Time for whites to lis­ten

CityPress - - Voices - Miles Gil­jam voices@city­press.co.za

On Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Day, I joined more than 10 000 peo­ple in the Cape Town city cen­tre to de­clare that #Zu­maMustFall. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, around the coun­try thou­sands more cit­i­zens showed courage to speak truth to power and de­mand an end to cor­rup­tion in our gov­ern­ment.

The call was im­por­tant and right. It is time Zuma fell.

Pres­i­dent Zuma is at the heart of a sys­tem within gov­ern­ment that sub­verts the stated prin­ci­ples and pur­pose of in­sti­tu­tions de­signed to serve the peo­ple.

Zuma is part of a cor­rupt elite that has in­fil­trated and sub­verted our democ­racy for per­sonal gain.

The sys­tem of cor­rup­tion is much larger than one man, but to re­move the preda­tory elite that has sub­verted democ­racy and is feed­ing on the poor, we need to be­gin by re­mov­ing the Num­ber 1 preda­tor.

This cor­rup­tion can­not be the foun­da­tion on which we build a na­tion.

We need to build the na­tion on trust. Trust is needed for a func­tion­ing econ­omy. Trust is the foun­da­tion of so­cial co­he­sion. Without trust we can­not share a vi­sion or build part­ner­ships to im­ple­ment change. Which brings us to an un­com­fort­able truth. Most of the demon­stra­tors in Cape Town were white. Many of the newly born po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists pro­claim­ing #Zu­maMustFall are in­te­gral parts of a cor­rupt eco­nomic sys­tem that was founded on apartheid cor­rup­tion and that still keeps mil­lions of peo­ple in poverty.

Many of us who protested on Wed­nes­day are among the preda­tory elite.

Cor­rup­tion is just as preva­lent in busi­ness and other key in­sti­tu­tions in the coun­try. Un­less we com­mit our­selves to tack­ling all in­jus­tices in South Africa, we don’t de­serve to have a voice for #Zu­maMustFall.

Michael Jack­son en­cour­ages us to look at the man in the mir­ror, and a wise man once said we should re­move the log in our own eye be­fore we point out the speck in an­other per­son’s eye.

If we only be­gin to show courage to act when our di­rect fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests are threat­ened, then we show our­selves to be as cor­rupt as Zuma.

Our ac­tions as wealthy South Africans show our fel­low cit­i­zens, who have to live in poverty, that we are not to be trusted. We are un­likely to fight along­side their cause in the fu­ture if we have been for so long un­moved by the vi­o­lent poverty that as­saults them daily, yet be­come hys­ter­i­cal if we lose 10% off the cream of our own com­fort­able liv­ing. Still, I say again: #Zu­maMustFall. Our com­plic­ity in the sys­tem, his­tor­i­cal or cur­rent, can­not be a cause of paral­y­sis or an ex­cuse for in­ac­tion.

Pas­sive dis­en­gage­ment is cow­ardice for what­ever rea­son. White guilt can­not lead to self-cen­sor­ship.

But we must use this mo­ment of cor­po­rate po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing to move our­selves to a place where our #HypocrisyMustFall and our #Selfish­nessMustFall.

We must fight cor­rup­tion in gov­ern­ment while fight­ing even harder to tackle the cor­rup­tion in our own spheres of in­flu­ence. No cor­rupt, un­just sys­tem can sur­vive. We may feel com­fort­able in our wealth now, but un­less we do some­thing to in­clude ev­ery­one in that pros­per­ity, it is in­evitable that, within the next decade, the en­tire sys­tem will fall.

The re­al­ity is, the Man­dela-Tutu dream of a united na­tion has yet to be­come real. Many young black peo­ple have recog­nised the false­hood of the na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and rain­bow na­tion nar­ra­tives and are en­gag­ing in­creas­ingly in black con­scious­ness think­ing and racial iden­tity.

White peo­ple who have found their voice may fi­nally be ready to be­gin real con­ver­sa­tions with their black coun­ter­parts.

And yet those con­ver­sa­tions need to be based on lis­ten­ing. Whites will only truly know where to fight in­jus­tice if they are able to hear, un­der­stand and fol­low those who have ex­pe­ri­enced it daily.

After years of skewed power re­la­tion­ships and bro­ken prom­ises, this may re­quire pa­tience and years of sit­ting at one an­other’s feet seek­ing un­der­stand­ing. It is not an easy jour­ney, but an es­sen­tial one if we are to see the dreams of the Man­dela gen­er­a­tion be­com­ing re­al­ity.

If we want to see real and last­ing change in the coun­try that will ben­e­fit all South Africans, we will all have to work coura­geously and per­se­vere for at least a gen­er­a­tion. It will take high lev­els of trust to work to­gether in im­ple­ment­ing our dreams.

As we cel­e­brated Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Day, many thou­sands of us in­sisted that #Zu­maMustFall. We can­not be rec­on­ciled with cor­rup­tion.

But per­haps more sig­nif­i­cantly, we can com­mit to chang­ing the way we lis­ten, think and live to en­able our fel­low South Africans to trust us and our in­ten­tions.

Maybe that will bring us a step closer to true rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and a na­tion we can be proud to call home.

Gil­jam is part of the lead­er­ship of the Unite Against Cor­rup­tion move­ment and is a sig­na­tory to the ‘Coun­try First’ open let­ter to Pres­i­dent Zuma pub­lished last

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