MAKE US WALK TALL

In her open let­ter to MPs on the eve of the vote of no con­fi­dence, Pregs Goven­der makes an ap­peal for eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal jus­tice to pre­vail

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Dear ANC MPs

In his­toric or cat­alytic mo­ments, the role of in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive choice can de­ter­mine the fu­ture, for the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved and for gen­er­a­tions who fol­low. The day af­ter you cast your vote is Na­tional Women’s Day. In the 1950s, re­sis­tance to the pass laws was led by African women who in­cited in­sub­or­di­na­tion across South Africa, cul­mi­nat­ing in the 1956 march to the Union Build­ings in Pre­to­ria. Their song was crys­tal clear: “You have touched the women; you have touched a rock. You have dis­lodged a boul­der. You will be crushed.”

A to­tal of 20 000 coura­geous women chose Lil­ian Ngoyi, He­len Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn to hand over more than 100 000 sig­na­tures to then prime min­is­ter JG Stri­j­dom.

Many women had to be in­sub­or­di­nate to men in their fam­i­lies and their po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions who op­posed the march. Their courage led to greater recog­ni­tion of women’s po­lit­i­cal role in the ANC.

They in­spired gen­er­a­tions in vil­lages, town­ships, fac­to­ries, uni­ver­si­ties, po­lit­i­cal par­ties, trade unions and re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions.

In 1992, women united in a na­tional coali­tion. An es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion women mo­bilised and en­sured that South Africa’s new Con­sti­tu­tion recog­nised women’s rights as hu­man rights.

Their man­date to MPs in 1994 en­abled us to pur­sue and en­act trans­for­ma­tive laws af­fect­ing women’s rights in the home, work­place and the rest of so­ci­ety.

In 2001, lov­ing, coura­geous and in­sub­or­di­nate women such as fem­i­nist Pru­dence Nobantu Ma­bele were still fight­ing for their lives. Ma­bele, who co-founded HIV/Aids ac­tivist or­gan­i­sa­tion the Pos­i­tive Women’s Net­work and was a founder mem­ber of the Treat­ment Ac­tion Cam­paign, died last month. Her or­gan­i­sa­tions fought gov­ern­ment for deny­ing peo­ple ac­cess to treat­ment in pub­lic hos­pi­tals. They also fought against the global patents sys­tem of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal cor­po­ra­tions, which made ex­or­bi­tant prof­its for medicines that were of­ten dis­cov­ered and de­vel­oped at pub­licly funded in­sti­tu­tions.

In 2001, the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on women held pub­lic hear­ings on the gen­dered im­pact of HIV/Aids.

HIV-pos­i­tive women came to Par­lia­ment, along­side doc­tors, sci­en­tists, re­searchers and non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions. Af­ter sev­eral at­tempts, our ANC study group got agree­ment that the re­port would be discussed in the cau­cus. Sec­onds be­fore, a fe­male MP as­serted that there was no need to hear the re­port since the health min­is­ter had al­ready spo­ken. A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of MPs dis­agreed loudly.

At the end of the pre­sen­ta­tion of the com­mit­tee’s find­ings to cau­cus, there was wide­spread sup­port.

Sev­eral pow­er­ful MPs as­serted that this was “the turn­ing point in the cau­cus – there is no go­ing back”. Poignant com­ments such as this one – “I felt proud to be an ANC MP again” – re­vealed the in­dig­nity of the group­think that had pre­vailed. That day, many in the ANC cau­cus moved from blind loy­alty to then pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki to as­sert­ing sol­i­dar­ity with HIV-pos­i­tive fam­ily and com­mu­nity mem­bers.

In 2008, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s bi­og­ra­pher wrote about what Fezeka Kuzwayo, AKA Kh­wezi, had de­scribed as rape in the fol­low­ing way: “He merely went ahead and had his way with her, as count­less men do every night of the week with count­less women. It is the way of the world … the only prob­lem hav­ing been that Kh­wezi couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with the way of the world.”

Af­ter the rape trial, dur­ing which Kuzwayo was sub­jected to misog­yny in­side and out­side the court­room, this “way of the world” put Zuma into the most pow­er­ful of­fice in gov­ern­ment. Lead­ers of the ANC and its al­liance part­ners – the SA Com­mu­nist Party and labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu – as well as busi­ness­men and journalists, ar­gued that there were big­ger po­lit­i­cal is­sues at stake than this misog­yny. There was a “Zuma camp” and an “Mbeki camp” – and no place for those who sup­ported nei­ther.

The sim­ple ques­tion in as­sess­ing lead­er­ship – what val­ues, qual­i­ties and pri­or­i­ties were re­flected in their words and ac­tions – was erased.

The legacy you carry as ANC MPs is pow­er­ful. The ANC, along­side other lib­er­a­tion move­ments such as the Black Con­scious­ness Move­ment and the Pan African­ist Congress, en­sured the end of apartheid. This crime against hu­man­ity was built on a foun­da­tion of mil­i­tary con­quest, colo­nial dis­pos­ses­sion, racism, sex­ism, and slave, in­den­tured and ex­ploited labour. Apartheid South Africa held the global record for the high­est num­bers of in­car­cer­ated chil­dren.

Peo­ple of in­tegrity, such as Steve Biko, Victoria and Grif­fiths Mx­enge, Ruth First, Chris Hani, Dul­cie Septem­ber and Ahmed Ti­mol, were bru­tally mur­dered by apartheid.

The peo­ple will sup­port you when you value our coun­try, the Con­sti­tu­tion, the peo­ple and the legacy of our an­ces­tors. We trust you to act with love, courage and, yes, in­sub­or­di­na­tion to those who ask you to be silent when the his­tory of an en­tire move­ment is sub­sumed by one in­di­vid­ual who de­stroys that legacy with count­less cases of cor­rup­tion. Apartheid’s norm of state cor­rup­tion by cap­i­tal­ist fam­i­lies and cor­po­ra­tions can never be ac­cepted as the norm for our democ­racy.

All South Africa’s cit­i­zens – in­clud­ing the ma­jor­ity of the vot­ing pub­lic who put you into of­fice – want you to fo­cus on ad­dress­ing in­equal­ity, un­em­ploy­ment, poverty and cli­mate change. We live in a world where the US pres­i­dent has with­drawn his coun­try from the cli­mate change agree­ment, putting the fu­ture of our planet at stake.

South Africa’s democ­racy is haunted by apartheid’s spa­tial ge­og­ra­phy. In apartheid’s for­mer black home­lands, town­ships and in­for­mal set­tle­ments, every so­cioe­co­nomic in­di­ca­tor of in­equal­ity and poverty re­mains ex­po­nen­tially higher than for­merly white sub­urbs, farms and cities. You can­not af­ford to be di­verted from these pri­or­i­ties.

It is ur­gent to learn from the weak­nesses of ear­lier par­lia­ments and build on their strengths. It is time to trans­form the eco­nomic sys­tem that deep­ened apartheid in­equal­ity so that all South Africans can en­joy their con­sti­tu­tional rights, in­clud­ing the rights to land, hous­ing, health, ed­u­ca­tion, wa­ter, and safety and se­cu­rity.

You can act to en­sure that the poor­est child will not be de­nied ac­cess to free, qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and in­sti­tu­tions of learn­ing, from early child­care ed­u­ca­tion to ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion. Make the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem work so gen­der-based vi­o­lence is prop­erly in­ves­ti­gated and pun­ished. Ad­dress the fac­tors that make women and girls in in­for­mal set­tle­ments and town­ships vul­ner­a­ble – in homes that are de­stroyed by storms, with no toi­lets or taps, where they are forced to walk or push wheel­chairs through un­lit ar­eas to re­lieve them­selves or fetch wa­ter.

Do not just ex­press out­rage when the bod­ies of women, killed be­cause of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, are found out­side these toi­lets or when a child dies in a school’s pit la­trine.

Use your power to end this vul­ner­a­bil­ity and re­in­state gov­ern­ment’s 1998-1999 com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing that the en­tire bud­get is gen­der–re­spon­sive.

As MPs, you have sig­nif­i­cant power. En­sure that trade agree­ments do not cost de­cent jobs, in­clud­ing women’s jobs, and do not un­der­mine so­cioe­co­nomic rights, such as the rights to health and good qual­ity, nu­tri­tious food.

Reg­u­late and hold ac­count­able cor­po­ra­tions which pol­lute, steal or waste nat­u­ral re­sources such as wa­ter.

Learn the lessons of the arms deal, in­clud­ing en­sur­ing that our coun­try’s eco­nomic pri­or­ity is not a deal that will lead to cor­rup­tion – and can­cel the nu­clear deal with Rus­sia.

Im­ple­ment the In­de­pen­dent Panel As­sess­ment of Par­lia­ment, which crit­i­cised the “party list” sys­tem and rec­om­mended that “the cur­rent elec­toral sys­tem should be re­placed by a mixed sys­tem which at­tempts to cap­ture the ben­e­fits of both the con­stituency-based and pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion elec­toral sys­tems”.

This time, those who are mo­bil­is­ing in your con­stituen­cies will con­tinue un­til struc­tural in­equal­ity, in­jus­tice and war – main­tained and per­pet­u­ated by pow­er­ful vested in­ter­ests across the world – end.

In 2002, af­ter be­ing the only MP to reg­is­ter my op­po­si­tion to the arms deal when it came into ef­fect in the De­fence Bud­get Vote, I re­signed as an MP. Ahmed Kathrada wrote with char­ac­ter­is­tic gen­eros­ity: “Please con­tinue to make us walk tall, by your courage and de­vo­tion.”

I imag­ine that he would be joined by Oliver Tambo, Wal­ter Sisulu, Nelson Man­dela and Chris Hani to say the same to ANC MPs. “Make us walk tall … as you walk through the fear and vote on the lead­er­ship of our beloved coun­try.”

Goven­der was an MP from 1994 to 2002. She chaired the In­de­pen­dent Panel As­sess­ment of Par­lia­ment from 2007 to 2009, and is the au­thor of Love and Courage, A Story of In­sub­or­di­na­tion

There was a ‘Zuma camp’ and an ‘Mbeki camp’ – and no place for those who sup­ported nei­ther

It is ur­gent that you learn from the weak­nesses of ear­lier par­lia­ments and build on their strengths

Kind re­gards,

PHOTO: LINDILE MBONTSI

HON­OURABLE MEM­BERS Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ad­dresses MPs at the Na­tional As­sem­bly in Par­lia­ment in Cape Town

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