South Africans have endured centuries of successive, oppressive governments. We have lived through brutal colonial domination, endured an era of violent, state-enforced apartheid that was followed, cruelly, by almost three decades of graft that scuttled our dream of a new democracy.
Who would have thought that the oldest liberation movement on the African continent would come to dominant power, only to entrench the same grinding systems of gross inequality, just as their predecessors had done?
It is incomprehensible that in the 21st century our mainstream public discourse and debates still recommend that we “tweak”, “improve” and make cosmetic changes to a centuries-old, socioeconomic and political system that continues to exploit, oppress and deprive us of our dignity, even as we continue to live in hope that the tenets and principles enshrined in our new, democratic Constitution will better the quality of our lives.
We learn each day through our lived reality that there is a serious lack of competent, credible and effective political leadership in South Africa and that the government in power does not serve the best interests of society at large.
And we should not search in vain within the chaos of coalition governments for potential honest leaders. These coalitions that may materialise after the 2024 national elections are merely new configurations of old forces that too are incapable of bringing about the positive change we dream of.
The ANC government must be replaced, as a matter of urgency, with a new generation of leaders which comes not from within Parliament but from communities, who must use their powerful franchise to elect their own leaders to better represent their ideals, their hopes and aspirations.
The ANC, the alliance partners, members of Parliament and all institutions of state are compromised and have abandoned the poor. The poor have no other recourse against these powerful forces who act against them other than their own collective strength.
Residents of wealthy and middle-class communities may not know their neighbours at all, but through individualised effort, can bring about changes that benefit the whole resource-rich collective. Rich people have the resources, skills, leisure time and connections to write individual letters of complaint to their local authority if there are problems in their areas. This is how these individuals are single-handedly able to solve their neighbourhood problems.
When the frustrations of abject poverty, record-high unemployment and poor service delivery run high in poor communities, then poor people act collectively and decisively through protests and demonstrations because the whole community feels the same pain.
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Nelson Mandela said at the Cosatu conference in 1993: “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.”
The ruling ANC government poses a grave threat to truth and morality, justice and equality, stability, growth and prosperity. The scale of the graft is particularly alarming because the State Capture project was enabled from within the heart of the ANC, from within the inner sanctum, within the top six and the South African Cabinet.
The provincial slates of future leaders presently being chosen by provinces to be nominated at the next ANC elective conference in December 2022 for the highest positions in the land, are compromised, incompetent and unethical.
So, why are they even considering a succession debate, only to replace existing rotten apples with more rotten apples?
We will never forget how the ANC-led government failed in its constitutional obligations and lacked the political will to address issues of land insecurity, social housing, abject poverty, acute unemployment, structural racism and gross inequality.
We will not forget how the recommendations of the TRC were not implemented. Nor shall we forget how justice was delayed for the murders, disappearances and abuses of countless liberation fighters.
We will not forget how rank-and-file soldiers of our people’s liberation armies were abandoned when they returned from exile and prison and now wither away and die in abject poverty.
We will not forget how the ANC, opposition parties and the private sector failed to use the golden opportunity presented to them by the Zondo Commission to come clean in the spirit of truth, nation-building and healing, but instead chose to be silent.
Today, as I pen this article, how can we not see and feel the pain of those ordinary ANC workers who are frustrated and traumatised at not being paid their basic salaries and benefits for protracted periods by the party bosses? The ANC-led government and captains of industry have no soul and continue to cause so much pain and suffering.
Small window of opportunity
South Africans have powerful options that exist still within the democratic framework of our Constitution to bring about political change and foster peace and prosperity in our land.
Communities and social formations, from across the length and breadth of our nation, could galvanise their collective effort to create a new political party that will serve the interests of all South Africans, especially the vulnerable, the marginalised and the poor.
Our right to vote, this hard-earned democratic right, could be used more wisely at every upcoming election that takes place, at national, provincial or local levels. We should prepare and actively groom a new layer of leaders drawn from our own communities who understand the lived experience of the poor and who will fight with honesty and integrity for their interests.
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These leaders do not exist in any of the current political parties, but do abound in civil society organisations, churches, academia, in businesses and many other social sectors. We can no longer tolerate mediocrity and must seek out the best talented, creative, competent, hard-working and committed individuals to lead our nation with the highest standards of integrity, transparency and accountability.
South Africa has a small window of opportunity before the 2024 national government elections to cultivate new home-grown, lekker local, provincial and national leadership teams who will temper and lead service delivery protests, organise public mass actions and complete the process to transfer power to a political party that works in the best interest of society at large.
South Africa has a long and proud history of resistance, centuries of wars of resistance, popular struggle, armed struggle, legacies and stories of heroes and heroines to draw upon.
While many may be disheartened by 28 years of betrayal, the spirit of freedom is etched into the very DNA of our nation. We dream of justice, equality and peace, and desire freedom, spurred on even more by the sacrifices already made and the lives already lost.
It is highly condescending and inappropriate for the wealthy elite to preach to the poor about the negative consequences of strike actions, community protests, mass public action and the transfer of political power.
Political prisoners, for example, have gone on hunger strikes knowing full well that they are going to hurt. They did so nevertheless because their sacrifices were made to bring relief for all current and future prisoners. Communities must draw strength from this rich legacy of resistance, get organised, groom and elect new, fresh and honest leaders who are fit for purpose and capable of addressing the specific challenges of our time.
If there is anything that we have learnt from our own history, it is that the poor will never be complacent, nor willing to hand over their destiny to a few black instant billionaires and a few white captains of industry.
It is evident that the bear has woken and will assert its will. We see this through the ever-increasing spontaneous service delivery protests, the mushrooming of progressive formations, active public outcry, the emergence of an alternative and progressive media, environmental movements, street committees, neighbourhood watches, community and civil rights organisations and NPOs.
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Ordinary South Africans are taking back their power with or without the ANC, its alliance partners or Parliament. Even the elite leadership of our once-powerful trade union movement are being abandoned by their own members. It is the ordinary rank-and-file workers who have been spurred into action by the reality of their own grim existence.
On 1 May 2022, ordinary Marikana workers, from aggressively opposing trade unions, united in unprecedented fashion to unceremoniously eject the president of the ANC from their May Day rally. At the 14th congress of Cosatu in September 2022, ordinary workers heckled, booed and refused to avail their platform to the national chairperson of the ANC when he came looking for votes. The poor are finding their voice and speaking in ever-assertive ways in the best way that THEY know how.
Final kick of a dying horse
The historic imperative is not merely to remove the ANC-led government from power, but to save our nation from disastrous collapse, learn from our mistakes and provide hope and restore our sense of national pride. We need a new political party that captures the hearts and minds of all South Africans with an easy-to-understand vision for the future and with achievable milestones that can be monitored over the next 10 to 20 years.
South Africa has reached the end of a socioeconomic and political era and will witness a volatile decade of social upheaval, internal conflict, spontaneous and broad-based national programmes of action that will dislodge the ANC from power.
The final kick of a dying horse is the most dangerous, and we should never underestimate the resolve of an illegitimate ANC to hold on to power, nor the determination of the captains of industry who will clutch onto their centuries-old inherited blood money to the bitter end. The poor majority must galvanise into a powerful collective for positive political change and draw upon the warmth of their collective strength.
I testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and can only humbly suggest from this experience that those South Africans who have endured so much pain could learn to forgive those who have inflicted harm and pain upon them, even if the perpetrators are not sorry.
But from that act of forgiveness, draw strength and resolve to stand even firmer for the cause of justice and act with courage and resilience in the face of even greater adversity, social conflict and turmoil that may lay ahead.
In the words of the writer Mark Twain, “politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason”. DM