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The stakes are high in 2024, but remember: Hope is a verb, do what you can to rise to a new vision for all


Mark Heywood is a social justice activist and former Editor of Maverick Citizen, a section of Daily Maverick. He is the former Executive Director and founder of SECTION27 and has been a human rights activist most of his life. He has also advised Change Starts Now and Rise Mzansi on issues of social justice.

Next year is going to be a big one for the world and all the humans who live in it. More than 50 democratic elections are set to take place in different countries, including our own.

It’s also going to be a frightening and unpredictable year. If 2023 was the year that global heating revealed its hand with the hottest temperatures on record, 2024 will only be worse. If 2023 was the year when an unspeakable genocide was inflicted on defenceless people in Palestine, armed with weapons of the developed countries, 2024 could be a year of widening and deepening conflicts, raging and roiling amid a broken system of international law.

But despite these huge – literally planetary – challenges, at the end of the day, bringing about progressive change, change that recentres human rights and dignity, still rests with each of us as individuals. It depends on (y)our ability to change (y)ourselves and take control of (y)our destinies again.

2024 is going to be a big year in South Africa as well, a country “we, the people” really can change.

Somewhere between May and August we will hold our seventh democratic election.

But despite all the election hype, I’m worried that millions of people might have already accepted defeat. By this year’s end, despite the availability of online registration and a voter registration weekend in November, we only added 568,374 new voters to the voters’ roll.

Thirteen million people have not yet registered for the election. Perhaps this is because all they see is old political parties reshuffling deck chairs, squabbling politicians and little evidence of new ideas.

But surrendering now is defeatism. Research shows that the greater the number of people who register and vote, the more change is likely.

The Electoral Commission is organising a second voter registration weekend on 3 and 4 February 2024. One of the first things civil society, the churches, business and the media should do in 2024 is to join forces with organisations like Mbali Ntuli’s Ground Work Collective to register millions more people to vote and to build their power. 

Speak hope to power

South Africa has to pool its hope!

This year Maverick Citizen and Fine for Good, a communications company, initiated a project that we called “Hope is a Verb”. We did research and conducted interviews that prove that hope is not a passive or evasive state but an active one. Hope is a state of doing. People draw hope from seeing others do things and make sacrifices for other people, and who therefore must still have hope themselves.

And there are many more of these activists around than you may think. Photojournalist Thom Pierce has captured just the tip of the iceberg with the series he calls The Actionists. We have reported on their stories every week.

We still have power if we want it and if we can assemble it into something more than the sum of its parts.

International Human Rights Day was on 10 December – the 75th anniversary of the groundbreaking Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Illustration images: Vecteezy

It was also the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). On that day, the TAC held an all-night vigil in downtown Joburg with 500 of its members. At one point in the evening, hundreds of names were read out of TAC members who have succumbed to Aids over the years. I knew many of them. It was a sad and sombre moment, an activist’s requiem. But in almost the same breath, the TAC celebrated that its campaigns, driven by black working-class and poor people, have saved more than 5 million lives. The TAC is still alive and kicking, ready to continue its campaigns.

That is cause for hope.

Change in the new year

Hope. Hope. Hope. Hope is a verb. It is a prerequisite to have hope if we are to bring about change in 2024. Flowing from this, we must believe that though we are fed up, sceptical and cynical, demotivation and demobilisation suit the status quo. We must believe another politics is possible: one based on constitutional values, social solidarity, experience and skill, public accountability and collective responsibility for the planet.

We may be tired of the antics of the ANC, the perpetual excuses for prolonging corruption, but all around us there are green shoots in parties such as Rise Mzansi, TAC activist Zackie Achmat standing as an independent candidate and now Change Starts Now, a new political platform launched on 10 December by Roger Jardine.

Read more in Daily Maverick: At this to-be-or-not-to-be moment in human civilisation, we can free the people with music

Although we no longer give our trust automatically, we must learn not to adopt cynicism as our default position. Alienation is not woke. It too suits the status quo.

We must rise with a new vision. As Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein puts it in her new book, Doppelganger: “Our world has changed, but, like a collective case of jet lag, most of us are still attuned to the rhythms and habits of the place left behind. It’s time to find our bearings in this new place.” 

Finally, a word of warning. If we don’t change and act, soon it will be too late. The State Capture project has fused with organised crime and is waiting to regain power. There are certain permutations and coalitions of a post-election government in 2024 that will attack our basic civil rights and interfere in free elections in future à la their crony comrades in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, China, Iran and elsewhere.

Therefore a huge amount is at stake in 2024. To get the change we want, we must work. Build power in your community. Join The Actionists and the activists. Act, register and then vote while it still counts. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 front page


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • B M says:

    I won’t be hoping for change. I will be voting for change. I will be prompting, as gently and as encouragingly as possible for my friends and colleagues to vote.

    While hope is a verb, it encourages passivity and covers personal agency. We must do more than hope, we must act. What I do hope, is that everyone does the same.

  • David Walker says:

    In the Western Cape we are far beyond forlornly hoping. We have acted and voted out the corrupt and incompetent and reap the benefits of clean administration every day. The rest of the country have to live with the government they voted for.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Unfortunately the three new kids on the block are not revolutionary, They are playing into the hands of the populist EFF/ANC by dividing the less populist opposition. How sad that you think this is a solution.

  • Denise Smit says:

    And you are stuck in your old ways by not recognising what happened on 7 October

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