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23 November 2017 00:19 (South Africa)
Opinionista Mark Heywood

Let me ask you: Are you working for South Africa?

  • Mark Heywood
    mark-heywood.jpg
    Mark Heywood

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

Working for South Africa doesn’t mean 67 token minutes of sacrifice once a year. It means that on a daily basis you ask yourself whether your efforts are contributing to the well-being of all the people in this county … or undermining it?

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness?
Do you think that it could?
|I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

Bob Dylan Masters of War

Louis Botha Avenue is an arterial road that is as old as Johannesburg itself and carries all of its history. Fortunately, the advent of the Ben Schoeman highway turned it from a highway into a byway, leaving many of its historic relics to grow old in relative quiet. Today, on a stretch of road between the edges of Hillbrow and Alexandra, you can find pawn shops and porn shops, the crustaceous shells of old cinemas now taken over by a plethora of evangelical churches, a never-say-die beer hall and once stately mansions.

One of the relics is a little bicycle shop called Bhanis Bikes.

Bhanis is like an old curiosity shop. Bikes and bike-bits hang from the rafters, amid random horns, bells, pumps and cycle bric-à-brac.

A few weeks ago, I was at Bhanis chatting to the brother and sister who have run it for for the last 30 years. They gently lamented the downturn in their trade, saying 2017 has been their worst trading year ever. They quietly blamed the whittling away of community cash-in-hand on the economic chaos caused by Jacob Zuma.

Bad government trickles down.

Louis Botha is in a depression.

As we talked a man and his 10-year-old son came in pushing a lame bicycle. The boy looked forlorn. The father explained that he was a truck driver. Paradoxically, because he is a long distance driver he is rarely able to travel relatively short distances to places like the bike shop. So the bike had been broken for a while. In the end, about half an hour’s attention was all it needed to right the bike. At that point the man and the now delighted son offered to pay.

Mrs Bhani waved his offer away.

I was amazed.

In our country, some already well-off people – lawyers, doctors, accountants – will charge you blind for half an hour.

Not the Bhanis.

They run a struggling small business, but they also work for South Africa.

Not the Bhanis.

They still have enough soul left to feel sympathy for a fellow human being and his child.

They work for South Africa.

***

In 2017, it feels like it’s the time of the Duduzanes, the McKinseys, the KPMGs, and the tribe of leeches they all come from. The time of the rapists. Conversely, 2017 also feels like the year of Life Esidimeni; the time when the weak and vulnerable get raped, robbed, tortured and turned out. During this selfish stampede it is easy to forget that people like the Bhanis still exist. In our media’s fetish with those that are vile we overlook people who are plain good. However, there are many more of them than you might think.

They work for South Africans and for themselves. The two need not be incompatible.

They are the people who, on various fronts, keep our society from completely unravelling.

They work for themselves. But they also work to uplift the values we have embedded in our Constitution: all people’s dignity, equality, opportunity. A socially just society.

They work for South Africa.

This article is in celebration of them.

***

Our hospitals are in crisis. They have the developed the capacity to kill as much as to cure. Yet I know a couple of occupational therapists at Manguzi hospital in the UmKhanyakude district of KZN. Their daily round is among the wretched on the earth, disabled children and their parents trying to live as nominal equals in a society that doesn’t care about them.

Despite a Health Department that fails them on every front, they spend life arguing for wheelchairs, running workshops, working with an equally dedicated but unsung team who just get on with it. Without them, health services for the disabled in this district would just collapse – as they have in so many others.

They work for South Africa.

***

I know the clinical manager of a hospital in the Free State. His name is Xxxxx. Not long ago his hospital was one of the worst in the country. The lifts were broken. The boiler was bust. During the winter some patients froze in their beds. Doctors who spoke against a pair of robber MECs were threatened with dismissal. Yet when the emigration to the private sector started this doctor stayed with his hospital. Like my friends the therapists, he got little help from the Health Department. Yet today as a result of his efforts and others around him the hospital is one of the best performing in the Province.

He works for South Africa.

***

Our public schools are in crisis. Many have become places where the learning is about rape and violence. Yet I know a school principal in Limpopo. His name is Xxxxx. His school may suffer filthy toilets and broken desks, overcrowded classrooms and insufficient teachers. Protest though he may, these issues are beyond his control. In 2012 he was one of a few who stood up and went to court over the textbooks crisis. He was victimised for it. But he still runs after-school and Saturday morning lessons. Every year his students have excelled.

He works for South Africa.

***

During the course of the Life Esidimeni disaster and now arbitration we have seen the worst of human beings. And the best.

The worst are imperial. They work for themselves, selling patients to fake ‘NGOs’ in the hope that they will be rewarded with votes that will allow they to continue to eat at the trough.

The best work for South Africa, putting aside personal pain and loss to work tirelessly for other families and the truth. Inside the Department of Health there were good people like Xxxx and Xxxxxxx and Xxxxx who tried to stand up and refuse unlawful orders.

They worked for South Africa.

***

I know a league of activists in the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). Most of them are unemployed, many are women. They live with a cocktail of violence and HIV. Yet on a daily basis they visit clinics, encourage HIV testing, teach adherence to medicines, protest and petition. They teach and counsel.

TAC branch members work continually on reporting medicine stock-outs, dysfunctional clinics and human resource shortages. Without them the antiretroviral (ARV) treatment that stops four million people living with HIV from dying of Aids would collapse. Their hours last as long as anybody else’s. But they don’t put a price-tag on their activism.

They work for South Africa.

***

Are you working for South Africa?

Working for South Africa means working for its people. It means ongoing continuous small actions that grow good government, social justice and equality.

Working for South Africa doesn’t mean 67 token minutes of sacrifice once a year. It means that on a daily basis you ask yourself whether your efforts are contributing to the well-being of all the people in this county … or under-mining it?

Working for South Africa means avoiding corrupt activity.

Working for South Africa means reporting corrupt activity.

Working for South Africa means doing your job diligently as a public servant.

Working for South Africa means tempering your own greed as a business leader.

Working for South Africa means being ready to stand up for other people’s rights.

Working for South Africa means making personal sacrifices for a greater good.

Working for South Africa is an attitude and an ethic that carries into action and doesn’t get stuck at the dinner table.

Working for South Africa is mostly a silent commitment. It doesn’t boast. It’s not decoration or tinsel or window dressing.

If we are going to win the battle against the thieves in high office, be it government or business, we are going to have to do more to recognise and support the good.

So, let me ask you one question: Do you work for South Africa or do you work for number one? DM

  • Mark Heywood
    mark-heywood.jpg
    Mark Heywood

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

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