South Africa

Politics, South Africa

Op-Ed: Ten Battles we must win in 2017

Op-Ed: Ten Battles we must win in 2017

It’s State of the Nation Address time again. Once again we are lining up like lambs before the proverbial slaughter. We know we are going to be lied to. We know that our political system has failed us. Time is running out. By MARK HEYWOOD.

We know that for millions this is a time of crisis, of hunger, of death, of nyaope, of mass unemployment, of indignity, of denial. In the midst of this crisis more and more people look to “civil society” as one of our last lines of defence. It is thought to be about the only force left that can save us from this myriad of ills. I agree, but if that is to be the case, 2017 must be a year which civil society better defines what it is, seeks inclusion and then better defines its game-changers. It is a year in which we must make a concerted, co-ordinated effort to win real change.

Time is running out.

Professor Nick Binedell and a few colleagues at GIBS Business School say that, in keeping with the Chinese tradition of giving each new year a name, they have jokingly declared 2017 to be “the Year of Acceleration”. I think that by this they mean that political and economic genies that have already been let out of the lamp are going to run amok in 2017 and bring accelerated changes to the world we know – and the world we don’t.

I think they mean that human society is accelerating towards something that is new and unknown – it could be good, but it’s just as likely to be bad.

What we all agree on is that the reality is damn scary.

But much as our society may be caught up in forces that have already been unleashed, I would also suggest that 2017 could be a year in which the human agency of good human beings is accelerated. To do so requires more effort, but also s better co-ordination, too. Tending to a thousand wilting flowers is all very well, but none will bloom again unless we can rally around a few big trees that can give them some shade.

To that end I humbly submit a list of ten battles that a more united civil society could win – but only if we are more strategic and more organised.

  1. Removing President Jacob Zuma!

Few people have any remaining illusions in the integrity or honesty of President Zuma. But few people, I think, appreciate just how deep and lasting will be the damage he is creating. Sitting out his presidency has consequences. In When Zuma Goes, Ralph Mathekga points out that:

Even if Zuma is replaced by a more credible and respectable leader soon, it will take many years – or even decades – for South African politics to recover and stabilise. This will be a significant part of Zuma’s legacy – democratic institutions that lack the credibility to carry out their functions.”

Think of it this way, what if each day of damage he and his ilk inflict will need 10 days to repair? That would mean another two-and-a-half years of Zuma as President would take 25 years to fix. That’s not an exaggeration. We are still managing the legacy of President Mbeki on AIDS, and he’s almost 10 years gone.

Mathekga is a strong advocate for civil society but nonetheless he chides those of us who have been involved in campaigns to remove Zuma, pointing out that:

What was clear about the #ZumaMustFall campaign was that the forces behind it expected immediate results and therefore gave up after just a few weeks. How’s that for a long-term strategy? Such a reactive, short-term approach will never succeed in a battle with a patient, long-term planner and strategist like Zuma.”

He is right. Removing Zuma requires sustained and ongoing activity. His unfitness for president is not a party-political issue. It goes to the heart of our Constitution. The president is the pillar on which much of the Constitution is propped up. If that pillar has dry rot, it threatens the Constitution as a whole. That being the case, it is the duty of citizens to replace it. And fast.

  1. Stopping the nuclear energy deal

The nuclear energy deal is Jacob Zuma’s last great tender grab. This heist has been carefully prepared for a number of years. But 2017 is the year the tenderpreneurs must bring the bacon home for their paymasters. It is a year that requires binding signatures on binding contracts.

The nuclear deal is a bad deal – bad for public health, bad for the environment, bad for water security, bad for our country – rich and poor. It is already riddled with irregularities. For example, why does the Integrated Resource Plan limit the percentage of overall energy output from solar and water to 2% for the whole duration of the contract?

Research by the CSIR shows that if this deal succeeds, by 2050 South Africa will be paying R90-billion a year more than if we opted for an energy mix that included extensive use of cost effective and safe solar- and wind-driven power. In other words, the poor will be paying Zuma’s pension long after he has died, just like we are still paying, among others, for Joe Modise and Fana Hlongwane’s enrichment from the arms deal.

  1. Party-political funding: We have the right to know

Not one political party in South Africa is prepared to publicly disclose its sources of funding. That can only mean that every political party has something to hide. Until we know who funds political parties we won’t know what they really stand for.

Civil society’s efforts to demand openness for party-political funding in South Africa has been a history of setbacks, including in the Constitutional Court. But in most cases these battles have been lost on legal technicalities. The job now falls on members of political parties to demand openness from their leaders. With South Africa’s most important general election only two years away, ask yourself: do you really know who you are voting for?

Don’t vote for political parties that don’t publish their funders.

  1. Recapturing the SABC!

King Hlaudi is overthrown. Unfortunately though (as with so many of our other criminal capturers) he’s not locked up in a dungeon. In recent years civil society has been forced to respond to each new crisis at the SABC. But please don’t let this ever happen again.

Isn’t it time we got ahead of the game and insist on a transparent public process for the selection of a new board? More important, isn’t it time “we, the people” started to take responsibility for this asset of ours?

SABC has an enormous reach and potential. A staggering 37.6-million people listen to local radio channels daily, seven of the top 10 stations belong to the SABC.

What if that broadcasting power was used better for civic and constitutional education, real news, and to assist community empowerment?

We need to rebuild the SABC for a public purpose. A truly public broadcaster that entertains and educates is not an impossibility. To start with, finding local funding support to cash-strapped organisations like the SOS Coalition, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and Media Monitoring Africa could make a huge difference to our ability to monitor the SABC, demand relevant and empowering programming and accountability.

  1. Make the politicians pay: Individual liability

We have lots of good politicians. We also have some very rotten ones. Some of our ministers and MECs have a God Complex. They behave with a sense of impunity. They play fast and loose with taxpayers’ money to enrich friends and family.

Occasionally the law catches up with them. But when they are taken to court they play fast and loose with taxpayers’ money again. Most of these crooks have learnt to parry the blows landed on by them by the courts, consequently court orders are rarely enforced.

Witness the issue of school text books. In December 2015 the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) declared that every child had a right to receive every textbook she needed on time at the start of ever school year. It declared that “the failure to provide textbooks to learners in schools in Limpopo … is a violation of the rights to a basic education, equality, dignity, the South African Schools Act and Section 195 of the Constitution.” Yet in 2017 tens of thousands of children have started the year again without all the necessary textbooks.

Flagrant contempt of court orders like this suggests we must change our tactics. It’s time to raise with the courts the issue of the individual liability of politicians and government officials for the harm they cause. Where politicians can be proved to be responsible for gross negligence and violations of human rights they should be made to pay out of their own pockets for damages and legal costs.

And this must start with former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu who headed up the devastating events generally known at the Life Esidimeni case. Her contempt for the poor and vulnerable cost at least 94 vulnerable people their lives. She must now be made an example of for other ministers and MECs who act recklessly with human rights and human life. Free State MEC Benny Malakoane, Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, Minister Bathabile Dlamini and others – beware. The law will catch up with you even if your conscience won’t.

  1. Resolving the basic education crisis

We are a predictable people. Each year we start with a lament over the terrible state of our public education. The we forget about it for another 11 months. This is like hitting your head against a brick wall. We know what to do – what is stopping us? Every year we bury the future of beautiful children – it is criminal and heartbreaking.

  1. Resolving the tertiary education crisis

World-class universities offering free education for those who need and qualify for it are not in contradiction with each other. It just depends on our social priorities. As the National Education Crisis Forum has recently recognised: “The call for free, quality, decolonised and decommodified education … catalyses a more fundamental societal review of inequality, poverty and exclusion.” Let 2017 see the end of social strife on campuses, an end of violence on all sides, replaced with the implementation of a new vision and practice of higher education.

  1. Rapidly implementing the proposal for a National Minimum Wage

According to the National Minimum Wage panel established by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, over 6.7-million people in South Africa earn less than R4,000 per month. Around 4.6-million earn less than R2,500 per month.

Ask yourself, ye of the middle classes, is this not a scandal? Rather than bicker over the report from the left or the right, South Africans should agree to the panel’s recommendation of R3,500 per month and agree to implement it immediately. There seems little doubt that if there was the will, if there was the desire, many businesses could adapt so as to be able to afford the proposals.

  1. Bringing Wouter Basson to justice

Dr Death, the apartheid-era chemical warfare specialist, still evades justice. He lives in a comfortable mansion, continues his lucrative practice as a highly paid cardiologist in Cape Town. He is secure and in comfort. He has used his wages of sin to keep himself above the law, defying the Health Profession Council of South Africa’s attempts to de-register him as a doctor after they found him guilty of misconduct three years ago. He laughs at our clumsy tomfoolery, our hot-and-coldism. This may seem a small matter, and out of place in my bucket, but our tolerance of wounds like this points to a deeper flaw in our morality.

  1. Winning justice for Michael Komape and his family

Three years ago Michael Komape drowned in a school toilet.

Three years later his family is still denied justice. They have sued the government for constitutional damages and the Department of Basic Education has kept them waiting for their day in court, poking at their pain, denying that it transgressed the law, spending taxpayers’ money on lawyers. Michael’s life may seem irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things. But it isn’t. It reflects back on us. Our tolerance of his death is a reflection of our acceptance of the conditions that led to his death. These conditions have barely changed.

The battles I have listed above are game-changers. Not one of them is an unreasonable or extremist demand. Each one has a foundation in our supreme law, the Constitution. Yet, if they were won, particularly if they were won after concerted, co-ordinated, united campaigns by civil society, they would change the balance of power in this land in favour of the ordinary person.

Some have symbolic value, such as showing we care for little lives like that of Michael Komape. Others are tying up loose ends, such as dealing with Dr Death. Others would bring improved material conditions and hope to millions of people. Others would lay the basis for genuine equality of opportunity.

However, what really holds us back from winning these battles is ourselves. We Daily Maverick readers may be rich in material security but we suffer a paralysing emotional poverty. It is either that we are too comfortable to care about the others around us who are so obviously suffering. Or that we are too politically correct to get into bed with an alliance of citizens to achieve this set of perfectly reasonable demands.

Ultimately, we are our own worst enemies. So perhaps the wish I should put at the top of my bucket list is that we first change ourselves. DM

Photo: Diepsloot, by Niko Knigge via Flickr


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