CALL TO ACTION
Defend Our Democracy campaign aims to get South Africa back on its feet
On Thursday the Defend Our Democracy campaign launched its national document on democratic renewal.
‘Democracy is under attack like never before in the democratic dispensation of our country. Throughout South Africa, evil questions are being asked about who belongs. People are living in fear and the so-called vigilantes are running gun in hand, threatening the very social fabric of our society.
“Throughout the world, our climate is haywire as the deadly side of development and industrial progress can no longer be ignored. We see lots of refugees crossing treacherous waters in the Mediterranean. And when we see this we must realise that this Earth is that boat — if some of us are drowning all of us are drowning.”
These were the words of Shaeera Kalla, a former Wits University student leader who organised the #FeesMustFall protests, now a board member of Section27 and member of the #PayTheGrants campaign, during the launch on Thursday of the Defend Our Democracy campaign’s national document on democratic renewal.
The campaign aims to curb the corruption plaguing South Africa and reinstate the democratic constitutional rights of its citizens through democratic deliberation.
The Rev Frank Chikane, a prominent ANC member and former anti-apartheid activist, said the campaign is like a United Democratic Front for the modern era except that it is more focused, informed and determined to change the lives of people for the better.
“This is a very historical moment. Ten to 14 years ago we had a project of liberation to set up not just a representative democracy but a participatory democracy. The parliamentary system ends up in a representative democracy, but in our system and Constitution we find both representative and participatory democracy.
“We were in a project of changing the lives of the people of South Africa. The project consisted of civic struggles, the churches, trade unions and the then limited enlightened business sector. However, midway a rocket fell on us and we were derailed completely. We corrupted our government system, we got corrupted.
“For the last 10 to 14 years we were off the rails. But we came back about a year ago, campaigning to stop the people who were trying to destabilise the country. Campaigning for a whole year to stop this was never enough. We realised that the damage was severe and saw fit to start real conversations from grassroots levels on where we are going with this democracy.”
Chikane said the document is the product of conversations among Defend Our Democracy members and those who subscribe to the campaign. He said the purpose of the document is to instigate conversations that will focus on:
- Reversing the downward spiral of democracy in South Africa;
- Recovering values;
- Repurposing politics;
- Revisiting and reimagining the future of the country; and
- Re-envisioning political systems and values.
The briefing was hosted at St George’s Anglican Church in Parktown, Johannesburg. It was attended by members of the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), Ntwane Community Development Forum, South African Council of Churches, University of South Africa, the business community, civil society organisations and individuals.
At the briefing, the Rev Moss Ntlha, the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, encouraged more young people to be part of the campaign.
“It is important,” he said, “to state that the young are also part of this conversation, because the youth will probably find that they have to continue with the struggle 100 years from now. It is good to sustain that intergenerational character.”
Professor Rudo Mathivha, the head of ICU at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, said democratic change and renewal should start with undoing the injustice brought by the crippling of South Africa’s public healthcare system, mainly by maladministration and mismanagement.
“Today is World Health Day, it is also the anniversary of Charlotte Maxeke’s birthday. In terms of health, our country is experiencing a lot of turbulence. If you just look at the province of Gauteng there is so much disorder in the public healthcare sector.
“It’s now almost a year since Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital burnt down and it’s only back functioning at a capacity of under 50%, and nobody is explaining why it is taking so long to refurbish and get back to full function. This had a knock-on effect on the other public health facilities in Gauteng, and not only in Gauteng. Most of our other provinces refer patients to our academic hospitals in Gauteng. So that whole chain of referrals has been interrupted and causes a backlog.
“As I am speaking to you, there is a lack of beds at Chris Hani Baragwanath, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Leratong, Thelle Mogoerane, Bertha Gxowa and Sebokeng hospitals. This is because our democratically elected officials have done a 180-degree turn and decided to practise some kind of leadership that we don’t understand.
“Do you think you can defend democracy in a nation that is sick? You need a healthy society to start a debate about democracy and to be active in democracy. Start with the health of your citizens then teach them and debate about democracy,” said Mathivha.
Civil activist Wayne Duvenage said: “The Constitution has become meaningless. We are hoping the Defend Our Democracy national discussion document will bring about the change we need, which is long overdue, and protect our democracy.
“We need extraordinary leadership. We need to make sure we don’t have an NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] and criminal justice system that is trapped and drowning in the paperwork of 10 years of State Capture and the everyday new murders, rape cases and new crimes.
“Democracy will only survive if we make it accessible and beneficial to all, if we re-establish trust in our democratic institutions.”
To follow up on the launch, in June the Defend Our Democracy campaign will host a National Conference for Democratic Renewal and Change. The campaign is inviting more organisations and individuals to join it. DM
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