Goal-driven mo­bil­i­sa­tion is key to change

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Alarge box of ap­ples was de­liv­ered to my door last week with a mes­sage that made me an­gry and brought me close to tears. It came from one of the drough­trav­aged or­chards of the Western Cape, with fruit that had to be picked from dy­ing trees in such large quan­ti­ties that the mar­ket couldn’t cope. It also came with the news that 40 lo­cal farm work­ers had al­ready been re­trenched.

That mes­sage came shortly be­fore a Par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee heard that, be­cause of the drought, as many as 50 000 Western Cape farm work­ers are likely to lose their jobs. The eco­nomic and so­cial con­se­quences of this should be enough to make any­one weep — and an­gry. I am par­tic­u­larly an­gry be­cause it is a dis­as­ter that need not have hap­pened.

I say this con­fi­dently be­cause the po­ten­tial for this tragedy was known about more than 20 years ago. I am no prophet. I am a jour­nal­ist and in July 1993, I re­ported what was al­ready an es­tab­lished fact: “South African ur­ban cen­tres such as Cape Town … are run­ning short of wa­ter, even though it is built along­side one of the largest aquifers in the coun­try. But this vast un­der­ground sup­ply has be­come badly pol­luted by years of un­con­trolled set­tle­ment.”

This was at the start of a much greater in­flux of ur­ban pop­u­la­tion and an aware­ness of chang­ing weather pat­terns. Even then, there were re­ports about pos­si­ble so­lu­tions such as tow­ing break­away ice­bergs from Antarc­tica into Gor­don’s Bay.

But suc­ces­sive ad­min­is­tra­tions did noth­ing and the public at large was gen­er­ally un­aware – and un­in­formed – about the ex­tent of the prob­lem and what might be done to avert fu­ture dis­as­ter.

Yet, as a vet­eran trade union­ist pointed out to me this week: “When the public is in­formed and acts in con­cert, things can be changed.” She pointed to the mas­sive demon­stra­tions that stopped the secrecy bill – the Pro­tec­tion of State In­for­ma­tion Bill of 2013 – that had been ap­proved by Par­lia­ment’s ANC ma­jor­ity and awaited only the pres­i­dent’s sig­na­ture. Had that bill be­come law, it is un­likely that the lat­est rev­e­la­tions about cor­rup­tion and cap­ture of state in­sti­tu­tions by a gang­ster ca­bal would have come to light.

In re­sponse to this grotesque dis­tor­tion of the in­sti­tu­tions of our con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, some trade union­ists — most promi­nently Zwelinz­ima Vavi of the SA Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions— have called for “mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion”. But to what end?

To use that crude, but ap­pro­pri­ate, South African ex­pres­sion, the ma­jor­ity of the coun­try is al­ready “gatvol” with what has been go­ing on. It is not just a mat­ter of chang­ing one bill or get­ting rid of one pres­i­dent; chang­ing Twee­dle­dum for Twee­dledee. We have been dug into a deeper and deeper hole eco­nom­i­cally, so­cially and po­lit­i­cally.

Mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion is only worth­while if it has a spe­cific ob­jec­tive that can be achieved. Other­wise it can sim­ply be used as a “safety valve”, a case of “march­ing them up to the top of the hill, and march­ing them down again”.

In­for­ma­tion, there­fore, be­comes vi­tal.

There­fore, sup­port must be given to those me­dia work­ers who are truly func­tion­ing as the eyes and ears of the public. Armed and ed­u­cated with such in­for­ma­tion, there can be use­ful de­bates – sort­ing wheat from chaff – about goals and poli­cies.

Only then will mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion with clear ob­jec­tives make sense.

It will be a bat­tle and it will be messy, but it could lead to truly rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion that will give the peo­ple real power through some form of di­rect democ­racy.

It could lead to the egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety, en­vis­aged in the Bill of Rights, that could once again make South Africa some­thing of a bea­con of hope in a world of in­creas­ing gloom.

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