Defend Truth


Cancer and Corruption: A metaphor for these times?


Pregs Govender’s writing, education and activism honour our individual and collective power of love and courage to be insubordinate to all forms of injustice. Govender is a former trade unionist, MP (1994-2002), SA Human Rights Commissioner (2009-2015) and author @pregsgovender

“Cut it out … Destroy it before it destroys us ...” The metaphor of cancer is being used by everyone from leaders of political parties to journalists to describe corruption in the body politic. Unfortunately, cancer cells often move to a new location where they continue to grow. The same is true in politics.

Radical surgery that excises the malignant growth may save your life. Unfortunately, cancer cells often move to a new location where they continue to grow. Like almost everything in life, the short-term plan needs to be located within a proactive, longer-term plan. What has depleted our overall health and what will assist the body’s natural intelligence restore health and vitality? Can the power of healthy cells be mobilised to prevent the suicide mission – the hari kiri of cancer cells?

At the funeral for beloved ANC veteran, Comrade Ahmed Kathrada, former President Kgalema Motlante quoted Comrade Kathy’s letter, which called for President Jacob Zuma to resign. His actions – during his rape trial, his relationship with the Shaiks over the arms deal, his relationship with the Guptas over Nkandla, the nuclear deal with Putin’s Russia and many other scandals, have harmed the ANC and SA’s Democracy. At the memorial, Barbara Hogan, (former political prisoner, Cabinet Minister and ‘Mr K’s’ widow) called on “everyone here not to remain silent…our country is not for sale”.

Their call was a powerful catalyst for action and was heeded by a number of ANC leaders and activists, several of whom are MPs and Cabinet Ministers. Mass based organisations such as the EFF, the SACP, COSATU and SAFTU added their voices to Comrade Kathy’s call. Black feminist activists from working class backgrounds, such as Vuyiseka Dubula, who have a history of powerful organising through social movements, responded to Comrade Kathy’s call. With passion and skill they are ensuring inclusive creative mass action. The genius and beauty of South African activism lies in its ability to connect the dots, to break silences, to recognise complexity and to expose contradictions – the qualities that can transform unity into real power.

From the US to India to the UK, the language of the “leadership of women” has been co-opted by patriarchs intent on conservative agendas. In SA, the court records in the rape case brought by Fezeka Kuzwayo against her father’s friend and comrade lays bare the empty rhetoric. Fezeka, who became known as Khwezi, faced a daily barrage of threats and humiliation inside and outside the courtroom as she sought justice. Feminists in the One in Nine Campaign rallied around her, but were little match for misogynistic political mobilising, courtroom lawyers and media commentators. In ‘Zuma, a biography’, Jeremy Gordin concludes that: “he merely went ahead and had his way with her, as countless men do every night of the week with countless women. It’s the way of the world…the only problem having been that Khwezi couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with the way of the world”. How do we change this patriarchal, misogynistic “way of the world” that put Fezeka “into her place”, while putting Zuma into the most powerful office in the land? How do we shift a worldview that so many unconsciously perpetuate?

At that time, the President who was removed was Thabo Mbeki. Together with Health Minister, Tshabalala-Msimang and other loyalists, he caused widespread confusion about treatment for HIV/AIDS in the public sector. The result was the tragic death of many dependent on free treatment to survive. Women who were black, working class and poor, led by feminists such as Sipho Mthathi, (then General Secretary of the TAC) stood up for their lives. At that time the majority of public representatives and leaders of the alliance remained silent. Many of those who finally mobilised against Mbeki, cited Mbeki’s exclusion of them as individuals rather than this terrible human cost. Cosatu’s leader, Zwelinzima Vavi declared that “Any effort to stop Jacob Zuma from becoming president would be like trying to fight against the big wave of the tsunami.” The ANC’s youth league leader, Julius Malema, who claimed he would “kill for Zuma” publicly insulted Fezeka to loud cheers at a large student gathering.

None of us are fixed in heroic or despotic moments of history. Life as it waxes and wanes, always provides opportunities for our humanity to emerge. Those who put Zuma into place yesterday and who today campaign to remove him cannot absolve themselves from responsibility. They can learn the hard lessons to strengthen and ensure the integrity of this campaign in shaping our shared future.

In response to the rising resistance to the “Zuptas”, a British “reputation management” firm has been contracted. Media outlets owned by the recent immigrant family of capitalists from India express and support anti-Indian chauvinism against Gordhan, (a highly respected struggle stalwart and Minister of Finance who was fired after the funeral). It attempts to co-opt the language of the left using terms such as “white monopoly capital” and “radical economic transformation”. Gordhan’s response has been to call for “principled unity” and “radical economic transformation for all South Africans”.

Black Sash’s Constitutional Court case on social grants reveal how Zuma’s favoured Minister Dlamini, did not protect SA’s poorest citizens against ‘white owned capital’, Grindrod Bank, CPS and its parent company Net1. Contracted to distribute grants, CPS had access to confidential information about grant recipients such as bank and cellphone details of SA’s poorest citizens. They abused this information to market loans at high interest rates and claimed unlawful debit deductions from meagre social grants, pushing many into utter destitution, while they reaped massive profits. They then used the crisis over the renewal of the contract to try to increase these profits but were stopped by the Constitutional Court.

Today, the majority of Black South Africans remain trapped in apartheid era townships, homelands and informal settlements. Here, every socio-economic indicator of poverty and inequality – including access to housing, clean water and decent sanitation in schools and homes, tertiary education, decent jobs, and healthy, nutritious food, depression and violence (including suicide and gender based violence) skyrocket, giving the lie to comforting national averages. SA remains the most unequal country in the world according to Oxfam’s 2017 global inequality report – the wealth of SA’s three richest white men is equal to that of the poorest 50% of South Africans.

Sadly, those who continue to fight this structural inequality, violence, racism and sexism remain largely invisible to many compatriots. Max Du Preez’ recent call to “Imagine what could have been if we white South Africans were as outraged at apartheid, torture & death squads as we are at Zuma right now” is a sharp rebuke about inaction during apartheid. Imagine what could emerge today if all of us acted in solidarity against the local and global causes of the ongoing injustice of poverty and inequality?

To return to cancer as metaphor…the individual can learn how to change harmful behaviour patterns, related to factors such as tobacco, alcohol, food, exercise and stress. But there are factors over which an individual has little or no control such as extremely high levels of cancer causing chemicals in our air, water and earth. The corporations responsible for most of this contamination, in their everyday operations and in tragedies such as Bhopal, believe that their money can buy elected leaders, weaken institutions of governance and enable them to get away with murder.

In South Africa, anti-mining activists in the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) are on a hit list for defending the rights of local communities and their land and water in the Eastern Cape. The ACC was formed to resist the plans of a powerful Australian corporation and its local subsidiary. One of the principled leaders on the hit-list, Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe, was assassinated. “Killing him, they thought, would be the end of the struggle…our strategy now…is that we will not allow any mining here” says Nomhle Mbuthuma, a strong woman leader of the ACC who is also on the hit-list.

We put our trust in elected leaders to strengthen institutions that are mandated to hold such corporations to account. We expect them to protect us against the enormous power of such corporations, regardless of who owns them. Instead public representatives are often corrupted by or collude with them. Since Comrade Kathy’s funeral, there is a resuscitation of our individual and collective power. We are slowly learning that we cannot give up our power to the Big Man or Woman and are finding ways to ensure that elected leaders remain true to the people.

Each action counts. After opposing the arms deal when it came into effect in the Defence Budget Vote and chairing public hearings on HIV and Aids, I resigned from Parliament in 2002. Through each of these decisions, I sat with fear and was deeply grateful for the powerful solidarity of Comrade Barbara. Barbara’s Mr K, with characteristic generosity wrote, “Please continue to make us walk tall, by your courage and devotion.” I imagine that Comrade Kathy and his generation would say the same to ANC MP’s. ‘Make us walk tall’…as you walk through the fear and vote on the leadership of our beloved country. DM

Pregs Govender, author of Love and Courage, A Story of Insubordination, served as ANC MP (1994 to 2002), Chair of the Independent Review of Parliament (2007-2009) and Deputy Chair of the SAHRC (2009-2015). @pregsgovender


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