Defend Truth


Listen to the voices of the youth — we don’t want your corruption and your divisions, we want our ubuntu back


Daniel den Hollander is a clinical psychologist in Athlone, Cape Town. He serves on the Executive Council of PsySSA and chaired the Psychology Professionals in Public Service Division of PsySSA from 2016-2021. His research interests are in critical psychology and public health. 

Without ethics, our spirit will never heal. That stolen money was meant for schools, for clinics, for affordable houses, electricity and water. But it’s worse than that. We learn from your example. We woke up to a South Africa entrenched with apathy and corruption.

One, two, one, two… Is this mic on? We thank you for this opportunity to officially tell you that the revolution is already on foot. This is not the revolution that you were anticipating. This revolution is not one of rifles and machetes. It is not a revolution from the mouth of a politician.

This is a revolution by the youth, your children, the ones you have forgotten. We are frustrated. We are silenced from our past. We are disconnected from our present. But we will not be denied our future. This serves as our mandate. We hope you will listen with curious minds and not with a defensive ego.

We are frustrated because we are disappointed. We trusted you to guide us into the new democratic landscape. Under the guidance of Oliver Tambo and the pen of Justice Albie Sachs we had the new Constitution. A Constitution written for a new form of society. And at its heart was the belief that empowerment and liberation would be in the hands of the citizen.

Struggle songs remain the same

Twenty-nine years later, we wake up to a country where we are disempowered and codependent on you. In a family set-up, this occurs when the parent does not give their children the teachings and the resources to develop. You pride yourself in your election campaigns on how much money was given out to social grants. You have forgotten the words of Steve Biko that liberation cannot be given.

Did it suit you to keep us dependent on you? We are innovative people. We have incredible creativity and make a few rands go a long way. But we need access to electricity, we need affordable housing, we need proper healthcare systems when we are sick, we need safe and secure communities to foster our own independence.

We understood that we were a society in flux, that these services take time to build with the new landscape of our beautiful society. We start to hear in the corridors murmurs that our patience was abused for individual greed. Corruption. A murmur so deafening that it seems madness to ignore. When you lose the trust of your children, your legacy is necessarily tainted. We will have to burn much to cleanse you when it is your time to be presented to the ancestors.

We are silenced from our past. Those after-dinner times were meant to tell stories. South Africa has the greatest stories. The moral compass of Chief Albert Luthuli, the inspiring leadership of Robert Sobukwe, the fiery speeches of Lillian Ngoyi, the mother of our nation: Albertina Sisulu, the written word of Fatima Meer, the soberness and braveness of Sol Plaatje, cycling through South Africa to record what Pretoria tried to silence.

Weakened and immobile

Today we don’t know our stories. Instead, we read names on stadiums, municipalities and roads that do not reflect their legacies. When you ask us who Moses Mabhida was, all we can answer is a football stadium. The shelves at Bargain Books hold the accounts but our parents never read them to us.

We cannot fully blame you. You were traumatised by a system Biko described as “producing at the output end of their machine a kind of black man who is man only in form”.

You are our Struggle heroes. We want to revere you. You have nothing to prove to us. Your humanity is already established by the costs you suffered to bring us to the point of liberation. Like a young child, we look up to you. You will not find inferiority with us. We are not impressed by material things.

But we know the Struggle came at a personal cost. Trauma silences. Trauma disconnects. We have become disconnected from our past. You have forgotten because it is too painful to remember. But your disconnection has been inherited. We, your children, have forgotten too because we have never been taught to remember.

You have taught us to revere our ancestors, but you have forgotten to teach us who they are. We connect to them through your memories of them. We cry out for leadership because we are disconnected from our ancestors, our resources of wisdom and guidance in a time when we need them the most.

We may close our eyes and know the traditions, but will we recognise their voices when they call out to us? Our television screens are filled with soap dramas instead of their voices. We have fallen asleep when we were supposed to be built up and readied for the challenges ahead.

Trauma reverberates

That struggle you faced rooted a deep psychological trauma still haunting us today. In the words of Biko, “material want is bad enough, but coupled with spiritual poverty it kills.” You sacrificed your most productive years, your dreams and aspirations. We are deeply worried about you. We are worried that you sought material liberation for yourself but forgot about your own spiritual poverty.

You have forgotten Sobukwe: “Here is a tree rooted in African soil, nourished with waters from the rivers of Afrika. Come and sit under its shade and become with us, the leaves of the same branch, and the branches of the same tree”. When our spirit suffers, then your spirit suffers. Trauma is a vile cage that keeps your mind stuck on survival. It prevents you from connecting. It prevents you from sitting down and placing us on your knee, complaining with a smile that we have heard that story before.

We are disconnected from our present. Expensive cars, designer clothes and drunken parties have become the new symbols of empowerment. But you want even more. We watch you on our television screens and strive to be like you, not realising that it is our hard-earned money that has paid for your luxuries.

You complain that we are materialistic, that we are wasteful. Where do you think we have learnt that from? How much money will it take before your spirit restores? Without connection is there a space for conscience?

Ubuntu has two legs: I am through you, you are through us, but the second leg is ethics. Without ethics, our spirit will never heal. That stolen money was meant for schools, for clinics, for affordable houses, electricity and water.

But it’s worse than that. We learn from your example. We woke up to a South Africa entrenched with apathy and corruption. You forgot the words of Frantz Fanon: “If nationalism does not become humanism with programmes and practices that give it genuine social and political content, including real citizenship for all, it leads from national liberation to national chauvinism.”

Ubuntu is dying and replaced with every person for themselves. We are suspicious of each other. We have forgotten to share. Our poor brothers and sisters from the continent we have treated so poorly, with so much anger and destruction. Our humanism has become a parasite instead of a tree. We do not have a crisis of leadership, we have a crisis of our spirit.

How can our spirit heal when it is drenched in alcohol and drugs. We have the highest addiction rates in the world. When a teenager is found drunk, do we look at the youth or to their parents? But you are not there. Many of our provinces have fewer rehabilitation services than the fingers on one hand. You are drunk with power. You are drunk with public declarations, flags, and statues. You are like the father who gives presents instead of his presence.

We will not be denied our future. We are not the children you think we are. We have not waited for you to liberate us. We are no longer infants dependent on you. We have grown up and found a way to survive. We are the children of gangsters and absent fathers. We are also children of single mothers working incredible hours to put food on our table. We were brought up by gogos who taught us the old wisdom. We turned our televisions off.

We have weaned ourselves from our addictions. We have a voice through social media. And we are loud! On SAFM’s Living Redefined, we are starting to have the conversations and we realise where we are stunted.

Soon, it will be our turn to sit with the challenges of electricity, housing, the economy, and rebuilding a society. For now, we are waiting. But we are not waiting from the couch. Every year we are increasing in numbers the number of us who have gone through universities and trade schools. We are refining our minds and our voices. We are not interested in politics anymore. We are interested in trade, in shares, in learning how to hustle. Like an absent parent, you will claim our success to your drinking buddies, but you will not fool us.

We have become the children of Biko. We have realised that the only vehicle for change is ourselves. Through social media, we are coming to ourselves. Through the Women’s March of September 2019 and the Rhodes Must Fall campaign of 2015, we have pumped energy back into our empty shells. Through education and learnerships, we are busy infusing ourselves through pride and dignity.

And this is our demand to you: this is a spiritual revolution. We want our ubuntu back. We want a society that celebrates diversity, not division for election purposes. We want a society built on ethics not corruption, on opportunities not restrictions. We have evolved from you and past you.

And you can hold us back, or liberate us from the chains of your mind. DM


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