Goal-driven mobilisation is key to change
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.