues of service delivery. 

Mandela, in his address to the 1993 Cosatu Congress, said to thunderous applause, “If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government.” I, as General Secretary of COSATU alongside 19 other comrades, was hoisted high as we were elected to go onto an ANC ticket for our first democratic election. 

Our mandate was to advance the fundamental human rights of which Apartheid had robbed our parents and generations before them – the right to a better life, the right of our children to quality education and health, and a government that would be democratic, accountable and transparent. I cannot imagine that the founding Parliament from 1994 would have passed the Secrecy Laws that we have before us today.

On a second front I see the rise of a dangerous demagoguery in civil society. I am aghast when I hear the SADTU general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, say to the M&G "Some NGOs are working with other political parties and there will come a time when we will identify all of them. They are driving an agenda that education is a national crisis [and] using education to destroy the confidence of the public [in the government]."

I come from a family of teachers. They were proud, dedicated public servants who believed, like the majority of teachers today, that quality education is the right of pupils in our schools. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful tool we have to change the world.”

I see the work that these NGOs are doing as being quite as honourable and essential as what we did in our struggle for freedom against Apartheid. I believe that we have a deepening crisis in education and that the state is failing in its obligations and its denialism is destroying the most important pathways out of poverty. I, alongside the founders of SADTU and Nelson Mandela, vowed at its launch in 1990 that never again would our children sit under trees or in mud schools, attend schools without textbooks, libraries, laboratories, proper toilets and clean drinking water and electricity. Twenty two years later, and in the 19th year of the ANC rule, the reality of millions of our children in our poorest communities in our townships and rural areas still consists of the very same problems. 

I am outraged by the epidemic of rape on girl children in our schools. I do not believe that teachers, where substantive evidence exists against them of sexual assaults, are entitled to representation by any union. The very fact of sexual relations between teachers and pupils, even consensual, should be made illegal. These measures should be accompanied with a public blacklist issues that ensure that these sexual predators who pose as teachers are rooted out of education system, forever.

Now, if any union or political leader wants to describe the group of NGOs that works with parents, pupils and communities as part of an “ideological third force”, let me enlighten you that I am a proud to be associated with such an NGO. I fully endorse the work of Section 27, the LRC, Equal Education and the Centre for Child Law to ensure accountability in the education sector. 

The last time we saw such denialism was in relation HIV/Aids, and it is what led to the needless deaths of over 350,000 innocent citizens. We cannot allow such blind politics today to destroy the future of our country. The challenges we experience today are happening on our watch. Let us have the courage to face that fact. And act.

The world-famous economist, Amartya Sen, drew a fascinating link between freedom of expression and famine. In fact, a free press and the right to freedom of expression will stir public debate on issues of food shortages, corruption and maladministration resulting public pressure that brings changes. In the bad days of Apartheid it was global public reporting and the work of a small but fearless independent media in SA that often meant the difference between life and death for many of us as activists in the resistance movement. A free press and robust civil society is not a neoliberal middle-class issue. It is about human rights and the struggle of the poor for its Constitutional rights to quality education, health and service delivery. 

As the students in Soweto in 1976 said, “Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.”

Today I again hear that refrain, but in the streets, slums and villages across the world. My advice to my generation – those who control the levers of economic and political power and dominate even civil society: “Listen, listen very carefully, and be afraid of the drums of discontent as they gather in the restless anger that will one day drown the privilege you enjoy today at the expense of the majority.” DM

  • Jay Naidoo
JayNaidooBW

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.

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