Opinionista Mark Heywood 14 December 2012

Mangaung: Voting on our lives

What the delegates to the ANC Congress do and decide in Mangaung over the next few days will be a turning point not just for the ANC, but for all of our lives. That is why we have a right to speak. So speak we will.

No one doubts the progress that the ANC has achieved since 1994. But the progress has not been fast enough for the poor, neither has it been equally distributed. As COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has pointed out, ironically, the greatest beneficiaries of those who sacrificed their lives and freedom to fight Apartheid have been those who for the most part sat on their hands under Apartheid.

No good person doubts the revolutionary and heroic credentials of the ANC, or that its 80-year struggle earned it the right to form and lead the first government of the new democratic South Africa. We will forever be grateful to Nelson Mandela and the ANC for opting for one of the most progressive and protective Constitutions in the world – especially when it had other choices.

No honest person questions the liberty we now enjoy, the vibrancy of our society, its peoples, its cultures, its larger-than-life heroes. We recognise that, unlike in some countries of the world, large parts of this society still function. We are a failing state. But we have not failed.

Finally, all sensible people accept that it will take a very long time to fully transform and stabilise a society that has been oppressed and distorted and divided; a society where the majority of its people were systematically disadvantaged for three hundred years by a succession of forms of white minority government.

For this we shower the ANC with thanks. 

But we are not a subject, silent or uncritical people. We have the right to question, the duty to show solidarity, the need to feel empathy. That is why today we voice profound concerns. Today a broad social swathe of people, including some who have paid great service to this country as former ministers, diplomats, senior civil servants, academics, share similar fears, although not all voice them. Today, the poor and marginalised are in a daily revolt, as we saw in Marikana, during the farm worker’s strikes and in the police’s own statistics which report three local protests about poor service delivery a day.

We are concerned. The fact that something is rotten in the house of Nkandla has shown itself in 2012. As we have witnessed in the deaths of Andries Tatane, “Mambush” Noki (better remembered as “the man in the Green Blanket”), the murder of ANC, NUM leaders and COSATU leaders like Moses Phakoe, our politics is becoming violent.

We are concerned. For the last ten years, beginning under President Mbeki, we have idled over mounting evidence of the deterioration of our education system. Yes, we have achieved access to education on a grand scale and excellence in parts. But stinking toilets, rape at schools, undelivered textbooks, classes held under trees, force some of us to contemplate a heresy: is education for some worse today than it was under Apartheid? Is it possible that whilst young people no longer brave Apartheid bullets, instead they brave bullies and rapists?

Can we consider similar dark possibilities as we look at our public health system? Public health services were disastrously neglected under President Mbeki and his lieutenant Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The HIV/AIDS epidemic was allowed to fan out like a forest fire and consume two million lives before we threw water on it.  Since 2009, Dr Motsoaledi has provided sterling leadership to resuscitate our hospitals and clinics. But a health system that can meet the constitutional right to health needs more than a good health minister. It needs a willingness to hunt down those who thieve medicines from our depots, sack bad managers put in place for reasons of political patronage and to tackle inequality, the largest social driver of ill health. 

A good health minister cannot deliver good health in a poor government. Whilst some health indicators are improving (thank God), many are worsening. And the health system is falling into a deeper and deeper crisis of management.

There are a multitude of other causes for concern. 

As we get closer and closer to Mangaung, those who raise patriotic criticism, even if bluntly, are hammered and maligned. But in the face of the sticks and stones that beat many poor people’s bones, the words “imperialist” “anti-majoritarian” do not hurt. Our accusations are not inventions. They are based on what we daily see and others feel. We do not wish to talk down our country and there is no hidden agenda. If there is, the state can use its league of spies to fish it out and make it public.

Instead, we make this accusation: those who cannot see the truth are either protected from it by the body-guards, blue-lights, or the walls and security fences that hide their mushrooming fortunes. If they are not at the trough already, they are beholden to those who are, caught in an ideological time-warp where they still believe the conspiracy theories of leaders who have long graduated from the downtrodden classes and races they came from. Or, they may be intimidated into silence and hopeful of future largesse.

In 2012, we have seen two ANCs. We see cabinet ministers, civil servants and government officials who are honest, exceptionally hard-working, self-sacrificing and talented. There are many of them. I will not name them to avoid them being tarred with the brush of integrity.

We also see legions of teachers, doctors, nurses, magistrates, judges, academics, trade unionists who are doing their best to do their best – often in workplaces that militate against productivity.

But then we see another ANC that is lying, venal and corrupt.

The first one keeps its head down and gets on with its business. It’s not clear why, but perhaps it is in the belief that this is still the best way to serve the country.

The other loudly declaims that it is serving the poor, while all its actions show that it is serving itself. Mansions, million rand hotel bills, multi-million rand plane bills, the abuse of state resources, feeding tenders to friends and family, are not things we have imagined. If only they were! 

This ANC likes to reinvent the Cold War, shout “liberal” and “counter-revolutionary” at every person who contradicts its claims. At some point, when this no longer washes with people (as it does with fewer and fewer) this ANC will resort to more dirty means. Because of its vulnerability, this group will try to close down the democratic space opened up by the Constitution and, if the state is left in its hands, will use it more and more widely against its opponents. 

The days of political prisoners may be in the future, as well as the past.

Between December 16 and 20, 5,000 people will hold the lives of over 50 million in their hands. For those of us who observe this gathering from the outskirts, those of us who are supporters of liberation if not members of the ANC anymore, the choice is not Anyone But Zuma (ABZ). President Zuma was the product of an Anyone But Mbeki (ABM) campaign. 

No, our plea is that ANC delegates pull out of their ranks leaders who are visionary, capable of rallying people across race and classes, persuading the old and new privileged to lay aside self-interest and pursue national interest. This interest is best served by creating jobs, stamping out corruption, raising the living standards of the poor, urgently and decisively fixing the education and health systems.

Please prove the sceptics and pessimists wrong. There is a chance to put South Africa on a new path. If you don’t, we will all pay the price. DM


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