“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
– Martin Luther King Jr
There was a time in our history when courage was our defining character. I think back to my teenage years and remember a defiant, fearless Steve Biko standing up in front a bullying phalanx of apartheid stormtroopers. “We have nothing to lose but our chains. The main tool of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed.”
Have we lost our backbone today? Have we forgotten the sacrifice millions have paid with their lives for the freedom that we so carelessly toss into the cesspool of corrupt behaviour of a handful of oligarchic families that in every way represent the robber barons of yesteryear? The defence of freedom requires the vigilance – open eyes and open hearts.
All I know is that men and women of character and integrity will stand up and defend our freedom. Real men and women will say no to those marauding warlords who want to assassinate our freedom and strangle our democracy. Real men and women will refuse to steal tens of billions when millions of our people go to bed hungry every night, and millions more are jobless, poor and living hand to mouth.
That’s what generations have done before you. Are we prepared to do it again now? Or will we betray our children? That is a question only you can answer.
All I know is that in every part of society there are men and women of integrity who cherish the dream we had in 1994 of a better life for our people. Men and women of integrity who know that we have work to do to heal the wounds of the past. Men and women of integrity who carry that formidable dream of freedom in their hearts and the power to defend it. And I know there are many in this room who will refuse to compromise in extinguishing that dream which is our priceless intergenerational gift.
We live in uncertain times. It is a volatile world. Social conflict is rising. We see the rise of fascism and authoritarian populism. The drums of war drown out the voices of peace. Aggression and violence inflict a great toll on the innocent, especially women and children.
Our beautiful country is a laboratory of learning to live together. With our multicultural diversity and history of deep racial, ethnic and class divisions we have the unique opportunity to break down the walls that divide us. But it needs courage. And it needs ethical leadership at every level of society.
Chris Hani, days before he was murdered, said that South Africa faced a “new enemy” and a “new struggle”. Our struggle, he said, was socio-economic; it was about the struggle for jobs, houses, schools, so that we can build a society that cares.”
The new enemy, he said, was corruption: “What I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists … who drive around in Mercedes Benzes and use the resources of this country …to live in palaces and to gather riches.?”
The true liberators of our country were not organisations and leaders. They were the workers, toiling kilometres underground digging out wealth they never benefited from. They were the ordinary people, your mothers and fathers, who got up at three in the morning to prepare your food before trudging from dormitory matchbox townships they had been dumped into, to earn a pittance so that you could have an education and a better life.
They were the rural women who kept the families going in spite of a ferocious migrant labour system that sought to break the back of our social fabric.
That is who we betray if our cowardice triumphs. It was not the ANC which freed us. It was the courageous battles of workers, students, youth, women and rural communities who won us our freedom. The people gave the ANC the social licence and privilege to lead this country. I do not see that ANC today. It has withered in the bonfire of corruption sweeping our land. And that right to govern is exactly that – a privilege. It was never a God-given right to rule. It can be withdrawn if that mandate of a better life is betrayed.
Change is inevitable. The struggle of our generation of 1976 was captured in that single moment when Hector Peterson was murdered. It is an image we held deeply in our hearts and fueled our determination to break the yoke of apartheid. Like the image of Mahmoud Bouazizi, in Tunisia, who poured fuel over himself and set himself alight to highlight the oppressive exclusion of his people, and set up a revolution for human dignity in North Africa that toppled some of the most brutal dictators across the region.
So, what is the spark that will light up your fire? That will make you stand up and be counted? A chartered accountant has an oath of office. An oath to uphold a code of ethics. To be our eyes and ears. To be the guardians of our interests. Why have our public institutions like the Reserve bank been so silent? Why have our banks been silent while billions are looted? Why have they not raised the red flags before? Like KPMG and McKinsey have they become complicit in the looting?
Public money that could provide books, laboratories, water and electricity in schools for our children to learn has been stolen. Public money that could pay for doctors, nurses and medicines in our clinics and hospitals. Public money that could create jobs, provide houses, support smallholder farmers with irrigation, seeds, nurseries so that our people can grow their own food.
How can we plunge the dagger into the very democracy that was supposed to bring us Hope, to bring us the “better life” we promised our people in 1994?
The media has reported the imminent plundering of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) that manages trillions of rand of the workers’ pension funds and Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) contributions.
Over the years, the PIC’s huge resources have been used to promote mega BEE deals, benefiting the political heavyweights. Billions have been lost due to unwise political decision-making.
Do you have any idea what “billions of rand” means? What it means when you earn in one hour what the minimum wage is per month?
Why should workers’ pension funds be used to bail out state-owned enterprises, which are bankrupted by “extraction machines” of greedy beings? Why are the union trustees in the GEPF (Government Employees Pension Fund) silent?
Remember what the slogan of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was? Truth hurts but silence kills. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence in our country.
What happens to millions of workers who contributed their life savings to these funds? Now they will be thrown onto the streets.
Are you ready to sleep in the streets? What happens to the chartered accountants, actuaries, fund managers and state officials implicated in this pillage?
Institution after institution, we see the impunity of corporate theft on a grand scale. African Bank, Denel, Eskom, Transnet, SAA. The sacrilege continues, unabated.
What about the professional bodies like the Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors and the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants. Don’t they have a vital role in ensuring that chartered accountants have integrity? Have our trust? Surely, some of these chartered accountants should be named, shamed and imprisoned, or at the very least stripped of their certificate given their violation of their oath.
In South Africa, we see circling vultures descending on a gold rush of rape and pillage of our resources. It causes deep anger, hostility and restlessness in our land. Tribal and racial tensions and xenophobic violence are skin-deep. It does not take too much demagoguery to inflame emotions that spill over into loss of lives and property. The revolution is here. The question is whether it is peaceful or violent. But always remember that it is easy to invade, to burn, to destroy. It takes only a matchstick. But it takes generations to rebuild. That is the lesson of history and that is a choice only you can make.
We have been here before. We have walked away from the precipice of war and social conflict before. We can do it again.
As our founding father of our democracy, Nelson Mandela, once said,
“It always seems impossible until it’s done. Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation.”
And in 2017, a century after Oliver Reginald Tambo was born, let us remember his wisdom,
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean. If a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” DM
This is an edited version of the speech delivered to the Chartered Institute of Government and Risk Officers in Cape Town on 10 October 2017.
The 2016 Rio Olympic medals are already showing defects including rusting and chipping.