Defend Truth


You Knew. Because we told you.


Mark Heywood is the Editor of Maverick Citizen, a section of the Daily Maverick. He is the former Executive Director of SECTION27 and has been a human rights activist most of his life.

In a few years’ time, Jacob Zuma and his gang of thieves will be creatures of history, an ugly nightmare, a cancerous carbuncle that ate away at the naivety of a new nation. The ANC will be trying to regroup. At that point, as few of its leaders are likely to admit to supporting Jacob Zuma as those whose silence tacitly supported Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS denialism. Or white people who admit to benefitting from apartheid.

From within the ANC the voices of only a few lone revolutionaries will stand out. Among them will be Mavuso Msimang one of the earliest critics. Ben Turok will be another. Then came Sipho Pityana. Barbara Hogan spoke out. So did Matthews Phosa. There were then most of the veterans, and a few others. Not many. Lone voices. Important all. But little more than a handful. Most remained eerily, disappointingly, silent. Yes, some have questioned why the Phosas of the world only speak out now. Well, at least they spoke out. It’s still not too late.

When you deny your complicity with the crimes of the Zuma period I hope to pull out this article. I will remind you that “You knew. You knew … what Jacob Zuma’s misrule was costing our country. Yours was not a game of Risk. You were part of the cast in a sadistic play of pain and indignity. We were in the audience.”

You knew about this pain, because we told you.

You knew that the rats had infested the house of Luthuli and were gnawing out its guts.

You knew, because we told you – that Nyaope and other drugs were eating into the despair of unemployed young people, turning boys and girls into thieves from their own families, children into killers in communities where they once were the innocents.

And you ignored us.

You knew, because we warned you – that moving 1,300 mentally ill patients from Life Esidimeni would cause harm, indignity, suffering and death. We tried to stop you, but you sent your minions to lie in court and in public. But even we could not imagine the scale of the deaths or the horror of the dying.

An unbeaten century.

You knew, because we told you, about the corruption in the Free State health system (and other provinces) and how it was throttling the health services. We went all the way to Luthuli House to meet Gwede and Jessie and Zizi. We told you.

We told you about the rule of Ace Magashule – what people on the ground call the “Parys Mafia” – about Benny Malakoane and Mosebenzi Zwane. We told you how they had ordered an ICU patient to be evicted from his Dihlabeng hospital bed so that a dying relative of then MEC Zwane could occupy the bed.

Despite that you allowed Zwane to be promoted to be a national minister.

You knew.

We told you.

You did nothing.

You knew, because we told you, that nearly 2,000 young girls and women are being infected each week with HIV – 283 a day to be precise. You knew about the rapist teachers whose names we provided you with. You knew about the epidemics of rape that tear apart under-policed communities like Diepsloot; you knew about the battery of women that forms part of the legacy of Marikana on the platinum belt in the North West province. There, men die of bullets. The women die of rape.

You knew, because we told you, that children were dying slow deaths because of severe acute malnutrition – in the middle of big cities. In a middle income country. Just down the road from your mansions.

You had the Constitutional power to ensure the right to “basic nutrition” and “sufficient food” for the 12-million who feel hunger every day.

You protected your own sumptuous plates.

You had the moral and legal authority to tackle private companies who profiteer from people’s basic needs.

Yet you ignored them as they exploited people. Then you tried to hide behind rhetorical denunciations of “white monopoly capital”.

You had the power to effect land transformation and you didn’t use it. The people trusted you with their power and you used it for yourselves.

You had the information to expose the corruption you knew about. But you kept quiet.

You threw up your hands, shrugged your shoulders and told us “if only you knew”.

You knew.

Behind your dark tinted windows and beneath your blue lights – you knew.

Behind your conceit and arrogance – you knew.

Behind your factory for excuses – you knew.

Behind your once noble histories and sacrifices – you knew.

Behind the prostitutes you paid to sell fake news – you knew.

We know you knew. Because we told you.

In future you will say you were the good people in a bad government – yet you had the Constitutional power to overthrow these thieves.

But you hedged your bets.

The Constitution gave you the power to remove the President with a vote of no confidence in parliament. It only needed 51%.

But you were afraid to do the right thing.

When this nightmare is over, may you not rest in peace.

And so next time you come knocking to ask for my vote I will ask you for proof of your conscience. Make sure you have it ready for presentation. Make sure you have it. DM

Mark Heywood is Executive Director of SECTION27 and an Executive member of the Treatment Action Campaign.


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