Millions of South Africans live in poverty and go to bed hungry. Millions of South Africans, particularly young people, fall into crime and drug and alcohol abuse due to a lack of jobs and opportunities. South Africa has a crisis of political leadership. We are the most unequal country in the world, with the highest rates of unemployment among young people. South Africa ranks in the top 10 list of countries with the highest suicide rates in the world.
In terms of crime, South Africa ranks at number seven out of 193 countries in the world, according to the Global Organized Crime Index 2023. These are all political, economic and social problems that cannot be addressed via hashtags and social media.
In May 2020, the world witnessed the tragic and brutal killing of George Floyd by the police in the United States. Millions of people around the world participated in protests and supported the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movement, with a lot of mobilisation through social media. We witnessed the power of social media political mobilisation in response to this amid a global pandemic. This, of course, does not discount the organising that had already been happening way before in the US by many organisations and movements against police killings and racism. The BLM movement was more than a social media outcry, it went on to translate into action.
Here at home, Collins Khosa and Nathaniel Julies were killed by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) in 2020. The responses were different to those in the US. So, I understand the power of social media towards change, but I also understand its limitations.
Building a political alternative
Six months ago, I made the conscious decision to officially begin a journey of organising and building a political alternative in South Africa: Rise Mzansi, with a collective group of people from diverse backgrounds. Rise Mzansi was officially launched on 19 April 2023 as a political movement that will contest the elections in 2024.
Over the past six months, I have organised with many others across the country, and I have been in many communities. I have engaged, interacted and listened to thousands of people in community meetings and events we organised in the Western Cape.
The overall majority of people I have engaged with have been open to and welcoming of a new politics and political approach. These are predominantly working-class South Africans in marginalised and neglected communities I have worked with for the past 15 years.
Of course, people are tired of failing politics and politicians. People are tired of the politics of promises with no results; and voting for corrupt and uncaring politicians. They are tired of the same old.
But thousands of South Africans that I have engaged with, who are tired of being tired, have decided to join our movement-building journey and to stand up and volunteer within their communities through community actions while also being in solidarity with others in marginalised communities.
I have also engaged with and followed the comments and responses of middle-class South Africans in response to Rise Mzansi — “A party started by the middle class and the elite, a party of the middle class and ‘clever blacks’”, many have opined.
The middle-class questions or critiques have ironically come from the middle class. Why this point keeps coming up, I have struggled to understand.
I have struggled to understand this, because which political party in the history of South African politics was ever started by the working class? Not the ANC, not the DA, not the EFF, not the PAC, or ActionSA. The social class and social capital of the people who started these parties are what enabled them to do so.
I have spent the past 15 years of my life in the civil-society sector. An imperfect sector (a needed reflection for another day), but one that has been central in holding our country together and providing some much-needed hope to South Africans who have lost hope in the party political system and in our government. A sector I am proud to still be part of and that has shaped my own politics.
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But, even with the civil society sector, none of the organisations I have worked for was started by the working class.
Now, I ask again: what use is your social class status and social capital?
Use your class and skills for good
The 2024 elections are a crucial moment for us as South Africans to change the trajectory of our country. We all have a role to play in contributing to the change that is required in our politics. We must all make sure that we come out to vote.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a call to middle-class South Africans to join a new political party or movement or just a call to vote next year. Political parties are important in our democracy, but they are not the be-all and end-all of our constitutional and participatory democracy towards positive change in our country.
There is a lot more we can do.
What this is, is a call to you, the South African middle class, to introspect on the use of your social class status, privileges and social capital beyond just hashtags.
Use your social class and social capital to be in solidarity with and assist a community or community organisation with your professional skills.
Run a workshop or training for young people and help them get skills and opportunities. Support and donate to a community kitchen to help feed many families who go to bed hungry. Support up-and-coming artists with resources. Sponsor soccer boots to a talented young person, sponsor sports equipment for a team in a township or rural area that doesn’t have the resources, to help keep young people out of crime and drug and alcohol abuse. I can go on and on.
Do something with what you have — for the South Africa we deserve. DM