ARE WE A NA­TION OF MOAN­ERS?

To achieve a peace­ful, free and just so­ci­ety for all, each of us has to play our part and not be com­pla­cent,

CityPress - - Voices - writes Thuli Madonsela Madonsela is chair for so­cial jus­tice and law at Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity and founder of the Thuma Foun­da­tion

When I tweet about so­cial jus­tice, I am lucky if I get more than 100 likes and half a dozen retweets and en­gage­ments. Yet when my tweets con­demn cor­rup­tion and bad gov­er­nance, I get loads of likes and a fair amount of retweets and en­gage­ments.

Does this make us a world of moan­ers, or that dis­in­ter­ested in so­cial jus­tice? More im­por­tantly, does this mean we do more com­plain­ing than fix­ing the var­i­ous forms of dark­ness that be­set our pre­cious democ­racy?

I found my­self pon­der­ing these ques­tions dur­ing a rare mo­ment of hav­ing high tea at Inanda Club, Sand­ton, with one of the lead­ers of the 1956 iconic women’s march, Aunt Sophia Wil­liams-De Bruyn, and my daugh­ter, Wen­zile Madonsela.

It was through their un­par­al­leled lead­er­ship of a 20 000-strong crowd of women of all racial cat­e­gories, classes and geo­graphic di­ver­sity that to­day we cel­e­brate Au­gust 9 as Women’s Day. It is among their many lega­cies.

My mus­ings were trig­gered by an ex­change be­tween Aunt So­phie, as ev­ery­one af­fec­tion­ately calls the quintessen­tially wise and grace­ful Ms Wil­liams-De Bruyn, and Wen­zile. Wen­zile is, in her own right, one of the emerg­ing lead­ers who are still lick­ing the wounds they in­curred dur­ing the #FeesMustFall stu­dent upris­ing, con­ducted in the pur­suit of free ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion for all who can­not af­ford it. Their strug­gle also tack­led the ca­su­al­i­sa­tion of labour, and re­lated in­jus­tices, at the low­est lev­els of state em­ploy­ment, in­clud­ing uni­ver­si­ties.

While the oc­ca­sion was about spend­ing time with Aunt So­phie, Wen­zile and I could not miss the op­por­tu­nity to ask her ques­tions for a women’s lead­er­ship book we have been work­ing on for “more years than the Lord has sheep”.

When it was Wen­zile’s turn to ask ques­tions, her first was: “What were your dreams for South Africa when you and your peers made the sac­ri­fices you made for the strug­gle, and have those dreams been re­alised?”

Aunt So­phie’s swift an­swer was: “Yes and no.”

Her cho­sen ex­am­ple to il­lus­trate what had been achieved was un­ex­pected, yet supremely in­struc­tive.

“One of the achieve­ments of our strug­gle is a pres­i­dent who takes women se­ri­ously. To­day we have a state that is pre­pared to en­gage with women.”

She went on to ex­plain that when the 20 000 women ap­proached the Union Build­ings in Pre­to­ria in 1956, then prime min­is­ter JG Stri­j­dom, who was in the build­ing, chose to leave and as­sign a ju­nior bu­reau­crat to re­ceive the pe­ti­tions the women had come to de­liver. She said this was in stark con­trast to a re­cent march by women un­der the hash­tag #To­talShutDown. Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s re­sponse to the #To­talShutDown march was to leave a meet­ing he was at­tend­ing and go to the Union Build­ings to re­ceive the pe­ti­tion and en­gage with the women.

Aunt So­phie went on to men­tion a ground-break­ing Con­sti­tu­tion, which seeks not only to pro­tect uni­ver­sally ac­cepted fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights – in­clud­ing so­cioe­co­nomic rights – and free­dom, but which also seeks to en­sure equal en­joy­ment of the same by all.

She also men­tioned the many laws that recog­nise women’s rights while seek­ing to pro­mote gen­der and other forms of equal­ity.

On what has not been re­alised, Aunt So­phie had a lot to say. Key among the dis­ap­point­ments she lamented was the gap be­tween the prom­ise and re­al­ity. She pointed out the rise in vi­o­lence against women and the in­crease in the vi­cious­ness of such vi­o­lence, which to­day fre­quently in­volves femi­cide.

She also lamented the fact that although women have high-level po­si­tions to­day, the level of re­spect women lead­ers com­manded dur­ing her time seems to have been lost. She at­trib­uted some of that to women often be­ing placed in po­si­tions of power for ne­far­i­ous pur­poses, with­out such power be­ing yielded to them.

Wen­zile’s next ques­tion was: “If you were age 21 to­day, what would you do dif­fer­ently from to­day’s young peo­ple?”

The an­swer was again in­struc­tive. Mam’ So­phie’s an­swer fo­cused on self-dis­ci­pline, self-de­pen­dency, col­lab­o­ra­tion and in­no­va­tion. On self-dis­ci­pline, she men­tioned that when Stri­j­dom re­fused to meet the women, they sprung into song, chant­ing: “Wathint’ abafazi wan­thint’ im­bokodo.”

They then dis­persed in an or­derly man­ner with­out kick­ing a sin­gle stone, burn­ing any­thing or tak­ing things from in­for­mal traders who hap­pened to be on the streets. She said this was es­sen­tial in keep­ing the pub­lic nar­ra­tive on the women’s de­mands as op­posed to their con­duct.

On self-de­pen­dency and col­lab­o­ra­tion, Aunt So­phie ex­plained that the en­tire march was in­no­va­tively and col­lab­o­ra­tively funded by the women them­selves. Some cro­cheted and sold baby clothes; oth­ers made and sold dresses; while some baked and sold scones.

She painted a ver­bal pic­ture of hu­man sol­i­dar­ity across race, class, po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tions and other bar­ri­ers that are in­creas­ingly di­vid­ing South African women to­day.

She re­called how they helped each other, with He­len Joseph pro­vid­ing trans­port and a meet­ing venue for Lil­ian Ngoyi and oth­ers, among other things. She re­minded us that the Fed­er­a­tion of SA Women was a fed­er­a­tion of var­i­ous for­ma­tions, some apo­lit­i­cal – such as women’s church groups and so­cial clubs (stokvels) – and oth­ers po­lit­i­cal, which then were con­sti­tuted in terms of racial iden­tity, in line with the laws of the time.

For ex­am­ple, she rep­re­sented the Coloured Peo­ple’s Congress, while Joseph came from the Congress of Democrats; Rahima Moosa, from the Transvaal In­dian Congress; and Ngoyi, from the African Na­tional Congress, whose mem­bers at the time com­prised only black peo­ple who had been clas­si­fied by law as Africans.

At some stage, Aunt So­phie re­marked: “To­day you have more tools and bet­ter [ones] … in­clud­ing the dig­i­tal age. The sky is the limit.” But she con­ceded that to­day’s strug­gle is more com­plex, say­ing: “Our strug­gle was against an en­emy we knew. It was a strug­gle of a united peo­ple. To­day the en­emy is not easy to dis­tin­guish.”

As she said that, I con­sid­ered the many char­la­tans who pre­sented them­selves as friends of the peo­ple and painted whis­tle-blow­ers and law en­force­ment agen­cies as agen­cies of white mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal or for­eign en­e­mies, in their at­tempts to de­flect at­ten­tion from their counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ary and cor­rupt use of pub­lic power and their plain theft of re­sources meant to im­prove the qual­ity of life of the peo­ple.

I have been re­flect­ing on that con­ver­sa­tion and on the im­por­tance of find­ing com­mon ground re­gard­ing what the main strug­gle is to­day. Dur­ing my quiet con­ver­sa­tion with He­len Suz­man’s daugh­ter shortly af­ter I pre­sented her mother’s Me­mo­rial Lec­ture on Novem­ber 21, she ad­vised that Suz­man once said that if ever there was some­thing that would de­rail democ­racy, it was poverty.

Is this new? No. As we ap­proached the year 2000, the UN had come to the con­clu­sion that end­ing ex­treme poverty and in­equal­ity was es­sen­tial for a more stable and peace­ful world. This re­sulted in Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals, which have since been ex­panded and ex­tended to be Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals.

In­ter­est­ingly, 70 years ago, Eleanor Roo­sevelt and her col­leagues, who drafted the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights, came to the same con­clu­sion: that hu­man rights for all – char­ac­terised by the equal en­joy­ment of fair­ness and jus­tice for all – was es­sen­tial for peace.

I am part of the team driv­ing the Mosa Plan for So­cial Jus­tice (So­cial Jus­tice M-Plan), and we be­lieve that as long as there is in­jus­tice some­where, there can­not be sus­tain­able peace any­where. Ac­cord­ingly, if we want peace, we all need to step up and play our part in de­fend­ing and ad­vanc­ing hu­man rights and free­doms for all. At the core of that quest is so­cial jus­tice. It is also about de­fend­ing democ­racy by mak­ing it work for all, with no one left be­hind.

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