South Africa

People have the power: ‘Awethu!’

By Khadija Patel 29 November 2013

On Thursday, “Awethu! People’s platform for social justice,” revealed a plan to win back power from the political and business elites in South Africa. By KHADIJA PATEL.

Interspersed between islands of gentrification in Braamfontein, Johannesburg street pole ads from the South African Police Services warn, “Nyaope kills”. Nyaope, a cocktail of crystal meth, heroin and marijuana, has come into focus in recent months for its reign of tyranny over South Africa’s poorest.

It is in places like Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, where youth unemployment is high, xenophobia is rife and access to elected leaders is reduced to platitudes that are plastered over posters in election season, that nyaope is rated as one of the greatest impediments to the progress of young people.

But it is also in places like Sebokeng that the shortfalls of democracy in South Africa are evident.

While residents complain of the widespread sale and use of nyaope, as they do of joblessness and abysmal rates of service delivery, they feel their experience of South Africa ultimately matters very little to the women and men deciding their destinies in the corridors of power.

And so it is back in Braamfontein that a meeting of civil society organisations on Thursday laid bare a plan to deepen democracy in South Africa, to make politicians, of whatever political persuasion, accountable to ordinary South Africans, to ultimately open a space for South Africans to have a say in the way the country is led.

Forty civic organisations from around the country have come together to build a “platform for social justice and accountability”. Called “Awethu! People’s platform for social justice,” this grouping is intended to connect and amplify individual voices, and reclaim the South African government from political and economic elites.

The founding document of Awethu, developed after a series of consultations with various civil society groupings, bemoans a hollowing out of democracy in South Africa, unemployment, inequality and corruption.

“There are undemocratic tendencies in our government and the private sector. Important decisions are taken behind closed doors in the interests of few and at great expense to the majority. When people protest about inequality, poverty, pollution, land dispossession and lack of access to basic rights, many senior political leaders do not take their messages seriously, label them and attempt to silence them. Increasingly, the very protests that are a sign of the democratic spirit are met with terrible state violence. In the face of what we describe, the elected representatives of the people in Parliament spend more time defending the decisions of their party bosses than promoting the rights of the people.”

Importantly, Awethu is not a new organisation. It will not be another NGO; the point is not to re-invent the wheel. According to an advisory released ahead of Thursday’s event, Awethu will function by providing a series of platforms on which those committed to social justice and political accountability can build solidarity to unite on specific demands.

“It will seek to grow networks and strengthen relationships between those working in NGOs, social movements and community based struggles.”

It is meant to be a collective effort that is not the sole preserve of any one organisation.

And Awethu has already garnered the support of eminent South Africans.

With the likes of Jay Naidoo, Mark Heywood and Nadine Gordimer already on board with Awethu, it will now attempt to attract South Africans outside of organised civil society.