Don’t fall into a complacent slumber, watch over our democracy
REMEMBER Rushdie Siers, Aloma Foster, Heather Robertson, Donald Parenzee, Mavis Smallberg, Jane Baker, James Matthews and so on, who were among many others in the Western Cape responsible for the formation of Cosaw or the Congress of SA Writers?
I was there too. The big organisation then was the United Democratic Front (UDF), led by Allan Boesak. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was also involved, but don’t ask me how, because I don’t remember… rerig!
I remember that all the big rallies of the UDF and Cosatu were supported by Cosaw and many arts formations in the democratic movement of the 1980s and early 1990s.
The spirit was complemented by the humble demand that organisations opposing the evils of apartheid be unbanned in order to voice the demands for the democracy that we now enjoy.
We wrote poems and short stories that voiced our opposition to PW Botha and other National Party leaders, who insisted on white supremacy. We hollered our dissatisfaction and many times landed in jail for voicing our dissatisfaction with racial separation in poems and short stories and essays.
Needless to say Pik Botha and those guys didn’t like us.
Whenever there was a mass meeting, we went there with our poems to voice our dislike of racial superiority. And it was not without the danger of real bullets, rubber bullets, sjamboks, teargas, assault and detention.
But we carried on voicing our opposition to the unfair superiorities of race. The apartheid government did not ignore us, they detained us without trial and tortured many of us in detention.
And all the time the writers and poets decorated our mass meetings with the voices of the scribe.
We were called “terrorists” and other derogatory names, but we did not give up our love for human dignity and honour. Many writers went into exile to continue voicing their dislike of racism and sexism.
Between you and me, many of us were dehumanised during this horrendous time.
Some of us in this democratic process still cannot see the light and beauty of freedom, as experienced by the new South Africa. This is why I am asking that we search our humility in the depths of our humanity.
See, the demise of apartheid has in an absurd fashion also relaxed our vigilance against human rights abuse. I am requesting that we remain awake. It is not the cruelties of the new state that I am awakening our minds to, but the lazy docility of a complacent mind.
We need to awaken our society to the many sad dangers of complicity. We must cultivate a society vigilant to the sleep syndrome of an artificial paradise.
There is a need that we conscientise our brothers and sisters about the beauties and pleasures of a new democracy.The state itself can only do so much.
It is civil society that must be awoken to this complexity. It can be done with the sensitive thought and consciousness of a vigilant people. It is also important that we articulate to ourselves that this is not for them, but for us the people who have observed the charms of this thing called life.
It is true that this moment might have gone to the mind and urged us to complacency. Be careful; complacency is not the ultimate in the tremors of recent birth. There is in my mind a drastic need for us to be caressed with soot-massaging hands of a country’s reawakening.
This I carry as a wish for the entire country. There is in me a general suspicion that an over celebration of this democracy might make us take a deep slumber in the deep couches of false consciousness.
Please wake up to the beauties and elegances of the cultivated depths of mind.
On an aside, let me also call on the artistic side of patriotism to waken to the desperate charms of vigilance. We are aware that the many possibilities offered by the nebulous charms of sensitive living have a nastiness hidden beneath the glamorous cloth that covers it.
It is pretty well known that the many depths of life are investigated by the depths of artistic expression. I am therefore making a call that artist so-and-so help this nation to walk in the delicate direction of complementation.
The arts make more sense in a beautiful sensitive place like South Africa. It is also pretty necessary that we convey to each other the soft messages of rivers, mountains and seas that praise the humanities displayed by this amazing space.
I wish that the precious images that the writers of the 1970s and 1980s painted in our scripts be realised.