MAVERICK CITIZEN TUESDAY EDITORIAL
Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of the country
‘Politics both in South Africa and across the globe is in a rut and that rut is getting deeper. All we have been doing for the past many years is recreating, rearranging and reaffirming the very structures that inhibit and block the progress of human connection.’ Foszia Turner Stylianou, widow of assassinated philosopher Rick Turner.
South Africa has a population of 60 million. The overwhelming majority of them are good. They are honest, neighbourly and want peace. Not only that, South Africa has an immense reservoir of human talent. We excel in the arts, in sports, in business, in jurisprudence, in science, in activism, in innovation.
We inspire! Some of our heroes are heroes to people across the globe. We have a reputation as a resilient people (or rather many peoples), strong enough to avoid the lure and provocation to civil war, visionary enough to adopt a Constitution that seeks to rearrange society around principles of human rights and places equality and social justice at the centre of its ambitions.
We now know that, so far, we have failed in this most recent endeavour. But we are not giving up.
Most times we bounce back, whether from apartheid, HIV/Aids, state capture or… cricket. Despite what the doomsayers say we refuse to choke.
Yet, as I write, there is a small minority of people, either driven by hate or corruption, or people whose legitimate fear and anger are being manipulated by others, who would – if they could – turn our country into the war zone that we avoided just more than 30 years ago.
We had a glimpse of how destructive that war might look like in July 2021. Although the incitement will be in the name of the poor, it is the poor who will pay with lives and livelihoods.
The people who foment violence are cynical, self-serving, scheming and evil. Whether they be the misnamed Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction of the ANC or the leadership of the EFF, both of whom want chaos so that they can escape their own crimes; or whether it be the xenophobes behind Operation Dudula, which aspires to cause terror among black migrants from other countries of Africa; or whether they be thieves and international criminal syndicates like Bain & Company, masquerading as businesses. They are dangerous.
They pose a danger not only to the future, but to the present. To now. To 2022. And, because of the extreme levels of poverty and hunger, inequality, unemployment and despair that we have allowed to take hold in our country, there is a danger that they will succeed.
As I write, they are plotting. They are at war, even if they haven’t declared it.
We can overcome
It’s not that we don’t need change. Our social crisis is deepening by the day. But if we take one thing from last week’s State of the Nation Address, and as we watch the unseemly squabble of political parties as they debate it, it’s that constitutional South Africa is not going to be saved by the political elite.
For example, while Cyril Ramaphosa spent many words on economic reform and revival, he passed over the collapse in healthcare services (which, as we show in our reports today from the Eastern Cape, is far from the optimistic picture he painted) and basic education (two sentences). Extending the R350 grant for a year is better than nothing (although the purchasing power of this pittance diminishes all the time because of food and petrol inflation), but not better than a Basic Income Grant.
As we wrote in our editorial on 25 January 2022, the poor can’t eat the promise of more consultations or an “ambition to establish a minimum level of support for those in greatest need”.
Nevertheless, the good majority in South Africa can overcome these threats, but it will take all of us doing things differently to make progress. We have to work out ways to reorganise ourselves based on what we have in common, rather than our differences.
We will not succeed if we continue as is. The status quo is not an option.
Good people are too fragmented, each in little ponds of the like-minded, happy to pull an audience of at best a few thousand people behind their campaign. This is true whether it be our important anti-corruption movements such as Defend our Democracy or the Climate Justice Charter Movement, or those like the Treatment Action Campaign fighting valiantly but impotently against the collapse of our public health service; it is true of our trade unions and our different faiths.
Frankly, working within our predetermined political silos doesn’t work. The satisfaction activists may gain from the knowledge that you and your analysis is politically correct, will not be enough to build the expressions of progressive people’s power we need to overcome the evils we now confront.
As Foszia Turner-Stylianou, the widow of assassinated philosopher-activist Rick Turner, says of his intellectual and political legacy: in the struggle for social change, Turner taught his students: “to pursue ‘why?’; it’s not about the stating of opinions, but exploration of ideas.”
From what I can see, these days, everybody seems happy preaching to the converted: “stating our opinions” and shouting past each other.
The status quo is not an option. Underneath the fray of opinion our emotions have been bastardised; it is a sad fact that many people in our country care more for their pets than human beings who they encounter begging for food or money.
Yet, we are a country with much unfairly distributed and un-utilised wealth, rich in tangible and cultural resources, full of opportunities and ideas to build lives and livelihoods. But without the power to do so.
That is why it is time we worked out what we are for and not just what we are against – and found ways to stand for it together, whatever our class, creed or colour.
We have to rediscover our humanity, our empathy, our connection, before the human beings whose ennui and despair we continually ignore turn on us, as they are already turning on each other. DM/MC
On 22 February at 4pm the Wits University Southern Centre for Inequality Studies and Maverick Citizen will be hosting a webinar on “Utopian Thinking: Revisiting the Work of Rick Turner in the Current Political Context” to mark the 50th anniversary of Richard Turner’s Eye of the Needle. You can register here.
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