Political activism and engagement may, since the dawn of South Africa’s democracy, have been waning, but this does not mean South Africans are not engaged, actively participating and shaping our society outside the limitations of the party-political machinery.
The narrow outlook assumes that South Africans are simply not participating in our society because they are disinterested, uninspired and disillusioned — but rather, South Africans are deeply disappointed with the political machinery that currently exists. A system that has continued to rob South Africans of opportunity and promise, a system that has continued to rob families of livelihoods and worse still has continued to maim, harm and kill South Africans.
There is a reason that South Africans have made the choice to actively participate outside the thrust of the party-political machinery — simply put, that system has been broken by its custodians, who continue to seem only interested in protecting their own narrow self-interest.
If active citizenry and participation had died, then hundreds of thousands of South Africans would not be actively participating in civil society organisations, neighbourhood and community groups. The uninterest would not have created movements that have fought for the realisation of constitutional rights on education, social welfare, land, healthcare, housing, dignity and access, and South Africa’s constitutional jurisprudence and social fabric would be the poorer for it.
South Africans are active in articulating the aspirations, hopes and dreams of a nation, and are truly fulfilling the vision in the preamble to the Constitution by actively seeking ways to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person”.
This activism has compelled our elected representatives to prioritise budget allocations, introduce new policy positions, uphold the laws of this country as well as its Constitution, and even more has compelled those representatives to create new laws that enable progress and meaningful change.
Over the past few weeks, South Africans have again been confronted by the antics of the republic’s former president, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. He has not only shaped South Africa during his presidency of both the African National Congress and the country but also has a penchant for creating an existential constitutional crisis. Zuma has never walked alone, but rather has always had a collection of apparatchiks, enablers and co-conspirators, and so it is not surprising that he (and those around him) have continued to spend time chattering over tea and in other dark corners.
The challenge has been made to our rule of law, our collective understanding of justice; indeed it is a threat to our constitutional dispensation. It is a threat that will not go unanswered by the people of this country, and importantly it will once more be a reminder that South Africans will continue to defend this hard-fought democracy.
We may be disillusioned with the political machinery, but that does not mean that South Africans will shy away from using their political and social capital. When it matters, South Africans will always throw down the gauntlet against these delinquent antics, and we will do so without fear or deference to not simply defend this democracy, but also to ensure that we continue to build a society that can live up to the aspirations of freedom. Zuma, and what he represents, has provided South Africa with many opportunities to show up, to demonstrate, to build broad coalitions and to work towards demanding accountability.
The work of building broad coalitions has been undertaken by communities across South Africa for many decades. Coalitions that have not simply been building grassroots organisational capacity and muscle, but have been able to leverage strategic and legal interventions at key milestones to force and enable change.
South Africans have been able to build coalitions to consider how the country and its people respond to Covid-19 and those coalitions have agitated for transparency, access, and accountability — work and organising that all took place during a global pandemic! Once more, the antics by delinquents and malfeasant former and current politicians, who continue to threaten our democracy, have created the opportunity for a broad coalition of active citizens rooted in not only defending South Africa’s democracy to coalesce and convene but also to begin the work of perfecting that union so that freedom can be won.
Those who have assumed that South Africans will be passive and disillusioned will instead be confronted by broad coalitions that have always been able to mobilise communities and create a groundswell of both moral justice and visible solidarity that cannot be ignored.
South Africa has always been far larger than the people who seek to threaten our hard-fought freedoms and the collective efforts of civil society, community organisations, leaders from all walks of life, and importantly the people who battle for the soul of South Africa.
This is not about an existential battle within the governing party or between the factional alliances that formed around and after that party’s 54th national conference at Nasrec, but rather this is about defending freedom for the people. DM