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SA at the critical juncture of true freedom in our lifetime, or a dream deferred

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Ashley Forbes became active in student organisations while at high school, and was active in the establishment of the United Democratic Front in 1983. He later joined uMkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC. He went into exile in 1986 and completed his military training in Angola. After his release from Robben Island in 1991 he completed a three-year Business Management diploma in Singapore. He assisted with the establishment of the Robben Island Museum and returned to the island in an act of unintended irony to take up the position of Estates and Services Manager.

The ANC is on a course of self-destruction. No opposition party or vocal critics have caused as much harm to the image of the ANC as have its own leaders and members. Voting for the ANC will, in the final analysis, give the party the long rope that it may use to hang itself. It has to get worse before it gets better.

On Tuesday, 27 April 2021, we celebrated Freedom Day. It was the day, 27 years ago, when millions of South Africans exercised their basic right to vote in our first democratic elections for the leaders and political parties of their choosing.

We should pause a moment though, to remember, to pay homage to all those mothers and fathers, students and youth, community members, NGOs, workers, political organisations, international organisations, religious denominations, sport and cultural groups, that struggled, endured and made grave sacrifices so that today all South Africans, 27 years on, have the right to vote. We will once again have the opportunity to exercise this hard-earned right to cast our ballots in the upcoming sixth local elections and the seventh national elections in 2024.

On that day in 1994, our nation was hopeful and excited to usher in a new dawn and citizens went to the polls in their millions. Since then, we have seen our dreams for a free, just and equitable society wither away before our eyes. We have lost confidence in our leaders, political parties, democracy, the rule of law, the Constitution – and feel betrayed.

South Africans stand at a critical juncture in the history of our new democracy. We can stand by idly and watch our country slip into hopelessness and despair, or galvanise into action and realise our dreams for a better world for all. What are our options and what can we do?

We could all use this hard-earned opportunity to vote for the ANC. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t?” Not so? The ANC has become the new representative of the wealthy elite and has betrayed the interests of the majority of South Africans. We know what we are dealing with and there can be no more surprises.

The invaluable little that the Zondo Commission has powerfully and successfully exposed speaks volumes about the pervasive abuse of power. It exposes the corrupt activities of members of the governing party’s top six, the presidency and members of state-owned entities. We know about collusion between the private sector, politicians and civil servants who commit these crooked acts at every level of local, provincial and national government. Corruption in the pursuit of personal wealth at the expense of the poor is so deeply rooted, that the ANC will not, and cannot, self-correct.

But will the people continue to vote for the ANC government, albeit in decreasing numbers and return them to power? The ANC has become so arrogant because there are no viable opposition parties or meaningful alliances to challenge its power. It is what it is. Or is it? The big question is whether we can grow and improve our conditions when we seem to be facing something that we cannot change.

It may be an extreme example, but when I was detained under section 29 of the Internal Security Act and held in solitary confinement during the apartheid time, I had no control over my physical environment. The security police determined where I could sleep, when I would be taken for interrogation, what I would eat and if, or when, I would be assaulted. They may have succeeded in instilling terror and fear and they may have tried to extract valuable information from me, but they could not control my thoughts or beliefs. I accepted that they had complete control over my body, but I learnt to adapt, keep my mind strong, play the game and survive.

One objective of the assaults was designed to humiliate me by getting me to wet my pants when they suffocated me and took me to the verge of death. They would serve me tea throughout the day and then they would deny me access to a toilet when it was time for my assault. Under normal circumstances they would have succeeded but I learnt to play along. I would protest to go to the toilet while knowing that I had relieved myself in the inconspicuous pot plant that stood in the corner of my interrogation room when I was alone.

I still smile when I think how I must have confused those security policemen because I never, ever wet my pants. Through this simple defiant trick, I maintained my dignity, avoided the humiliation they wished upon me and kept my spirit intact. Every cloud has a silver lining and even if we cannot see it now, opportunities will arise and there will be an end.

Ordinary South Africans will have to make many more sacrifices and difficult choices to secure the freedoms for which our forefathers so gallantly fought. We can no longer allow their dream of freedom for all to be deferred.

The ANC is on a course of self-destruction. No opposition party or vocal critics have caused as much harm to the image of the ANC as have its own leaders and members. Voting for the ANC will, in the final analysis, give the party the long rope that it may use to hang itself. It has to get worse before it gets better.

The ANC has enjoyed 27 years of one-party dominance; it has no viable opposition parties to contend with and is likely to maintain its position of power after the local elections this year and after the national elections in 2024.

If there is anything that I have learnt about the people of South Africa, then it is that their patience is not endless. Our people have struggled against the impossible and have risen from the burning embers. We continue to endure grave hardships but remain committed to peace, justice and a better life for all. It is unfortunate that so many of our leaders believe that they can usurp the wealth of our nation for the benefit of a small, wealthy elite. Our history and current world events have repeatedly shown, if galvanised, how powerful the will of the ordinary people can be to secure their freedoms. It is our destiny to continue in the traditions of our forefathers, irrespective of how bleak the future may look and proudly uphold the values and ideals that are so part our natural inheritance.

South Africans may choose not to vote. There are many more eligible voters who have chosen not to vote compared to those who have chosen to vote in the past few national elections. Who should the South African public vote for and can we blame them if they do not vote? The ANC has committed heinous crimes against the people, and it would be a matter of principle to not vote for the ANC.

What makes matters worse is that the ANC cannot self-correct and it is now the responsibility of the ordinary citizens of this country to not vote for the ANC. We need to self-correct. We need to pivot away from hopelessness and despair and move our country towards true freedom.

The sad truth is that the freedoms and basic rights for which South Africans fought so long and hard have not materialised even 27 years on. The second sad truth is that there is no viable political party in our country presently that serves and works selflessly and ethically in the interests of all. As a result, our economy has earned junk status with staggering debt. We have gross economic disparities between the wealthy few and the poor majority. The governing party fails to deliver on basic service. The ANC is at war with itself and the people on the ground have lost confidence in democracy, the rule of law and the Constitution. No spin doctor can erase the harm that was caused to our nation under the watch of the ANC and it cannot be business as usual.

So, what do we do when there seem to be no viable options or alternatives?

We do what many South Africans all over our land have slowly started to do: We reflect and accept that we are all part of the problem and have allowed this dire situation to arise. We accept that there is no challenge too big and that we must begin to think differently and make difficult choices. We shake off our fatigue and complacency and take control of our lives like the workers did at Marikana, like protesters continue to do each day in the widespread local service delivery protests.

We do as the students did in the Fees Must Fall movement, as the NPOs and NGOs do as they continue to implement programmes to feed the poor during Covid-19. We do as those who continue each day, to act to defend our democracy and our Constitution. We do what is right even if we are not always aware of all the efforts that South Africans all over our land are making to change our current course.

A groundswell of change is coming as surely as day follows night. It took decades for the institutions of our government, state-owned entities and our resources to be captured and looted. This culture of impunity and criminality will not be reversed overnight. The brutal truth is that we have a long, hard road ahead of us.

Ordinary South Africans will have to make many more sacrifices and difficult choices to secure the freedoms for which our forefathers so gallantly fought. We can no longer allow their dream of freedom for all to be deferred.

“Freedom isn’t free.
We have to pay the price
We have to sacrifice
For our liberty.”

Or in the words of Martin Luther King, who reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it always bends towards justice. Each of us who works for social change is part of the mosaic of all who work for justice; together we can accomplish multitudes.” DM

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  • I respect your take on where SA and the anc stand at this point in its history. It is rational, accurate and relevant. Hopefully things will play out as you predicts. However, we are in urgent need of a strong civil society to take us there.

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