Defend Truth


What happens to a dream deferred?


Herman Mashaba is the leader of ActionSA. Mashaba is the former executive mayor of Johannesburg and founder of the People’s Dialogue.

I’ve challenged Mayor Parks Tau to debate with me the living conditions and the widespread economic exclusion in the City of Johannesburg. This is not to grandstand, but to engage on which candidate and party has the best plan to fulfil the City’s needs, and deliver the hopes and dreams of the people of Jo’burg.

I believe that our people expect and demand more than they’re offered by today’s ANC.

Last Monday I went to a place venerated in South Africa’s struggle history, where I couldn’t help but feel at home. I was in Kliptown where, on June 26 1955, the famous Freedom Charter was signed. Rooted in the visionary non-racialism and egalitarianism of early struggle visionaries, the Charter foreshadowed our human-rights based constitution that was finally adopted in 1996. This enlightened document paved the way to realise the dreams of all South Africans to live with dignity and hope.

You can imagine my sense of betrayal when I found that after twenty years there was neither dignity nor hope to be found in this iconic place. I met a woman who had been waiting since 1994 to be housed. Twenty two years on, and she still has to use a pit toilet. Her living conditions were appalling and hazardous due to illegal electricity connections. This women’s plight is emblematic of the gap between the rights to which South Africans are guaranteed, and the reality of life on the ground. Her story is emblematic because it’s one I’ve heard time and time again since I started penning this column eight weeks ago.

The American poet, Langston Hughes famously asked “what happens to a dream deferred?” The protests we saw in Zandspruit at the disconnection of illegal connections last week confirmed his rhetorical answer: “It may explode.”

But if the ANC do not deliver in Kliptown of all places, where do they deliver? Their broken promises are a betrayal of both the Freedom Charter and the Constitution. The most serious must be the broken promise to provide dignified shelter. The Freedom Charter promised that “all people shall have the right to live where they choose, be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security; Unused housing space to be made available to the people; Rent and prices shall be lowered, food plentiful and no-one shall go hungry.” The Constitution further guarantees that “Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing.”

I believe that Mayor Tau’s administration is not only in contravention of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it is also in contravention of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. These progressive documents unambiguously define the right to housing. I care so much that I am prepared to take up this fight, even if it means taking it to these international rights organisations.

There is a beautiful and famous line in scripture that has particularly resonated with the struggle of oppressed black people everywhere. It seems especially apt in today’s townships in South Africa: “By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion.” Those living in poverty on the banks of the Klipriver, a mere stone’s throw away from the site of the Freedom Charter’s declaration, must surely weep at the betrayal of the dream set out in the Freedom Charter.

What the residents of Kliptown need today, as much as in 1955, is greater economic freedom; embodied in the rule of law, the protection of individual rights, and freedom of economic opportunity. Countless studies have found that freedom matters, in that there is a strong link between the level of economic freedom and the prosperity of the people. The higher the freedom score, the lower the rate of unemployment. Equally, the more repressed the economy, the poorer its citizens.

Equally, inflation rates tend to rise as economic freedom falls – as it is rocketing at the moment. While itself an important component of total freedom, economic freedom is actually a precondition for the political freedom foreshadowed at Kliptown. The first principle of economic freedom must be safe shelter. A homeless person has no catalyst to change their circumstances. It is not just a question of resources.

Two weeks ago we saw the grotesque spectacle of almost R1 billion in housing funds being given up by Gauteng to the National Treasury. This was a tragedy for our province, and for the City of Johannesburg. This investment is lost to us as the money has been reallocated to other provinces. Shack and backyard dwellers – the poorest of the poor – are the victims of this chronic mismanagement and lack of capability. Often it is not a lack of money, but the absence of political leadership that leaves poor people behind

As the DA mayoral candidate for Johannesburg I see how this presents a challenge of administration and leadership, which I am prepared to rise to. My administration will not abandon people’s hopes and dreams as Mayor Park Tau’s administration has. Even the Constitutional Court has found them lacking, as the City of Johannesburg is still in contravention of a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling (City of Johannesburg and Others versus Mazibuko and Others) that it has, among other things, an obligation to provide dignified shelter to its citizens.

The problem is one of political leadership as much as it is one of capable governance. In the ANC, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Since the adoption of our Constitution, our elitist rulers have descended into drunkenness with power, arrogance, and sanctimony.

Last week, I outlined my four strategic interventions to provide safe shelter to all the people of Johannesburg. I belong to an alternative party of government that has a track record of delivering upon the Freedom Charter’s and the Constitution’s promises of safe and dignified shelter. Where the DA governs, we’ve already upgraded informal settlements through access to dignified sanitation, upgrading sewerage infrastructure, and through water and electricity provision. We’ve also innovated with ideas like ‘Brick Skin’ projects to keep people warm and insulated in the cold winter. We’ve made progress with fire prevention through community fire-fighters on the township streets, re-blocking, and fire sensor devices.

The residents of Johannesburg – like the woman I met in Kliptown, who will remain forever etched in my heart – should never have to suffer the indignity of pit toilets, or live in fear of their belongings being washed away.

My fellow South Africans, we are better than this. DM


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