Defend Truth


Dreams in a time of war


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

What is the definition of war? When is a country at war? Is our country now at war with itself?

These are questions that South Africans should think very deeply about. For good reason in recent months much civic and political activism has gone into efforts to reverse the capture of our Treasury, revenue service, parts of our police and many significant government departments. But underneath the gripping theatre of state capture – a national melodrama – is a deepening crisis, a crisis that it starting to push its way through the frayed seams of our national consensus.

Witness the crisis in Coligny.

Witness it in Eldorado Park.

Witness it in Vuwani.

Witness it in the charred body of Karabo Mokoena.

Witness it in our public clinics, or schools, or endless lines of unemployed.

And bear in mind that what you witness is only the issues the media captures. Beneath these stories are a million daily indignities you do not read about.

The dereliction of duty of many ruling politicians is reflected in our official statistics which now paint the picture of a people suffering many of the consequences of a country at war. For example, in an official report on causes of mortality in 2015 Statistics South Africa revealed:

  • Over 50,000 people, most of them young men, died as a result of injuries arising from violence;
  • In 2015 over 100,000 people died of preventable diseases, particularly HIV and TB.

The graph above, contained in the Stats SA report on mortality for 2015, shows the distribution of deaths of men. Look at the pinnacle in deaths between the ages of 15 and 29. These are men who should be in the ‘prime of life’. This is what a war looks like.

Compare the graph on male mortality with the distribution of deaths in women of the same age. The pinnacle has disappeared. But bear in mind that if a similar graph were to be produced reflecting levels of violence and rape against women the graphs would probably be inverted.

In addition:

  • Billions of rands in infrastructure and property is destroyed in service-delivery protests, such as those in Vuwani or on our university campuses;
  • An estimated 12-million people suffer daily hunger to do with a shortage of food as a result mainly of high food costs.

If it walks like a war, if it talks like a war, it is a war.

As our great writer Njabulo Ndebele said at the Memorial service of Uncle Kathy “This is a national crisis.”

This is a war. This is the war we must stop.

Of course, South Africa is not officially at war. Neither do we ever want it to be. Contrary to notions of war we were taught in school, this crisis does not originate primarily from an external threat. South Africa’s enemy is within. It lies in misgovernment, corrupt government and government that does not use the powers granted to it by the Constitution to alleviate the crisis faced by the poor.

As the war over the resources of a state rages within the elite many of the leaders of our governing party have less and less time to govern. Their main concern now and until 2019 is with battle-play and the maneuvering of factions. It is with their power and wealth not the people’s power or wealth.

This paralytic government is epitomised by President Jacob Zuma, a man who has turned against his people, his party and the founding document our new nation. What we face now is a matter of life and death; death of the dream of our nation, death of many of our people, death of many of our democratic institutions.

If we accept that this is tantamount to a war on the poor – there are a thousand daily injustices, hundreds of unreported Esidimenis that do not make it into the media – the question of how we can bring this war to an end should be the primary concern for all people and all political parties, including the many good people remaining in the African National Congress (ANC).

There is a way. There are glimmers of hope. In particular, we should pay attention to the unity that political parties have shown in the campaign to remove Jacob Zuma. Should this unity only be applied to this particular issue?

The people should say it is not. We should demand something better from our political parties.

The Stats SA report offers empirical evidence that the poor in South African can no longer afford the games of peace-time party politics. Hyperventilating politicians save no lives. The poor live out of their reach, on very unparliamentary front lines. “Exigencies” and “points of order” yield no protections as young women and men die at the hands of criminals, at risk of rape, or suffering hunger.

Now is the time to suspend the colonial antics of the “Westminster system” – political behaviours that for all our huffing and puffing about colonialism we seem to imitate gleefully and uncritically from our “masters”.

Political parties’ responsibility is to look at what we need to do to advance the heart of our post-apartheid vision – the legally mandated dream of equality and social justice.

If political parties really intend to restore the rule of law under our Constitution the time has arrived for a new politics. It is the time for political parties to come together in the interests of all the people in SA. It is time for political parties with the active support of civil society and business to agree a core plan, with budgets and urgent time frames, that can restore hope and dignity in South Africa.

What would a People’s Recovery Plan look like?

Many of the problems South Africa faces will take years to resolve, but there are some issues that can and should receive immediate attention. Two come to mind:

The appalling quality of basic education affects 25-million young people in our country. It is an insult to them and an insult to young people who died rejecting Bantu education as one of the markers of inequality. Why can we not achieve national unity in fixing basic education, in ensuring learners have toilets and textbooks, desks and teachers, access to modern technologies and libraries? Why can’t we tell the nation that within two years we will have fixed our education system?

Linked to inequality in education is the hunger crisis, that affects children and adults alike. Around 12 million hungry people in a country with a right to ‘sufficient food’ and basic nutrition for children? In the same way that the Treatment Action Campaign fought successfully for affordable medicines using the Constitution, why can’t we implement measures to ensure affordable essential food-stuffs. Surely national unity between political parties on this issue is not impossible?

I would argue that the time has come for voters to judge politicians on their ability to work together in the public interest, rather than to perpetuate a circus of division. As we have seen recently, working together does not mean subsuming political identity or difference. I will give my vote to a party that provides the best leadership in establishing unity, rather than division.

Messrs Holomisa, Lekota, Maimane, Malema and even Ramaphosa: is this too much to ask on behalf of 50-million anxious citizens caught up in an undeclared and worsening war?

But for a new politics to be born we first have to get rid of a corrupt president. As the former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela showed in her last investigation, State of Capture South Africa is the victim of a conspiracy to capture important parts our state (mostly financial and intelligence). This conspiracy appears to be driven, at least in part, by people and powers who are not South African. As is any war, they depend on invidious local collaborators, those willing to sell their souls for fifty pieces of silver or a mansion in Dubai. And, as in any war between elites, it is the poor who are the cannon fodder. And so, on the day the Constitutional Court hears the UDM application on the secret ballot it is clear that the time is fast approaching for at least 201 MPs, and preferably many more, to show unity in the interests of the nation.

That done we should get on with the real tasks of saving the people of this country. DM

The author acknowledges Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s memoir of the same name for the title of this article.


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