United we stood, now we are falling
SA needs a movement that is going to tackle the injustices that still plague our society, writes
Decades before South Africa’s democratic transition in 1994, the black communities of the country intensified the push to attain freedom from colonisation and general oppression. Over those desperate and smouldering years, many a leader took the reins and pointed in to the undeniable fact that the black masses’ cause would be greatly helped if everyone got together and pushed, as one, in the same direction. Lembede, Biko, Sobukwe, Tambo, Mandela et al emphasised the importance of unity among those who sought the emancipation of the downtrodden and the advancement of their agenda.
The calls were, indeed, heeded. The cohesion in the communities was palpable in the air. The village that it takes to raise a child in Africa was alive and well. Every person of parenting age accepted the responsibility to see to it that every child of school-going age was at school during schooling hours.
It is with that cohesion in the communities that the calls to boycott all the services provided by the then government came. Among those were the municipalities-run bus, water and electricity services. The ANC had somehow taken centre stage in the thrust to bring the National Party government to its knees. With the widely popular Free Nelson Mandela campaign being embraced worldwide, the ANC further found itself firmly in position to be the most recognisable voice.
That is when the call to stop paying electricity bills – just like the “Azikhwelwa”, the bus boycott call in the black townships – was made by the ANC through its structures. The call came with the further instruction to wipe all house numbers off the walls to make it difficult for government agents to identity and isolate those households that were not paying for services as per the call. Needless to say, the debt that the townships, especially Soweto, owed to the parastatal Eskom kept burgeoning over the years. It is said to be around R6 billion today, for Soweto alone, with individual households owing an average of R250 000. With the staggering majority of these houses owned by poor black pensioners who live from hand to mouth and depend solely on state pensions for survival, paying off this debt is a bridge just too far.
This is the situation facing the black communities 23 years after the ANC assumed power in South Africa. The promises of free electricity and free education made to the masses are now taboo subjects to the governing party. Many of these households have had their supply of electricity cut off and most have had them illegally reconnected, condemning themselves to rat status with the power utility.
Even though the dissenting voices from among the nowabandoned communities are not yet loud, the results of the local government elections of last year revealed that people on the ground have been pondering their situation and dumping the ANC is no longer as unthinkable as it might have been in the blissful, and mostly ignorant, early 1990s. What now? That is the question that is being mulled silently.
The euphoric 1990s flattered to cruelly deceive and were cripplingly expensive. Among the losses incurred by the masses through the false, premature “free at last” exclamation by the ANC, is the unity and community cohesion that was attained at the cost of tons of gallons of blood and years of anguish. The painstaking work of uniting the black voice – which leaders such as Sobukwe and Biko toiled for – has been pushed, at the least, several decades back.
Where to now for the previously disadvantaged people of this land? This is the crossroads where, whichever way they turn, the ramifications of their choice will determine if this land will ever know lasting peace. Peace can only be everlasting when discrimination is completely uprooted from society. The DA’s promise to put to an end the culture of corruption that afflicts the ANC government falls short because it does not say anything about addressing the inequalities of the past, which still see white people in this country earning five times more than their black counterparts. Without addressing that, the anger that led to riots of the past will always be bubbling just below the surface.
Breakaway political parties such as the United Democratic Movement, Congress of the People and the Economic Freedom Fighters have proven to be weakening divisions rather than the elusive answer to the ever-suffering children of a lesser god that black people are made to feel like.
It is the view of this writer that South Africa now needs a movement in the mould of the defunct United Democratic Front, a movement that is going to tackle the injustices that still plague our society without the baggage that the current variety of political parties are buckling under. The economically sidelined people of this country know what they want and that is common to all of them, irrespective of who they cast their vote for. That movement would be a quick-fix solution to the problem of a society that is in dire need for leaders with the integrity of the Sobukwes and Bikos. Mntambo was a journalist for the Ladysmith Gazette in the late 1980s and is currently a social entrepreneur based in Soweto
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PAST TENSE United Democratic Front leaders addressing the media in 1990 in Cape Town. Pictured are, among others, Archie Gumede, Murphy Morobe, Terror Lekota, Moses Mayekiso and Popo Molefe