Cast your vote, and do it wisely
- Sisonke Msimang
- 05 Feb 2014 (South Africa)
The police seem intent on killing ordinary citizens. They Police Commissioner lurches from one bloody disaster to the next. She tells us that police are human beings too. She is right, even though this is not the moment for her to tell us this. They have just killed a child. I forget the name of the town. I forget – as soon as I hear it – the name of the child who was killed. I am inured to the pain of others. The suicide rate amongst cops is shameful. They are stressed out and trigger happy and under-paid and overworked. Their problems are systemic, as deep and as wide as Blood River. We fear them as much as they fear us. This has always been the case in South Africa.
We view each other from a wary distance. Then we begin to shout. South Africa is a nation of victims. I do not say this in a tone of sarcasm. It is an observation that makes me sigh and wince, almost simultaneously. I wish it weren’t so. Even the men with guns and water hoses, those with rubber bullets and live ammunition, are victims. The whites are victims of affirmative action. The blacks are victims of racism. The poor are victims of exploitation. The women are victims of abuse. The men are victims of rage.
In the new South Africa - which is not so new anymore but is remarkably new compared to the three hundred years of bloodletting that preceded it - we must talk of violence and politics in the same breath. Politics is violent and violence is political.
We cannot know anything if we do not know that the levels of violence in the country, and the persistence of rape and murder in particular, are an indicator of political failures. The decision that McBride should be head of Ipid despite the fact that he has broken our laws, despite the fact that he is a broken man who needs help, seems bloody and careless. It seems as though someone cares as little for the public as they do for McBride. Short-term thinking trumps long-term difficult decision-making.
McBride – like countless others who were brave and young and angry and who killed so that others would one day be free – has not been taken care of the way he should have been. They – like him - are the walking wounded, twisted and righteously bitter and armed to the teeth and seeking refuge in bottles and bodies and places they should not be.
There was no plan made for the ones who carried guns across the Limpopo to join MK. There was nothing for their families. And so, there were many AK-47s that were redeployed when it became clear that the ANC did not have a plan to reintegrate yet another set of victims. There had already been provisions made for all sorts of other victims. The victims who had suffered Bantu education, the victims who had contracted HIV, the victims who had been punched in the face by the migrant labour system, they stood in line and the ANC became busy.
The simmering rage of the victims who fought and so knew how to use guns, the rage of those (I suspect like McBride) who had nightmares and sweats and drinking binges and violent rages and PTSD – these were ignored.
Those fighters were young when freedom came. Today their bitterness has hardened, it has become as leathery and worn down as our politics. The era of the art of ‘congress’ is over. Once more we are at war.
New fighters have emerged. The Economic Freedom Fighters have arrived, led by a Prince called Julius. The rhetoric is violent. The uniforms make me anxious. The rounded bellies over tightened belts make me smile. He is a victim too, a brilliant, important victim who speaks on behalf of many. Someone didn’t take care of him.
So, Julius is here to remind us that our state has not yet developed a plan to address the deep economic divides that were inherited from Apartheid. He tells us – rightly – that instead its officials and functionaries drive expensive cars over rutted streets and whizz arrogantly past aching poverty. Despite the remarkable Constitution of which it is the custodian, our government has failed to inculcate widespread respect for the rule of law. He points to local councillors and senior politicians who flout the rules and write new laws to shield themselves from prosecution.
These problems may have been created by old thugs but their persistence is the fault of a new mob. What are we going to do about this?
As we celebrate twenty years of democracy South Africans are beginning to realise that we are stuck in a pathological victimhood, forever pointing the finger outward, forever waiting for the return of saviours who have long since passed.
Their words remain, to buoy us but they are gone. And this needs to be okay. Their absence needs to be okay. The lack of a morally upright cadre of leaders cannot stymy us.
On August 3, 1857 Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery and escaped it, made a speech in which he said “[F]ind out just what a people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” One hundred and fifty years later, these words resonate for South Africans. Mandela is no more. Jacob Zuma is not an unstoppable monster. Our leaders are no better or worse than any others. They will only stop the violence that wounds everybody and resolves nothing, if we insist that they do. In April we must vote and we must do so wisely. DM
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