United we stood, now we are fall­ing

SA needs a move­ment that is go­ing to tackle the in­jus­tices that still plague our so­ci­ety, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

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

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