Maverick Citizen


Imagine — a better world (and South Africa) is possible and within our reach

Imagine — a better world (and South Africa) is possible and within our reach
File Photo: Mark Heywood addresses protesters at Church Square during the #BlackMonday march on April 03, 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa. Civil rights groups, motivated by President Jacob Zuma’s controversial cabinet reshuffle, called on South Africans to wear black on Monday 3 April and to march in protest. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla)

‘Movements are the story of how we come together when we’ve come apart.’ — Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter.

This is the last editorial I will write as editor of the Maverick Citizen. It’s been a privilege and to those of you who do, thank you for having read my weekly efforts to make sense of South Africa and the world, and to do so through the lens of activism, human rights and social justice. We have been trying to bring you the world from the ground up.

Please keep supporting and reading Maverick Citizen. I think that we have cut a path and the small, dedicated team will continue to do so. Hats off (or rather shoes on!) to Anso Thom, Zukiswa Pikoli, Estelle Ellis, Tamsin Metelerkamp, Takudzwa Pongweni, Naledi Sikhakhane, Lerato Mustila and Joyrene Kramer (all women, you might notice). 

2024 will prove a very important year in the history of the world. Maverick Citizen is where you will find news about people that matter (rather than people who think they matter), stories that awaken hope in you, and truth-telling that depresses the hell out of you. 

But the aim is not to debilitate you. It is to get you off your seat to take action; to help you unleash your power.

How to achieve positive change?

As you may have heard, I am leaving Daily Maverick to contribute to building a new political movement, Change Starts Now. From scratch. Change Starts Now aspires to win the trust, and more importantly, inspire in millions of people the sense of possibility to fix our country. And, next year to persuade people to vote for change to start now

It’s a long shot, rather than a moon shot. But every movement starts with a first step and a handful of committed individuals rather than a constituency. The biggest constituency is the constituency that is not in any constituency. Yet, judging by our learned commentators, political movements emerge ready-baked, like a Woolworths pie! As I was driving home yesterday afternoon I was listening to some of these learned friends discussing the proliferation of new political parties on Radio 702. It almost made me want to throw in the towel before we started.

But change and its attendant risks, not comfort zones, is what social activists must embrace.  The media and civil society play a vital role in shaping decent societies, but they are being largely ignored. Not only that, they are being emasculated, starved of funding, criminalised and battered.

To advance human rights we have to square up to political power, take civil society struggles to the inside and engage in persuasion. That means we have to confront the issue of electoral power.  

The 702 discussion reminded me of the naysayers and “this can’t be done-ers” who buzzed around us when we started the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) 25 years ago. They told us you had to “fix the health system before you could start providing life-saving antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) to people with HIV”. They told us we “didn’t know what we were doing — we were activists, not health experts”.  

But we were not deterred. Then we built the most respected Aids activist movement on the globe. We saved five million lives after we won our campaign for access to ARVs. The health system as a whole emerged stronger.

Read more in the Daily Maverick: TAC celebrates 25 years of victories, but HIV fight ‘is still not over 

We are living in a material world … 

People invent all sorts of reasons for continuing along broken roads: “Activists shouldn’t work with capitalists; social movements shouldn’t get tangled up with business or government”. They jump to conclusions on the basis of ill-informed media articles. As a result, we go on in splendid isolation. 

However, one thing I have learned from five years in journalism is that it’s much easier to critique than to do. I’ve also learned that between black and white there’s a hell of a lot of gray. 

In her latest book, Doppelganger, Namoi Klein describes this phenomenon as “Binaries where thinking once lived”. Unfortunately, that’s a state of being that’s infecting us all.

But not only do people expect social justice activists to think in binaries, they expect us to live and act in binaries.

I am a socialist. My lefty credentials are impeccable! 40 years ago I read Das Kapital aloud, line by line, in a dingy London flat with a person who later became a leading advocate at the Cape Bar. We discussed every point in fine detail. As modern writers like Terry Eagleton and Yanis Varoufakis attest, Marx made a huge contribution to political science. In fact, his writings changed the course of human history.

But at this moment in time — because, not in spite of, the utter despair in which millions of people are forced to live — I would argue the most important thing we can do RIGHT NOW is try and make democracy and social democracy believable again; to try and make the state capable; to fill it with willing and able people; to ready it for protecting society from the depredations the rapidly worsening climate crisis has in store for us. We need to be successful “reformists”, because for billions of people access to bread and butter, not political correctness, is what now counts. Performances of leftness, absent a realistic strategy to save our society, make the performer sleep easy, but not the poor.

Welcome to dystopia

The dystopia we are already in struck me as I drove home at midnight on Sunday night from the TAC’s all-night 25th-anniversary vigil in Newtown, inner city Johannesburg. There was a storm, the streets of Mayfair and Brixton were dark because there were no lights, difficult to drive because of the potholes, people were sleeping in dozens on the pavements, wandering the streets clutching blankets and small bags with their possessions. 

I felt like I’d accidentally driven onto the set of District Nine or Mad Max.

Real life like this is why I think activists should now leave performance to artists, and get on with the business of change. Civil society has played a heroic role for 20 years in protecting and defending fundamental rights, but it has rarely been able to impact the system. Hence inequality has got deeper and deeper and the state has got weaker and weaker in the areas that we most need it to perform. 

Read  more in the Daily Maverick: Thought for 2024 and beyond — think, again

To this end I will work from the conviction that there is something that unites us that is deeper than the ideologies and assumptions that divide us; that is humanity, empathy, compassion and solidarity. I know it’s hard to believe, if you look at what the state of Israel is doing to Palestinian men, women and children. But rogue states like Netanyahu’s Israel are what we are trying to avoid — allowing brutes to take over by democratic manipulation and intimidation and then seeing all humanity being blasted to hell in between.

Most objective analysts agree that capitalism is a system whose time has gone. As we can see from another disastrous failure at COP28 it is the logic of capitalism that drives the deepening crisis of society, aided by the 1%, a few tens of thousands of deeply cynical and morally corrupt people. 

But I also still believe that there are good people in business, good people in government, good people in civil society, good people in communities and that we must find a way to get out of siloed activism and unite them with a common vision to win power again to make government work to protect and advance these values for everyone

As Alicia Garza puts it (in The Purpose of Power: How to Build Movements for the 21st Century, a book I would highly recommend): “Organising is about building relationships and using these relationships to accomplish together what we cannot accomplish on our own … the mission and purpose of organising is to build power … it is the work of building relationships among people who may believe they have nothing in common so that together they can achieve a common goal.”

Today that common goal is a simple vision: a capable government running a clean and service-oriented state to ensure peace, safety, sufficient food, dignity, access to joy and love, equal education. 

That’s my next mission as a maverick. Good luck in 2024 and do the right thing! DM

Declaration: Outgoing Maverick Citizen Editor Mark Heywood has joined the Change Starts Now movement. His last day with Daily Maverick will be 14 December 2023. 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Palesa Tshukudu says:

    Thank you for the brilliant and informative articles you have penned on Maverick Citizen. Your contribution will be missed. You have inspired me to be an active citizen in my community. I wish you well in the Change Starts Now movement. Indeed we must be the change we want to see. We must stop fearing the future of South Africa , let’s start shaping it… like you have

  • Johan Buys says:

    Thank you for your regular socialist perspectives, misguided as they are 😉 (I also read the socialist / communist books but I read Ayn Rand several times). That left me with one motto : do unto others what they deserve.

    If your new movement and the other rational opposition parties can get over all the ego’s in the room we have one last chance in 2024 to get SA heading to a place we can look forward to. Weirdly I battle to describe the opposition in terms such as to the left or right of ANC. The ANC is like Putin, concurrently fascist, corrupt, incompetent and socialist.

    Pay attention to the churches. They have neglected their duty to the country in speaking up. There are more churchgoers than union members in SA…

    By 2029 there could be nothing left to save or cry over.

  • John Cartwright says:

    Thank you, Mark, ,for your DM contributions, but I’m surprised and a bit disappointed that you’ve decided to join an organisation whose leader, despite an early history of anti-apartheid activism, has become a pretty predictable Organisation Man, and whose rather vapid mantra of ‘change’ has so far not been supported by any usefully distinctive content.

  • John Cartwright says:

    … unlike, for example, Songezo Zibi and Rise Mzansi.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    The quality of our electorate will determine the quality of our government which in turn is what will decide our fate. I’m not holding my breath.

  • Caroline de Braganza says:

    I shall miss your Tuesday Editorials and remember also your activism decades ago in the Treatment Action Campaign.

    I’m not convinced the new movement you are joining will make any headway and was surprised at the announcement you were joining them.

    Songezo Zibi and Rise Mzansi captured my attention at Constitution Hill – at last, I’d found a party which resonated with my heart – I’m a Riser because there are no ego’s in this movement. I’ll stick with them thank you.

  • Megan Willson says:

    I am going to miss Mark Haywood’s cut-the-waffle and say it as we see it style. What a fabulous rollercoaster you’ve journeyed me through. Sadly, most of it ugly. But that is not on you! Thank you.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    One thing I know is that Mark Heywood has spent his life trying to make things better for other people. And with very little reward for himself. Which is a million miles better than most of the egotistical self serving lot who’ve spent the last 30 years destroying our dreams of a better SA.

    If we somehow managed to fill parliament with just 300 people with the same DNA as Mark Heywood, just imagine how SA would blossom.

  • Lil Mars says:

    I was interested in CSN until I saw your anti-Israel comments. Are you comparing the ANC or EFF to Netanyahu: “allowing brutes to take over by democratic manipulation and intimidation”? Just trying to work out the link for fixing SA. Good luck to you.

  • Peter Tunguy-Desmarais says:

    How sad that you refer to Israel as a roque state….

  • Peter Tunguy-Desmarais says:

    How sad that you refer to Israel as a roque state…

  • Nic Tsangarakis says:

    We will miss you Mark. Good luck.

  • Ann Bown says:

    Thank you Mark for beautifully prepared pieces, focussed topics and building a professional team of caring journalists who can bravely and confidently go forth.

  • William Kelly says:

    And thank you Mark. All the best moving forward.

  • Deon Jaco Jansen van Rensburg says:

    I respect that you have the right to say whatever you believe in since I believe that the ONLY right we have as human beings is the right to freedom and our ONLY obligation is not to infringe on the freedom of others. Let me remind you of a number of things;
    1. Two wrongs don’t make a right. However the complete absence of even the slightest hint at condemnation of what Hamas did is to say the least shocking.
    2. The most oppressive countries in the world as far as individual freedom goes, are1 Muslim countries and 2 hose countries governed by Marx’s doctrines
    3. To quote Milton Friedman – “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a large degree of both.”
    4. To quote John Stuart Mill – ” “A society that obsesses with equality sooner than later becomes a society of looters and falls apart.”
    I think South Africa is probably one of the best examples of the truth of Stuart Mill’s stated observation of the world
    5. Jordan Peterson in 2018 explained how the philosophy that is guiding the social justice warriors is exactly the same philosophy of Mao Zedong who was responsible for the killing of close to a 100 million of his own Chinese citizens.

    I rest my case but nevertheless wish you well in your endeavors.

  • Sara Gon says:

    Marx changed the discourse to the detriment of humanity. Israel is not a rogue state. Israel’s actions are a consequence of a Jihadi movement whose only goal has ever been the destruction of Israel. Why do you not call out with the same contempt the DELIBERATE attacks of Russia on Ukrainian civilians including children. Have you forgotten that Putin has been charged with the kidnapping of Ukrainian children which is a war crime?

  • Leon Hugo says:

    You seemingly close our eyes from Amas that behead children in front of their mothers, then gang raping her and kill her mercifully Dragging person behind a motor cycle along the ground . Putting children in front of gunmen as shields, hiding in schools and hospitals, blaming Israel. Are they worthy of sympathy? I know many good people suffer but if Hamas is not eliminated, they will carry on with terror forever…including terrible authorities to their own women/girls ..also in the West when they take over governments.

  • Fareed Khan says:

    thank you Mark for the journey with DM. Change Starts now and it starts with each one of us. We need to save this country – from the ruling party and the current main opposition party – CSN gets my vote because right now the country needs honest people who love this country more than they love themselves!

  • Fernando Moreira says:

    Go with the DA , they are Govern ready ! they are the only party that has the effective machinery, after the elections the rest can be ironed out !
    Dont split the vote
    Save South Africa
    We need your voice Mark !!

  • Patti McDonald says:

    Mark Heywood, you are my hero, we are so lucky to have you in our world! Change Starts Now is a ray of hope for me – may you continue to shine in our universe, go well and all strength to you, Mark!

  • Sam van Coller says:

    Very interesting that the writer who is taking a leadership role in a new party that seeks to unite South Africans includes comments in his final editorial that immediately divide a fair number of those who have commented into two camps. Leaders build bridges with a vision. Frontrunners divide. Not for me thanks

  • mikemcdonaldacc says:

    For the first time in decades, I feel confident that here is a party which can do the job. I so wish I could work for you / them ! I’ve always wanted to help in getting SA off the ground again.

  • Sarah8 Stevens says:

    Wishing you all the best in your new endeavour….For the sake of our country and all who live here, I hope you will be as successful with Change Starts Now as you have been with TAC!

  • Diane Salters says:

    Thank you Mark for all you have contributed in TAC and at the Maverick Citizen. However, I am disappointed that you are not putting your weight behind Arise Mzansi. Your vision and approach seem very compatible and it seems a shame to be setting up separate organisations. Perhaps, once elected, you will find ways to co-operate. I certainly hope so.

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