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The Winds of Change of 2020: Now is the time to act collectively


Lwando Xaso is an attorney, writer and speaker . She is the founder of Including Society. She is also the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’. Follow her at @includingsociety.

Covid-19 has fundamentally shifted the world in a short space of time and is testing our democracy as well as our way of life. And it’s testing our unequal society.

Sixty years ago on 3 February 1960, three months before the Sharpeville massacre, the UK Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, after spending a month travelling through Africa, delivered the famous “Winds of Change” speech in Cape Town. Back then, we were still the Union of South Africa and not a republic as yet.

Macmillan said that it was quite significant that he was visiting the Union in its 50th year, its golden anniversary – the Union having been formed in 1910. He remarked that: “In the 50 years of their nationhood, the people of South Africa have built a strong economy founded upon a healthy agriculture and thriving, and resilient industries. During my visit, I have been able to see something of your mining industry, on which the prosperity of the country is so firmly based. I have seen your Iron and Steel Corporation and… the skyscrapers of Johannesburg, standing where 70 years ago there was nothing but the open veld. I have seen, too, the fine cities of Pretoria and Bloemfontein.”

Nowhere does he mention seeing the poverty-stricken “locations” in which the great majority lived. Nowhere does he mention that the progress he noted was gained through the severe oppression of a majority by a minority. He does, however, hint that Britain does not approve of apartheid South Africa’s policies. 

However, at the core of Macmillan’s speech is his observation of a greater phenomenon occurring throughout Africa. He states that “we have seen the awakening of national consciousness in peoples who have for centuries lived in dependence upon some other Power … the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness. In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent and, whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.” 

More poignantly, Macmillan states: “What is now on trial is much more than our military strength or our diplomatic and administrative skill. It is our way of life.”  In recognition of the differences Macmillan perceives between South Africa and the UK , with many in the UK calling for a boycott of South Africa, he concludes his speech by saying: “I hope indeed, I am confident that in another 50 years we shall look back on the differences that exist between us now as matters of historical interest, for as time passes and one generation yields to another, human problems change and fade. Let us remember these truths.” 

However, more than three decades after Macmillan’s speech showed that one generation did not yield to another, if yielding means giving way to demands and pressure. The apartheid government did not yield in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre. Instead, it doubled down by banning liberation political parties and banishing its leaders. It did not yield after children as young as 12 years old, inspired by the independence of Mozambique in 1975, in the next year demanded equal education and the end to apartheid – instead, they again responded to peaceful protest with bullets. Hundreds died. 

They tightened the screws of apartheid until the very end; even after the release of Nelson Mandela, many in their ranks were found to be sowing seeds of civil war among the people. 

The apartheid government did not yield to change as Macmillan had invited them to do. They had instead been overwhelmed by the undeniable force of the great majority of the people of South Africa and their supporters from all over the world who formed the anti-apartheid movement. Despite the apartheid government’s efforts to hold on to power, the winds of change overturned the wagons of the racist laager and on 10 December 1996, a new country with a new Constitution defined by the values of human dignity, equality and freedom, was signed into life at Sharpeville.

1960 was a decisive turning point in South African history. Shortly after the “Winds of Change” speech came the Sharpeville massacre which led to the launching of the armed struggle against apartheid. It would take another 36 years, with countless deaths and years in prison, and in exile, before South Africa rid itself of apartheid. And the battle to end the practices and thought patterns of apartheid, and to make the Constitution live for all our people, still continues. 

Today, our country and the world finds itself at yet another decisive turning point. The winds of change are blowing from Cape to Copenhagen. We are all facing another wind of unmitigated destruction that gives us the opportunity to bring about abundant change for the better. 

A pervasive virus infiltrates all our lives across racial, gender, sexual orientation and class lines. From peasants to kings. It’s a problem that poses such a threat to the world that we finally understand how interconnected we are. What happens in a home in Sandton affects what happens in a shack in Alex. What happens in China affects the income of a taxi driver in South Africa who will have fewer customers because of the lockdown that has been imposed in an effort to contain Covid-19.

What is on trial is our way of life. The inequality in the world is on trial. Covid-19 has fundamentally shifted the world during its brief presence in our lives. Author Kenan Malik writes for The Guardian that: “the severity of our current crisis is indicated by the extreme uncertainty as to how or when it will end … It is now inevitable that we will enter a deep global recession, a breakdown of labour markets and the evaporation of consumer spending. Small businesses are shedding employees at a frightening speed.”

We are spending our days tracking infection and death rates rising at a concerning speed. But it is worth remembering that in this darkness we can find regeneration as we have before. South Africa will not be spared the hardships that will follow in the aftermath of this virus, but what we have been seemingly spared is an unreliable, fickle and corrupt president. 

For the first time in a long time, we are fighting the issue – and not fighting our president – a battle we have unfortunately grown only too accustomed to. It is refreshing to have decisive, thorough and vigorous leadership. In a crisis, a country needs a Czar, a person that will be the source of reliable information and which the other branches of government can support and not fight. 

The unity in government is a welcome break from the in-fighting that was becoming the status-quo and I hope it holds for the sake of the people because in the end, we all want a country. 

Covid-19 is testing our democracy and our way of life. It is testing our unequal society. At this moment, our country is haemorrhaging and to stop the bleeding we need to act collectively otherwise we will not have a country. At this moment, some of us who are better off in this moment bear more responsibility to help those who are most vulnerable. The realisation of an equal society costs. It costs courage and sacrifice. It costs unwavering commitment and conviction much like it did in 1960. If it was not hard, there would be no need for heroes. 

The turbulent winds of change are indeed blowing throughout the world. Our global consciousness is awakening. If we do not use this moment as a springboard or a bridge to elevate to a better place, then our democracy will ossify. 

It would be the ultimate tragedy if humanity does not once again prevail, if we do not change for the better after all that has been revealed to us and if we do not sustain our sense of unity beyond this crisis. Our country has myriad problems that need our urgent attention, but first, let’s deal with this immediate threat so that we can live to fight another day. DM


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