Despite the continued racial blaming, Apartheid fear-mongering on both sides and the massive (and growing) wealth deficit between citizens of our country, the question on every person’s lips seems to be the same: “Where is this country heading?”
Watching the #FeesMustFall protests, the service delivery protests and the Union protests of the last few months has left me passionate, confused and angry. It seems that, for the first time since 1994, there is the strongest common thread that runs between Black and White South Africans alike; some may choose to leave, others may choose to entrench themselves further in the rhetoric of racial separation and blaming, stirred up by the fear of uncertainty, but there is a quote that struck a special note for me:
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Alice walker
As a Black American, Walker no doubt has a fair amount of wisdom to offer about struggle, both personal and political.
We find ourselves, as a nation, at a political crossroads. Many thought the hardest work was done in 1994, when we finally ended the Apartheid system by voting democratically to elect a government of the people, but the real work is not in liberation. Liberating South Africa, and all of the sacrifices that came with it for so many, was the tip of the iceberg and the sooner we, as citizens, realise this, the better the future can be for all of us. Liberation is fuelled by a kind of political super-will, a drive that facilitates a sprint rather than a marathon. We won that sprint, leaving South Africa with a giant pot of potential, a bright future and the promise of freedom for all. But the marathon has only just started and we have weak knees.
However, a future is only bright when those in power remain accountable, when they are constantly reminded that they cannot act with impunity. Politicians may think that they’re paid to do a job, but they’re not. They’re paid to lead a country. That cannot simply be a means of employment. It should be the equivalent of having a really big family, where every member depends on you, the parents, to make the best decisions to enable them to live better lives – the responsibility to create better lives for each citizen should weigh heavily. This goes far beyond a simple exchange of money and signing of contracts – it requires political leadership to engage with its citizens, to receive their mandate from them, to listen to their grievances and to receive the power they are assigned with humility and awareness of the responsibility that rests on their shoulders. To my mind, not only is Zuma an insult to the struggle for freedom, he is a pustule on the back of our democracy. He leads a government that is a cancer, slowly eating away at our county’s potential, extinguishing its bright future, one cell at a time. But don’t worry, he’ll probably just laugh that one off too.
I have much respect for the ANC and the part it played in our liberation struggle. I believe that Madiba was an incredible man and should never cease to inspire us as a nation. His memory deserves that honour, at least. In the wise words of out Tata, in his inaugural speech in May 1994:
“The task at hand will not be easy, but you have mandated us to change South Africa from a land in which the majority lived with little hope, to one in which they can live and work with dignity, with a sense of self-esteem and confidence in the future.”
As far as I can see, our present government couldn’t give a damn about this mandate. Why else would it seem reasonable that when students need funding, children need feeding and schools, families need housing and we are short on every service delivery front, it seems reasonable to spend R4 billion on a jet. Because apparently Nkandla wasn’t enough of a slap in our faces. How much longer do we need to wait before we realise that we are sacrificing our own hopes and dreams on the altar of Zuma’s wish list? How many more people need to starve, how much higher does crime need to get and how many more people need to suffer before we realise that we are the ones keeping this man and this party in power?
I hate to see what South Africa is becoming and I hate to see the advantage being taken of us, but in a way, I hope it doesn’t get better. I hope that we go into our next election fuelled by our demand for change, passionate about the fact that our families matter, our lives matter. I would never advocate for violence but I do advocate for change – and if it takes our country being squeezed until we are all squirming in discomfort to force us to release the baggage and fear of Apartheid and move forward, together, united in our dream of a better future, then so be it. Many, quite justifiably, fear an alternative to the ANC because they fear a relapse of racial domination, but it is only in letting go and moving forward that the wounds inflicted by our past can heal. We can no longer ask for healing if we are unwilling to move forward. We can no longer expect change if we do not push for it ourselves.
I know that as South Africans, we face a steep climb both politically and personally. It is easy for our fears to drive us, for our emotions to cloud our ability to make the best choices because that is what damage does. Our country has been damaged, first by Apartheid and now by poor leadership. Instead of facing our fears, we are re-living them, we are keeping them alive. By allowing them to thrive, we are allowing our leadership to take advantage of us.
We need to learn the lesson, learn to believe in our dreams again and then make them happen.