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Let's make Women's Month about much more than pageants, manicures and shopping

Last week I attended a dialogue on racism at the District Six Homecoming Centre. One of the participants was Professor Courtland Lee from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, who raised a range of issues relating to the psychological impact of racism, which can easily be applied to South Africa as to the US.

As someone who has studied and researched racism and written a book on the subject, I am always keen to hear different perspectives on a very complicated topic.

Take the issue of whether black people can be racist. Lee thinks they cannot and I humbly beg to differ. Lee argued that, while black people can be prejudiced, they cannot be racist. The situation in the US is different to South Africa. They have a black minority. Here, we have a black majority which means that at least some black people have the power and the influence to act in a racist manner.

But I don’t want to challenge the professor’s views in this column. The reason I mention it is because he also spoke about attitudes towards Black History Month, which is in February.

Lee said that some people had problems with it because for that month only in schools and universities they put up pictures of dead black people, which they promptly removed at the end of the month.

As my email and social media were flooded with information on events related to National Women’s Day (and month) this week, I wondered whether any of this would make an impact. The problem with national days is that they focus on an important issue, but quite often that is the only time of focus. People move on to other issues immediately afterwards.

Ultimately, it depends on how we use these focused days and months. While it is important to remember the history behind Women’s Day, and to pay tribute appropriately, it is also important to find ways of relating the day and month to the issues faced by women and girls today.

Women’s Day started as a protest by thousands of women who marched to Pretoria against pass laws in 1956, but today it should give us an opportunity to focus on issues such as gender violence and the problems facing the girls, such as proper access to sanitary pads and violence in schools. Those who will never be women, but who identify with their struggle, should use it as an opportunity to interrogate ways in which they can enhance their support.

I have no problem with women who decide to treat themselves in what is supposed to be their special month, but Women’s Month should be about much more than beauty pageants, manicures and shopping specials.

Focused days and months should help to create awareness of important issues, but it should never be left at that. Not all of us can be activists for women’s rights, but we can be aware of the issues and support in whatever way we can. In that way, Women’s Month will take on more significance.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 10 August 2019)

Collective mind-shift is needed to put SA first and make it work

After last week’s column, in which I argued that we have failed to deliver the South Africa we promised our people when we were involved in the Struggle against apartheid, I received a query from a reader asking whether I was “hankering after the Apartheid era”. He capitalised apartheid, which properly betrays his loyalties.

Of course, I never said that but sometimes it seems that people read articles to confirm their opinions and prejudices, on which their opinions are often based.

I would never wish apartheid on our country or any other country. Apartheid was evil and destroyed so many lives through laws like the Immorality Act, the Group Areas Act, the laws determining and governing homelands and the Mixed Marriages Act.

It also destroyed lives through the active subjugation of the majority in an effort to create a utopia for the minority. I lost too many close friends and comrades in the Struggle to see something remotely positive in apartheid and its evil twin, colonialism.

But just because we think apartheid was bad, does not mean that we think our democracy is perfect. Far from it. What I have been thinking about a lot recently is the role that those of us who were involved in the Struggle can play in improving our democracy.

Part of the contribution that we can make is to continue to point out flaws where we see them and make suggestions on how things could be improved. This is not negative, in fact, it is part of us trying to make a positive contribution to our country.

We cannot continue to sit on the sidelines while the unemployment rate is going up every quarter, the latest figure being 29%, up from 27.6% last quarter. This is the official figure, but I believe the real figure is much higher, especially in poor communities.

We cannot keep quiet while our economy has been reduced to junk status by international ratings agencies, and when our education system does not produce proper skills. And when it does, those skills flee the country because there are no jobs here.

We cannot pretend not to be concerned when crime is spiralling out of control.

I love this country, but I am pulling out what little hair I have left because, like most concerned citizens, I am desperate to help find solutions.

We are in one of the worst spaces we have been in in our reasonably young democracy. However, I still remain hopeful. I remain hopeful that our president will realise that, while there are people inside and outside his party who are trying to divert his attention, he should focus on the job for which he was elected: to turn our country into the great nation we all know it can be.

I am also hopeful that our political parties will realise that now is not the time for factional fighting or political grandstanding. Now is the time for everyone to put their shoulders to the wheel and work together to get us out of the mess we are clearly in.

Now is also not the time for people to say, “I told you so”, especially not the apartheid-era apologists hoping (and sometimes praying) that we will not make a success of our democracy.

I am also hopeful because I know the resilience of South Africans. We absorbed everything that 300 years of colonialism and 50 years of apartheid could throw at us and we emerged victorious. We have made mistakes since we became a democracy, including allowing some people to think that they are leaders when they are meant to be public servants.

This is the kind of attitude which has allowed corruption and state capture to flourish.

South Africa can do better, but it will require a change of mindset and a willingness to put our country first.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 3 August 2019)

This is not the South Africa we fought for in the Struggle

We’ve had another week where it felt like our country was being slapped around by bad news. We had continuing gang violence on the Cape Flats, court challenges to the public protector, and a damning Constitutional Court verdict against her. And we once again had sickening testimony at the commission of inquiry into state capture of corruption in the Free State.

It was a week when I found myself thinking of Smuts Ngonyama’s comment that “we did not struggle to be poor”. I found myself asking: What did we struggle for?

It was very clear in the dark days of apartheid that we wanted a different and better society. One in which all people would be treated with dignity and respect; inequality would be eradicated or at least, seriously diminished; everyone would feel that they have equal opportunities to achieve their potential; everyone would feel safe, and enjoy the beauty of our country.

What we have seen since we have become a democracy has been almost the opposite.

I was one of those optimistic people who have always held out high hopes for our country, and in many ways I still do. But it is becoming more and more difficult to remain positive when you are surrounded by so much negativity.

I visit townships on the Cape Flats often, and I try to understand what is happening and how one can resolve the complex issues there. I always leave feeling more despondent.

Last Friday, I drove through Hanover Park and I was shocked at how the place has degenerated. I entered via Athwood Road and was confronted by piles of dirt lying in and next to the road. As we drove down Derwent Lane, with Derwent and Como courts on our left, I became aware of the number of able-bodied young men standing around on street corners.

I am used to seeing young men idling on street corners in Hanover Park. It was the same when I grew up in the area, but it seems to have become worse. People look dejected, like they have given up hope of their miserable lives ever changing. The unemployment rate here is clearly much higher than the official 27.6%.

Just about every bit of space in people’s backyards has been taken up by one, two or three Wendy houses, leaving no space for washing lines. As a result, people hang their washing on the wire-fences around the courts.

It is difficult to remember what we told people about the society we want to live in when we were doing door-to-door work or having house meetings in the 1980s, when we were trying to build community organisations in areas such as Hanover Park. I doubt whether anyone still believes in the future that we were trying to convince them of.

Instead of all the things we dreamt of, we now have a society where politicians think they are more important than the people they are supposed to represent; where faux revolutionaries wear designer watches and bags, and drink expensive liquor while trying to attack white monopoly capital, the same people who benefit when they buy their watches, bags and liquor.

But I have also been thinking about the people who complain about white monopoly capital. Does it mean that they are okay with black monopoly capital? Do they want to replace white capitalists with black capitalists?

South Africa will only become a better place if those of us who try to serve the people, whether we get paid for it or not, begin to listen to the people we are trying to serve. We need to remember what we promised people in the Struggle years, and deliver on it.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 27 July 2019)

Army deployment is merely applying a band-aid to a festering wound

It has been more than a week since the announcement that troops were to be deployed into the Cape Flats’ crime-ravaged townships (at the time of writing it appears not to have happened yet, at least not in a big way) and, while the deployment might initially calm the situation, peace in gang-infested townships is perilously unstable. It will not be long before the situation implodes and things could potentially be worse than ever.

Gangsters might initially lie low while they check out the situation. Most of them are not stupid and have superb survival skills. They will wait for the opportunity to revive their campaigns of terror on innocent residents, campaigns they might suspend in the face of the army deployment.

But they know, as everyone else does, that troops cannot remain on the Cape Flats forever.

The last time we had troops in the townships was in the 1980s, at the height of apartheid. At the time there were vigorous campaigns, supported by most progressive and liberal organisations, to have the troops removed.

This time, the opinion appears to be divided. There are those who are pulling out their hair, thinking of ways in which to address the rampant gang violence in Western Cape townships, which saw 43 people killed last weekend alone.

This has been a consistent feature, over many years, in these dormitory townships. We all know that people will be killed, especially over weekends; it is just a case of whether the number is going up or down. Those who feel that the troops should not be deployed into such a volatile situation - and I am one of them - argue that crime in South Africa can never be seen in isolation. Crime is a manifestation of communities who feel voiceless and helpless, and where the value of life has become almost meaningless.

The troops might be a temporary solution - a band-aid, of sorts, on a festering wound - but you need more than band-aids in the mainly poor townships on the Cape Flats.

Unemployment on the Cape Flats, for instance, is much higher than the official national average of 27.6%. Many people earn much less than what is considered a living wage. Many households earn nothing at all. Housing is inadequate and that is an understatement.

In an environment of extreme poverty, crime and criminals thrive. Gangsters are known to operate like social welfare agencies in some areas, offering help with rent payments and legal support when youngsters land in trouble.

I grew up in some of these townships many years ago, including Hanover Park, where young people, often innocent, are still killed on a regular basis in the crossfire of gang warfare.

Some of my friends managed to escape the poverty which surrounded us, but we are the minority. Most young people are condemned to lives of misery in these townships.

There are ways to control crime on the Cape Flats and none of them are easy. It will involve listening to the affected communities and working with them. It will involve trying to change the economic conditions of the majority of people living there. It will involve creating jobs and giving hope to young people that their lives matter. It will involve the government - and not only the police - winning the trust of people who have no reason to trust the government or the police.

We have unleashed a monster with the deployment of the army in our townships. They only know how to use force and hope it will result in peace. But you need more than force and fear on the Cape Flats. The police need to work with communities, not only with community organisations or gatekeepers, but with people who truly know what is happening on the ground.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 20 July 2019)

Remember the South Africa that Madiba dreamed of

July is always a special month in our history. July is Cuba month and it is meant to be a time to focus on the progress of the little island, south of the US, where, despite the best and worst attempts at destabilisation by its much bigger and stronger neighbour, some form of socialism has been practised since the early 1960s.

Locally, July is also important. Ashley Kriel, a young freedom fighter from Bonteheuwel, was killed on July 9, 1987, and his comrades, Coline Williams and Robert Waterwich, were killed two years later, on July 23, 1989, in what appeared to have been an explosion gone wrong.

July is the month when some of the leadership of the ANC and its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, outside Johannesburg. The events of July 11, 1963, led to the Rivonia Trial where Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni, Raymond Mhlaba and Elias Motsoaledi were sentenced to life in prison on four counts, including sabotage and furthering the objectives of communism. Ahmed Kathrada was found guilty of conspiracy and also sentenced to life.

Nowadays July is special for most people throughout the world because of the birthday of Nelson Mandela on July 18. Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013, would have been 101 this year.

Mandela Day, as his birthday has become known, is celebrated in many countries and it gives an opportunity for many to do good, often for 67 minutes, in remembrance of the number of years of his life Mandela dedicated to public service.

It is always interesting for me to see how many people pick and choose from Mandela’s legacy what they wish to celebrate and remember.

Most people choose to remember only reconciliation, but reconciliation came after a lifetime of resistance against apartheid and colonial crimes in South Africa, and fierce resistance to all forms of oppression and exploitation. Mandela said, famously, at the Rivonia Trial, and he repeated part of it on the day of his release, Sunday, February 11, 1990: “During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

What I took out of this speech was his undying commitment to public service, as well as his understanding of non-racialism. Mandela, through his speeches and actions, showed us what it meant to be a servant leader. It was never about him; it was always about what would be in the best interest of the people he was meant to represent. He was prepared to give his life in pursuance of the freedom of all South Africans.

Mandela understood that, when he became the president of the country, he was no longer merely the head of the major political party. He had to represent all the people of South Africa. Mandela understood that we all needed to work together. It will take more than 67 minutes, hours, days, months and maybe even years. The best way to pay tribute to Mandela is to help realise the non-racial society that he spoke about in his Rivonia Trial speech.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 13 July 2019)

Forced removal and fines are not solutions to our homelessness problem

Cape Town - The sight as the plane approaches Cape Town is always welcoming, especially to someone who was born in this city and who loves it dearly.

After you fly over the Hottentots Holland mountains, you see the Winelands, then the sea and then, depending on which side of the plane you are in, you might see Robben Island and Table Mountain. It is beauty personified.

But as you approach the airport and after you get off the plane, you start to see another side of Cape Town as you drive past a series of informal settlements - a misnomer if ever there was one because most of these settlements have become permanent - and the Cape Flats townships, before you get to the city centre where many tourists start their experience of the beautiful Cape Town.

In between the beauty, there is a side of the city the authorities have been failing to deal with for years. The only way they know how to deal with the many homeless people on the city streets is to remove them, often forcibly, as media reports said this week.

But removing homeless people from our streets is not something new for the City of Cape Town.

Remember in 2010, ahead of the Football World Cup, the authorities removed all the homeless people from the city’s streets.

Now we hear that they have been fining homeless people R500 each time for obstructing pavements, and other such misdemeanours. It is not small change, even to people with money. How much more of a challenge must it be to someone who has nothing?

For many years the city’s slogan was “The city that works for you”. But if you asked most people on the Cape Flats they would say this should rather have been “The city that works for some”. The "some" are those who live in the leafy suburbs where they have become used to certain privileges.

One of the privileges is not having to be bothered by homeless people.

In a city and society that is as unequal as South Africa, one could be surprised that there are only a few hundred homeless people in the central business district. Someone joked that South Africa is leading the world in at least one thing, and that is inequality.

Cape Town, with all its beauty, is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Cape Town is also a very dangerous city, but the sheltered people who live in the suburbs and the tourists who hang out in the beautiful spots of the city are not affected by the dangers of gangland shootings, incessant violence, and drug abuse.

To those who live on the Cape Flats and who sometimes never get to leave their townships - often because they cannot afford the train, bus or taxi fare - the beauty of Cape Town is something they can only imagine.

Growing up in Hanover Park many years ago, it was not unusual for us to have only one or two outings a year out of the area. In December after my dad got his bonus, my mother would take us shopping in central Cape Town and sometime during the summer we would go to Kalk Bay beach.

Both excursions were by train which, surprisingly, might have been more reliable than it is today. We were among the lucky ones; many of my friends never left Hanover Park.

Homelessness and gangsterism are manifestations of the worst kind of capitalism, which is what we have in South Africa. The rich are very rich, the poor very poor. We will only be able to deal with it if we create more opportunities to lift people out of poverty. As long as we have this kind of inequality, homelessness will be with us. We cannot get rid of it by fining people or forcibly removing them.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 6 July 2019)

No need for Home Affairs visit to be unpleasant

Certain things in life are great levellers. A visit to Home Affairs in Barrack Street, Cape Town, is one of them.

I have been putting off getting my new smart card identity document, partly because I thought I was going to have to give up on my old green ID book, with all its IEC stamps, from 1994 when we voted for the first time. But when my passport expired, I could no longer procrastinate and, on Monday, decided to take the great leap of faith which is a visit to Home Affairs.

Yes, I know that one can also renew one’s passport and get a smart card ID through a bank, but I did not want to deprive myself of a uniquely South African experience.

My wife and I arrived at Home Affairs just before 11am. Like detention without trial in the 1980s, we had no idea where we were going or how long it would be before we saw sunlight again.

We first had to wait outside, in a short queue, before being allowed to go inside. This took only a few minutes before we joined a confusing snaky line inside where our first stop would be the “Meeter and Greeter”.

One learns a lot when you are standing in a queue with complete strangers, some who have lost their ID documents, some who were applying for an ID document for the first time, and one or two who got married or divorced and wanted to change their surnames.

Two hours later, we finally got to the meeter and greeter, a reasonably jovial person – despite the obvious stress of his job. He was the only one who could check that you had the correct documents for your application before sending you off to the correct queue that you had to join.

The Home Affairs website says that, for a passport, you need the following:

·         A duly completed passport application Form DHA-73

·         Your original identity document and a copy, or a birth certificate and copy thereof if under 16

·         If under 18 years, parental consent for issuing of the passport. Please see Tourist passports: persons under 16 for the requirements

·         A completed determination of citizenship Form DHA-529 when applying from abroad

·         Present any existing valid tourist passport or if you have lost your passport or it has been stolen and you are applying for a new passport,  you must provide a loss of passport report (DHA-335 ) and confirmation that you reported the loss to the police

·         Two colour photographs that comply with the Passport and ID Photograph Specifications (NOT needed at smartcard offices as ID images are captured digitally)

·         Pay the prescribed fee for the passport

This is a direct quote from the website.

I took my old passport, my old ID book, a copy of the old ID book, proof of address and, of course, the prescribed fee. I was not asked for anything beyond my old passport and ID book, which were handed back to me afterwards. At least I got to keep my history. I did not have to fill in any forms. Maybe it was because it was a renewal, but then they need to be a bit more specific on their website.

After short conversation with the meeter and greeter, who previously interrupted a consultation with another person to go and help his colleague while everyone waited for about 10 minutes, we were told to join the line for “applying for an ID or passport”. This line was right next to the first queue and all that happened here was that we were given a number and told to go and wait for our photos to be taken. My wife was 439 and I was 440.

I noticed that there was a board in the reception area – if one can call it that – for star performers, but it contained no names, even though there was space for four photos. I don’t know if there were no star performers at this office or if they were just a bit slack in updating the information on the board.

Our meeter and greeter had earlier told us that “this is still better than Wynberg”.

We had survived the first part of our journey at Home Affairs. More was to come.

As we sat waiting in the main hall, we had to watch and listen to the board all the time. If your number was called and you forfeited your turn, you might have to come back another day. A couple in front of us were deeply engaged in conversation with another couple and did not hear their number. They only had to pay and had to back one of the people behind the counters to try and reinstate them. A few minutes later, the board told them to go to cashier one.

There were not enough seats in the main hall and, as soon as someone got up, someone else took the seat.

Of the nine counters that were available, there were sometimes only three or four people working. At most, I counted five people working behind the counters.

One of the people interfacing with the customers was merrily chewing gum while interviewing clients, while another got up to answer her cell phone, even though there is a sign saying that the area was supposed to be “cell phone free”.

At around 13h45, one of the Home Affairs staffers told us, “We have an error message on our system. I will check with head office what is going on and will get back to you.”

He did not get back to us, but just after 14h00, the board started working again and began instructing ticket numbers to go to counter 8 to 16 or cashier one or photo booth 21 or 23.

At times, only one of the photo booths had someone working.

At about 14h15, I got called to the photo booth 21, where I spent about three minutes only: to take thumb prints, sign a digital pad and have our photos taken. “Please don’t smile and keep your head straight,” were the firm instructions given to me.

Then it was back to finding a seat while we waited for our number to be called so that we could be interviewed at one of the counters.

At about 14h40, I was called to counter 16, where I was asked for my passport and ID. I was then asked to scan my left and right thumb and sign. I was asked for my cell number and address, and where I was married, in Cape Town or Johannesburg. This entire process last less than three minutes.

I was told to wait until my number was called again so that I could pay R400 for my passport and R140 for my ID.

A few minutes later, I was called to Cashier 1 to pay, which took another minute or so. I asked the cashier whether that was all that was required and whether I could go home now. It was that kind of experience, where you felt like you needed to ask permission before you could leave.

As we left, just before 15h00, we saw a small line of people waiting to go to the meeter and greeter. According to the website, the office closes at 15h30, but apparently, they help everyone who is inside at that time. Maybe the latecomers had a point.

More than four hours later, we left Home Affairs, feeling hungry and thirsty, thankful that we would not have to repeat this experience again, at least for the next 10 years until my passport expires again. 

Outside, the sun was fighting its way through the clouds. It felt like I had just been released from detention. 

It is clear to me that, with a little bit of better planning, Home Affairs could reduce the time it takes to make applications significantly. The biggest stumbling block is in reception where it took two hours to get to “meet and greet”, effectively reception or information. If they had put more than one person at this desk, the queues would move quicker.

I also did not see why we had to go from the first queue to one next door to be given a number. Surely, that could have happened at the end of the first queue. Like they had one meeter and greeter, they just had one person working at the other counter.

Getting to the meeter and greeter took two hours. There is no reason why that should happen.

Inside the main hall, they should try to make sure that there are more than five people working, especially as they have nine counters available.

I could not help thinking what the place would be like if they had a little restaurant inside, where one could have a bite while waiting, of course after you got your number. As it is, they ban eating inside the building.

There is no reason for a visit to Home Affairs to be an unpleasant experience, and it was not. It just took an incredible amount of time.

Ps. I did not ask Home Affairs for comment because these are my personal reflections. If they wish to respond, I will gladly carry their comments on this website.

Politicians must serve the public, not prance around on red carpets

Sometimes the little things can explain the bigger problems in life. I have been thinking about this the past few weeks as I noticed little things that have been irritating me. One of these is how politicians, who are supposed to be public servants, are being turned into celebrities by their colleagues and the media.

A few weeks ago I noticed an advert for a youth day rally to be addressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, but he was referred to as “His Excellency”. The last time I checked, “Excellency” is a term used for ambassadors. I suppose “Excellency” sounds royal and the president’s people want him to appear to be royal. I might be wrong.

One of my big irritations are all the photographs of ministers, MECs and even mayors in newspaper ads and billboards, sometimes completely unrelated to the message they are conveying.

There is a billboard outside Bram Fischer International Airport in Bloemfontein urging residents and visitors to save water. It carries a huge picture of Mangaung executive mayor Sarah Matawana. I found myself thinking whether people would be more or less inclined to save water after seeing this billboard. Another irritation is how politicians always try to put themselves at the centre of our sporting achievements - or non-achievements, if events of the past few weeks are anything to go by.

A few weeks ago, when Banyana Banyana returned from the Women’s Soccer World Cup after not making it past the first round, I saw on television a press conference at OR Tambo International Airport where Gauteng Sports MEC Mbali Hlophe was taking centre stage, sitting in between the coach and captain, when surely most people were interested in the views of those in charge of the team and who played in the tournament.

I have also been irritated quite often by the practise of people having to stand up when a minister enters a room at an event. I can understand standing for the president, but maybe it is just me. I remember having to stand for a deputy minister, who was late.

I was also mildly irritated by new Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, who said in her maiden speech in Parliament that negative media coverage mainly targeted female leaders. Up to that point, she was doing reasonably well, but when she tried to blame negative coverage of herself on being a “female leader”, she lost me.

But my biggest irritation over the past few weeks was the red carpet at the State of the Nation Address where journalists were gushing over the outfits worn by politicians. I found myself wanting to shout: “They are not celebrities. They are public servants. They must serve the public, not prance around on red carpets.”

My irritation, I suppose, has been amplified by the fact that we have been losing old comrades at a regular rate in the past year, people who would understand where I am coming from.

The latest was Vivian Magdalene Sarah Daniels, known to most 1980s activists as Aunty Vivvy, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 82. She was involved in many organisations, including the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee, where she represented Bellville South, and helped to start the Bellville Advice Office.

Aunty Vivvy, like many of her generation, did not join the Struggle to become a celebrity, but to help those who are most vulnerable. When the politicians pay tribute to her, as they surely will, they would do well to remember what drove people like her and that they never lost sight of the goal of improving the lives of the poor.

Maybe if public servants realise that they are not celebrities, people like me will become less irritated with them.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 29 June 2019)

Freedom Charter one of the beacons that guides us toward the SA we want to live in

On Tuesday and Wednesday, it will be 64 years since thousands of people converged on Kliptown, outside Johannesburg, to draw up the Freedom Charter, which for many years acted as a beacon of the kind of society we would all love to live in once apartheid had been destroyed and a democratic government installed.

Most of the people who were at the Congress of the People have passed on, but the document that they left behind is a powerful legacy of what South Africa should have become over the past 25 years of democracy and what it probably could still become.

Most of the key points of the Freedom Charter are contained in the Constitution of South Africa, adopted in 1996 and which has been guiding our democracy since then. What made the Freedom Charter unique is that it was the first document to be drawn up with the involvement of thousands of people of all races from around the country, not all of whom attended the two-day congress at Kliptown.

Many people had sent their demands and vision of a new South Africa in the hope that they would be incorporated in the final document.

What attracted many to the Freedom Charter was the opening paragraph: “We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people; that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality; that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities; that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief; And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together equals, countrymen and brothers adopt this Freedom Charter; And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.”

The Charter then outlines certain key demands, most of which have not been realised. They include: the people shall govern; all national groups shall have equal rights; the people shall share in the country’s wealth; the land shall be shared among those who work it; all shall be equal before the law; there shall be work and security; the doors of learning and culture shall be opened; there shall be houses, security and comfort; and there shall be peace and friendship. It ends with the rallying cry: “These freedoms we will fight for, side by side, throughout our lives, until we have won our liberty.”

Oppression and exploitation were at its peak in the 1950s and one can forgive the talk of “national groups” because, at that point, divisions in our society were intense. Despite this, the Freedom Charter talks about an inclusive society. It talks about the need for all of us to share our beautiful country. It does not talk about how we can achieve this, but that was never the intention of this document.

One of the interesting lines is on the issue of land: it talks about sharing the land “among those who work it”. It means, that in 1995, there was already concern about the plight of farmworkers who toil on land owned by others without ever having land that they can call their own.

It will require much more than the limited space in this column to analyse the Freedom Charter and that was not my intention. I merely wanted to remind us of a beautiful document that should become part of our children’s education and that should inspire us in our quest for a different and better South Africa.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 22 June 2019)

The importance of investing in our children

Last night (Wednesday) I listened to my youngest daughter being interviewed on Bush Radio, a local community radio station, about her musical career. Her stage name is Luh’ra and she is a singer/guitarist who often performs alone but also with other musicians.

She had to compile a musical playlist for this radio appearance, which lasted two hours and consisted of some sort of an interview, but more of a chat, with a lot of music being played in between. The music all came from her playlist.

She started off by sharing some of the musical influences that she received from her parents and I was amazed by her selection, starting with Abdullah Ibrahim’s The Wedding to Jonathan Butler’s jazz stuff and Judith Sephuma, among others.

I realised then that, as parents, we are not always aware of the influence we have on our children. We listen to music, but we don’t often consider that our children could be listening too. Sometimes we speak about things without considering that our children could possibly understand what we are talking about. Imagine if my daughter said that the only musical influences she received from us were pop or bubble-gum music? Not that there is anything wrong with those forms of music, but one would like to believe that one’s influence has been a bit more profound.

More importantly, we do not often think about the outside influences on our children.

Years ago, about five of my friends and our families used to go camping every year-end. The five- or six-day holiday always included some musical performances. At one such performance, my friend’s then five- or six-year-old son said he wanted to do a song. He proceeded to perform a song by Eminen, complete with profanities. We were all shocked and did not know how to respond.

But we realised that, while we can try to keep tabs on our children as closely as possible, it is not always easy to protect them from societal influences.

In a world where technology is so easily accessible, it has become even more difficult for parents to make sure that their children are only influenced by things that are acceptable for their age levels, among others.

But while listening to my daughter’s interview, I realised that, while we have always tried to have as open a relationship as possible with our daughters, we will never know everything about them. We can always discover new things about them.

At another one of our annual camps, my other daughter sang a song and I realised for the first time that she could actually sing. I had never heard her sing before.

Sometimes I look at my grandson and I wonder about the challenges he will face growing up and the pressures he will be put under throughout his life. At just over a year, he already watches television and appears to like certain programmes.

Technology has become a part of our lives and will determine, in many ways, whether our children will be employable one day. The key is not to deprive him of technology but to find ways in which technology can help to support certain values in him and other children.

It has become more difficult for parents who believe in controlling and isolating their children, whici is not a bad thing, but it has also become more difficult for the rest of us.

Parent should take an active interest in nurturing their children from an early age. What we invest in them when they are young will eventually pay off when they are older.

Ps. Luh’ra will be performing with Jitsvinger tomorrow (Friday) at 6pm at the Book Lounge in Roeland Street, Cape Town. For more information, email booklounge @gmail.com

#YouthDay and Father's Day two very different reasons to celebrate

There was a time, in my mind not too long ago, when I would have had a double celebration tomorrow: celebrating as a young father both Father’s Day and Youth Day which, unusually, falls on the same day this year.

But that time has long gone, and, unlike the ANC Youth League leadership, I realise that one cannot hang onto one’s youth forever, no matter how desperately one wants to. I am still a father, however, and can at least enjoy celebrating that fact very proudly. I will, as always, reflect on Youth Day and the many who have sacrificed their lives over the years so that we can have our freedom today. Father’s Day, of course, is a commercial construct which often gives families with flawed relationships an opportunity to feel better about themselves - seeking salvation in gifts and other indulgences. For many people, however, it remains a day in which they can express genuine appreciation for their fathers, but these are normally the same people who would express those sentiments throughout the year.

I have never really worried too much about Father’s Day but, like most people I suppose, I have no problem with receiving presents or being spoiled on any day.

But I see Father’s Day also as an opportunity for me as a father to show appreciation to the women in my life, my wife and three beautiful daughters who have stood beside me, behind me and sometimes in front of me over the years.

Commercialism apart, Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, is a good opportunity to reflect on the importance of relationships and to realise that none of us can survive in this world without the support of those closest to us.

Youth Day is a different matter. It was born out of struggle and sacrifice, particularly the many lives lost on June 16 and 17, 1976 after pupils protested against being taught in Afrikaans in Soweto.

The protests quickly spread throughout the country, including the Western Cape, resulting in even more deaths. In fact, more people died at the hands of police in the Western Cape than anywhere else in the country in 1976, a fact that malicious historians often overlook because it does not fit their narrative of a conservative Western Cape.

In many ways, 1976 was a turning point for the liberation movement and the struggle. There had been many quiet years in the struggle after the banning of the ANC and other organisations at the beginning of the 1960s.

Many young people left the country to join the liberation movement in exile and because the ANC was better organised than, for instance, the PAC, most of these young people ended up in ANC camps, becoming umKhonto we Sizwe soldiers, even though their political sympathies were probably closer to the PAC.

For many years, we commemorated June 16 and 17 as Soweto Days, until it was changed in our new democracy to Youth Day, in some ways removing some of the history from the day. The same happened with Human Rights Day, which we always remembered as Sharpeville Day in memory of the people who were killed in pass protests on March 21, 1960.

It is important to remember our history because quite often, one can learn from the mistakes and successes of those who have gone before.

We owe to the youth who died in Soweto and elsewhere, to make our democracy the best it can be.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 15 June 2019)

A country of hope and despair

I slept with great difficulty on Tuesday night. I kept on thinking about the interactive dialogue we had had at the District Six Homecoming Centre early in the evening. Some of the issues raised were very intense and worrying, but what made them special was the way in which they were raised. We were just a group of South Africans who love our country and who want it to succeed.

The topic of discussion at the event – which was co-hosted by the Community Chest of the Western Cape, the District Six Museum and the One City, Many Cultures Project – was The South Africa We All Want To Live In and, from the first contribution, I knew we were going to have a special conversation.

At these dialogues, we turn the traditional panel discussion on its head, starting with a discussion from the floor before inviting a few respondents to comment.

The first contribution was from a Manenberg father who is worried about the safety of his daughters in a crime-ridden community. The desperation in his voice showed how much he is affected by this situation. Most of us, irrespective of political affiliation, want the same things in life: we want opportunities for ourselves and our children and we want safety and security for our families.

After he spoke, the father, who did not want to be identified, said he needed to leave because he had to take public transport home, when someone in the audience offered to give him a lift home so that he would not have to miss the rest of the dialogue. It showed that, in every situation, one can always find good people.

One of the other impassionate contributions came from a student at CPUT who spoke about the hell of living in Khayelitsha. “I feel safe here now, but I will have to return to Khayelitsha afterwards where I will not be safe,” he said.

One of the rules of these dialogues is that people are not invited based on political affiliation. We have learned from bitter experience that, when people trumpet their political party agenda, it interferes with their ability to engage with others in a constructive dialogue.

But a young man from the Black First Land First movement delivered probably one of the most moving contributions of the evening, asking why the gangland killings on the Cape Flats are not described as a genocide and are not seen as a crisis.

But he spoke in the way we have become used to at these dialogues, not pushing the agenda of the political party he supports.

Crime was not the only issue raised. Other topics included the process of changing the name of what is currently known as Zonnebloem back to District Six, the lack of job creation and the need for entrepreneurship training, the worrying state of the South African economy, the public transport crisis in the Western Cape, the state of NGOs and the role that they should be playing to keep government to account, the marginalisation of young people in our society, the need to improve our education system, drug abuse particularly on the Cape Flats, among many others.

There were also some contributions from people who described themselves as “part of the elite who have no idea what most South Africans are experiencing on a daily basis”.

The overwhelming feeling at this dialogue, which was the final one in a series that started in January, was that we cannot depend on government to do everything for us. South Africans have to take their future in their own hands.

As someone said, “We should not only talk about the South Africa we want to live in, we should all start building it today.”

In the end, I felt hopeful that, despite the many problems we face in our society, there is hope that we will be able to pull through. We defeated apartheid. We can defeat anything else that is thrown at us. But we can only do that if we stand together and we look at the potential contribution that people can make, despite their backgrounds, history and political affiliation.

The contributions made at all the dialogues will be published in a special book, which should come out in the next few months. Our aim is to make sure that everyone in some position of influence has a copy, so that they can understand people are saying about the country in which they want to live.

Doing the decent thing like #NkosikhoMbele should be the norm, not a shock

It is a sign of how messed up we are as a society that, when someone does something decent, s/he is turned into a hero. Doing the decent thing should be the norm, but we have become a society where we expect politicians to be corrupt and everyone else to be bad and, when someone does something nice, we are surprised.

One example is the outpouring of support that has been shown to Nkosikho Mbele, a petrol attendant who paid R100 out of his own pocket to buy petrol for motorist Monet van Deventer, who had left her card at home.

She started a crowd-funding account for Mbele as a token of appreciation and the social media campaign quickly generated just under R500000.

The company that Mbele works for offered to match the online contributions by making a donation of R500 000 to a charity of his choice. They have also earmarked him for one of their special company awards and are flying him to Tanzania to receive it.

But Mbele did not do what he did because he expected a payment in return. He did what he thought was the right thing to do and the reward was totally unexpected, but well-deserved.

Unrelated to this, but similar in nature because of the response from the public, has been the way many people have reacted to Northern Cape Premier Zamani Saul and his promise to deliver “servant leadership”. He has banned new cars for his MECs and bought ambulances instead.

Unlike his counterparts in other provinces, who were inaugurated in plush provincial legislatures, Saul’s inauguration took place in an informal settlement. He has also banned pictures of the premier and MECs at provincial buildings.

Saul’s behaviour, while commendable, should have been the norm after we became a democracy. After all, our struggle was never about creating opportunities for the few, but bringing dignity to the majority of our population.

Maybe, when the ANC took over the government in 1994, they should have revisited all the apartheid-era practices and not just adopted them. Just because they were now applying to a democratic government, did not make them right. Under apartheid, public representatives were put on a pedestal. We should have done differently in our democracy.

I remember in the early 1980s, my political mentor, Johnny Issel, started a few trade unions and one of the rules for those who worked there was that they could not earn more than the workers they represented. If they wanted to earn more, they had to make sure that the workers they organised, also earned more.

Some people would argue that this was false socialism, but the principle is important. Imagine if our politicians’ salaries depended on how well our economy was doing or how many jobs they were able to create? Imagine if politicians earned as much as the lowest earners in our society?

For many politicians, it has become about how much money they can earn, how many benefits they can generate and how they can use their positions to benefit themselves and their families in other ways. For instance, by becoming involved in businesses as shareholders or directors.

The primary purpose of becoming public servants should always be to serve, as Premier Saul has reminded us. One would hope that those in other provinces, and also in national government and local government, would take note of what he is doing and look for ways to emulate his actions.

I hope that soon we will get to the point where the actions of a Nkosikho Mbele and a Zamani Saul are what we expect to happen naturally.

We should be holding everyone, but especially supposed public servants, to higher values than we do at the moment. We did not struggle for kindness and servant leadership to be the exception. It should be the rule in our country.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 8 June 2019)

Stories continue to unfold that have no place in SA 25 years into democracy

How does one fix a country as broken as South Africa? We have many issues to deal with, and we would like to believe that many of them are uniquely South African.

As everyone waited with bated breath for the announcement of the Cabinet by President Cyril Ramaphosa this week, I was more concerned with some of the things happening elsewhere in society, all somehow linked to politics in different ways.

In the past week or so, the body of award-winning journalist Junior Bonase was found next to the N1 in the Free State; Angelo Agrizzi, the notorious former Bosasa executive who has spilled the beans on the company’s bribing of politicians at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, was hauled to the Equality Court for racist comments; and Julius Malema has once again issued veiled threats against journalists who have continued to write about alleged wrongdoing by him and the party he leads.

We have also seen Satawu (SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union) threatening to go on strike at Transnet because of what they say are pay discrepancies based on race.

According to Satawu, black workers earn less than their white counterparts at Transnet. To people who have been in the media industry for a long time, the stories listed above are normal in South Africa, but one would have expected them to become less normal, especially since we are celebrating 25 years of democracy this year.

Take, for instance, the case of Bonase. It was not unusual under apartheid for journalists who exposed illegal activities to disappear mysteriously or to end up dead. But one would not expect something like this to happen in a democracy. Without pointing fingers, this incident just appears strange and one hopes that the police will solve it urgently.

One of the most amazing things for me about the Agrizzi racism case is that there are people who are still surprised that such racism exists. Powerful people often think that they can abuse their power without consequences, which is what appears to have happened in the Agrizzi case.

The Malema incident worries me the most, especially since there appear to be many young people who have been taken in by the obvious racial polarisation that he is promoting.

Malema’s comment, in a tweet, was a reaction to journalists writing about the EFF’s involvement and benefit from the VBS Bank scandal. He said: “We are still cruising nicely, bana ba baloi are not happy. Go for kill fighters, hit hard”

Malema is a populist and populists are dangerous because they depend on sound bites and half-truths to push their agendas. They believe in the truth only if it suits their purposes. The fact that he seems to be able to pursue a racist agenda against his opponents could make his supporters feel that it is okay for them also to be racist.

The final story, about pay disparities, is shocking because, once again, it is not something that one would expect to happen in a democracy.

I began my journalism career in 1980, at a paper which targeted coloured people. It was one of the few places that people like me could find work in those days. Most of the mainstream papers mainly employed white journalists. But within a few months, we discovered that we were earning half of what our white counterparts with similar experience and qualifications earned. We went on strike and all got handsome increases. I did not expect to see this scenario repeating itself in 2019.

South Africa has many problems and, unless we deal with them comprehensively, we will continue to see stories like these in our media. This should not happen in a democracy.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 1 June 2019)

As we shakily place trust in new MPs, citizens must help keep them in check

It was sad to watch the bright-eyed new Members of Parliament being sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Wednesday and to find oneself thinking: When will they be corrupted or when will corruption allegations be made against them?

It’s a sad situation when one cannot look at MPs, who are supposed to be among the most exemplary citizens, without thinking the worst. But the allegations that have been made almost daily at the Zondo Commission into state capture have forced us to trust our so-called public representatives only as far as we can see them.

Many of those who succumbed to bribes and corruption over the past 25 years (corruption did not start under Jacob Zuma, just ask those involved in the arms deal or the Sarafina! scandal, remember that?) have besmirched their honourable name and those of their colleagues.

Even those who are honourable, will spend months, if not years, restoring the integrity of their names, but also the integrity of Parliament, an institution in which all South Africans should be able to have trust. The confidence in our public representatives is at an all-time low. 

The good news is that it probably won’t get worse and can get better, especially if those with morality and ethics once again put their stamp on Parliament and the Cabinet. Our public representatives will hopefully follow good leadership, which is what the president promised and which is what distinguished South Africans, such as Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and former public protector Thuli Madonsela, urged after the elections.

There have been good signs over the past few days, including ANC deputy president David Mabuza, declining to be sworn in until he addressed the concerns of the party’s integrity commission, and others like Malusi Gigaba, Baleka Mbete and Nomvula Mokonyane withdrawing their names.

There have also been positive comments from some of the newly elected premiers, such as Gauteng’s David Makhura, and KZN’s Sihle Zikalala vowing to promote clean governance and fight corruption. But we, the electorate, have been burnt before. We entrusted our hopes and dreams in the hands of people who have been less than honest, serving to enrich only themselves, their families and closest comrades.

It is up to us to be more vigilant and take ownership of our democracy. Democracy requires those of us who are not in Parliament to make sure that those who are supposed to serve us, do so diligently and without being compromised.

We should insist that public representatives declare all their assets and business dealings, so we can scrutinise them. Those who are economical with the truth, should be fined or expelled. When was the last time an honourable member was fired for dishonesty? The events of especially the past 10 years or so have shown the need for greater vigilance over the government by civil society.

There should be nothing greater than serving one’s country. But we have seen many people forgetting that they were supposed to serve the people, thinking instead that they were supposed to help themselves.

It is time to restore the dignity of the public service. When the new MPS become old hands, they must know that they served without conflict, without compromise and without a hint of corruption or bribery. We won’t be able to move forward unless we root out corruption.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 25 May 2019)

Nurturing social cohesion, creating jobs two sides of same coin to uplift SA

Just over a week since we voted in our sixth democratic elections and South Africans once again demonstrated to the world the power of tolerance and patience, there are already signs that, in the minds of some people at least, it is going to be more of the same over the next few years.

An incident which has caused me some disturbance involved a Stellenbosch emeritus professor sexually assaulting a woman waiter and calling another woman the K-word, in Observatory last week.

Retired professor Leon de Kock has since been arrested and charged with crimen injuria.

An incident such as this is probably understandable in an environment where the Freedom Front Plus with its racist policies has increased its share of the national vote, emboldening many who long for the days of apartheid. 

Another incident that has provoked anger inside me is the complaint by “a single resident” over the call to prayer (athaan) at the Zeenatul Masjid in District Six - the Muir Street Mosque - an institution that has been standing for more than 100 years. The city will now investigate this complaint after the holy month of Ramadaan.

Why anyone would move into the area and then complain about one of Islam’s sacred traditions, is beyond me. I suppose this is one of the dangers of gentrification, when people of a particular hue and class move into previously black working-class areas and then try to change everything to suit their needs.

A few years ago, at the Cape Town Festival hosted in the Company’s Gardens, a young man came to me five minutes after we started performances, demanding to know when we were going to stop. It was just after 10am and we were going to continue until 6pm, was the bad news I had for him.

He then told me that he moved into the area recently and nobody told him that he was going to have to deal with noise from concerts in the gardens. Throughout that day, the police came about five times to check our noise exemption permit after they had received complaints from residents, probably the same resident.

I was so angry that a complaint by one person (or even a few) had the potential to spoil the day for everyone else who came out because of their belief in tolerance and wanting to learn from different cultures and religions.

One of the priorities for the new government should be to promote social cohesion and integration in an active way, not just through a few events every year.

But my biggest concern this week, as the president contemplates how he is going to deliver on a cleaner and leaner cabinet, was the release of the latest employment figures by Statistics South Africa. It is an indication that the so-called new dawn will not be as easy to implement, even after a vote of confidence by the electorate.

The small amount by which the unemployment figure went up to 27.6% shows that, despite the good work done by the president to attract investments into South Africa, he has still not been able to make a difference where it matters - providing jobs to the most vulnerable in our society.

The president seems to talk a good economic story and his previous involvement in business makes one want to believe him, but it is difficult when one has rising unemployment as well as rising inflation, built on the back of steep petrol and diesel prices.

To some it might seem that building tolerance and creating jobs are at opposite ends of the needs list, but they are not. They are both important if we want to take our country forward.

Jobs are important, but so is the need to understand the complexities of our vibrant and diverse country. One cannot be achieved without the other.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 18 May 2019)

A public servant who is worth his weight in gold

Politicians have a habit of trying to discredit politics, often giving a bad name and reputation to anybody who might be involved in public service. This is not a South African phenomenon, it happens the world over.

One of the people who has consistently, over the past 25 years of democracy, brought integrity and earned the respect of many from different political parties, is the Reverend Courtney Sampson, Western Cape provincial head of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).

It appears that Sampson, who has presided over elections in the Western Cape since 1999, might have overseen his last election. He has indicated that he wants to step down.

His wisdom will be sorely missed.

I have known Courtney for years, since the days he was a parish priest at the local Anglican Church in Hanover Park where I lived. He was always supportive of the work we were doing as young people trying to conscientise other youngsters about the Struggle against apartheid.

He would not hesitate to make the church available for meetings, even though at a risk: there might be a backlash from conservative congregants and he might have attracted the attention of the security police, that infamous police branch that dealt with political troublemakers (basically those fighting apartheid and injustice).

Over the years, I have been privileged to call him my friend, but he has always been much more than that. He has also been a mentor and someone I can call on when I have complex matters that I am struggling to understand.

Courtney has always been able to make sense of what appears to be complicated issues, doing so by remaining calm while everyone around him were losing their heads. When I was doing the research for my book, Race, which deals with race and racism in post-apartheid South Africa, I was worried that I was unhealthily obsessed with race and questioned whether that meant that I was racist. Courtney pointed out to me the difference between being racist and thinking of race. It made a huge difference to what I eventually wrote.

One of the examples of how he has managed to remain calm amid potential storms was this week when someone shared on social media pictures of what appeared to be separate queues for black and white voters in Wellington, immediately crying racism.

Courtney, I suppose after years of working with politicians, did not rush to buy into the racism claims but investigated it first. It appeared to have been a simple logistical arrangement. Most of the black voters made to queue separately were students who wanted to vote outside of their voting district but had to fill in a special form to do so. To speed up the process, they were asked to queue separately. They happened to be black, while most of the other voters happened to be white.

Now in his sixties and after more than 20 years of working for the IEC, it is not unusual or unexpected for Courtney to want to move on. Good leaders know when to step up, but also when to step down. I wish him well in whatever he decides to do and know that he will make a success.

Over the years I have interacted with many public servants who have given me confidence that, despite the best (or worst) attempts by some politicians, our public service is in good hands. Courtney is one of those, but not the only one. It's a pity that the actions of a few corrupt politicians often overshadow the good work of many honest public servants.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 11 May 2019)

There’s more to democracy than just voting

There’s a piece of graffiti on a new apartment block of plush student housing on the border between Mowbray and Observatory in Cape Town, two suburbs where many University of Cape Town students live. The graffiti, painted with a brush and not the usual spray-can, simply says: “Don’t just vote. Organise.” 

The words and the style of graffiti brought back many memories of similar-style protests in the 1980s, but we would probably have written then: “Don’t vote. Organise.”

We did not have the vote in the 1980s. We only got that privilege in 1994.

One of the key tenets of any democracy is the right to vote, which South Africans will exercise for the sixth time in national and provincial elections on Wednesday – in fact, some people have already exercised this right through special votes, locally and abroad – but the graffiti slogan reminds one of the responsibility not to restrict one’s involvement in democracy to a vote every five years, with a local government vote thrown in between.

In an environment where many people with moderate leadership skills have identified “public service”, whether it is in national or provincial government, as an easy way of securing employment at the taxpayers’ expense, it becomes more incumbent on those of us who might be classified as “ordinary” to make sure that those entrusted with our vote delivers. If they do not deliver, they should be pressured so much that their time in office becomes unbearable.

In many ways, those of us who were involved in the struggle inside the country, especially during the 1980s, are to blame for where we find ourselves today. We organised people throughout the country to oppose apartheid until the once-mighty Nationalist Party regime had no option but to release Nelson Mandela and other political leaders and to unban the African National Congress and other organisations. They had no option but to sit down and negotiate the future of our country with the ANC and others. The result of those negotiations is found in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa which, 23 years after its adoption, is still considered to be one of the most progressive in the world.

But when we reached the early 1990s, and change was beginning to happen, many of those who had been involved internally, including myself, stepped aside in order to let our returning leaders take over. They even convinced us to close down the United Democratic Front which had been the main organising front inside the country.

Grassroots organisation, which had been the backbone of the UDF, took a backseat and our focus turned to how many votes we could generate for the parties that we supported so that we could have as many representatives in Parliament as possible.

We realise now that closing the UDF was a major mistake, but it is too late to go back in history and to try and revive the organisation. The situation is different now and the UDF has been replaced by a plethora of civil society organisations, each with a focus area aimed at improving the lives of those who call South Africa their home – and that includes people who have come here from other African countries in search of a better life after we became a democracy.

One of the good things to come out of the Jacob Zuma era as President of the country and the ANC was that, in many quarters, we saw a return to the activism and organisation of the 1980s, especially during his second term. Many people realised that the only way to counter parliamentary democracy is via people’s power, depending on a show of force outside of the parliamentary-focused political parties which have become the new establishment, even though the Economic Freedom Fighters will probably fight this notion.

This organisation and activism were not only restricted to those who I used to call until recently, and not in a derogatory way, “expired activists”. But it also involved a new generation who suddenly realised that we had left the freedom project incomplete. In our eagerness to overcome apartheid and racism, we had overlooked the impact of colonialism, which probably had a greater impact on our country than the 50 or so years of formalised apartheid.

At some point we probably have to start challenging the impact of capitalism on our country, but that is probably something to leave for the next generation.

The good thing is that we now have a generation of questioning young people who are eagerly looking for answers to the many problems in our society, including the incessant and seemingly invincible triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Clearly, we have not found the answers in the past 25 years since we became a democracy and we might have to look for some radical solutions in the next few years.

This week’s election is probably going to be the most significant of the six elections we’ve had in our democracy up until now, barring the first election in 1994 which will probably remain the most significant ever, for obvious reasons.

This election will come at a time when the ANC has faced one of its biggest crises since its unbanning, and maybe even before. It is struggling to shrug off the image of a corrupted party, despite all the best attempts of the party’s current president Cyril Ramaphosa. After Wednesday, probably sometime on Saturday when all the votes are expected to have been counted, we will know how much confidence South Africans still have in a wounded and divided ANC, or whether they have started to explore other alternatives.

This election might also be the last opportunity for those with a grounding in the struggle to be able to have a major impact. By the next general election, 30 years into our democracy, those who were involved in struggle will probably be far outnumbered at the polls by younger voters with no loyalty to the struggle or to the country's history. That could be a good and a bad thing. 

It could be bad because every struggle needs a history, but it could be good because we tend to make too much of our struggle history in South Africa. Yes, it is true that many have sacrificed to get us to this point, but many of those who were involved in struggle have moved on, some have become rich and, sadly, some have become corrupted, which, one might argue, negates any contribution they might have made during the struggle.

What should count mainly is the ability of political parties – if they are still going to be the major vehicles of our democracy – to deliver to those who entrusted them with their votes.

But while the political parties battle it out in Parliament, they should know that the people outside Parliament remain a formidable force, and this can only happen if we have strong civil society organisations – including community organisations and trade unions – who keep the elected on the straight and narrow.

I hope that the graffiti on the new student accommodation does not suffer the same plight as graffiti throughout Cape Town and gets painted over. The message, that democracy is more than a vote, is a strong one and should stay there as a reminder, especially to those in Parliament, that “ordinary” people voted them into power and “ordinary” people can remove them.

(First published in the Daily Dispatch on Wednesday, 8 May 2019)

Coalitions can lead to party members, supporters feeling betrayed

When the dust settles on next Wednesday’s election and the final votes have been counted, irrespective of who wins or loses, there will be fervent looks around at who would be possible alliance partners, whether it is at national or provincial level.

The nature of politics is that alliances may differ from national to provincial level and even from province to province.

One of the most interesting alliances of recent years has been the one between the EFF and the DA.

But before that, there had been a coalition of sorts between the ANC and the National Party, the two biggest opponents during the apartheid years: one trying to ensure the continuation of our race-based society and the other one opposing it with all its might. At the height of the Struggle against apartheid, no one could have foreseen the future co-operation between the two parties, which finally led to the demise of the NP.

Before the last local government elections, nobody would have bet on an alliance between the DA and the EFF, two very different political parties - one representing what is seen in many areas as an old and white constituency, while desperately wanting to be relevant to black voters, and the other representing young and black voters frustrated by what they believe to be empty promises by established political parties, but mainly the ANC.

After dissecting the utterings from politicians in the last few weeks, it looks highly unlikely that anyone would want to be in alliance with anyone else. There has been a lot of hatred and intolerance spewed out by politicians.

But come a few days after the elections, when all the votes have been counted and the calculations of power have been made, some of these politicians who have been fighting with each other will become each other’s best friends.

Politics, after all, is all about numbers. It is about making sure that, firstly, enough people vote for you so that you can rule by yourself and, if that does not work, looking at who you need to get into bed with in order to make sure you keep your worst enemies out.

Many DA members felt betrayed by the alliances the party made with the EFF in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay after the last local government elections, but they were prepared to grin and bear it because it meant that, for the first time, the DA got the mayorship of major metros outside of the Western Cape.

The unfortunate thing is that this spirit of toenadering and camaraderie does not often go down to the ordinary members and supporters of political parties who, before the elections, took their line from their leaders who will now appear to be deserting them in pursuit of political alliances.

The bitterness and hatred that has been spread during the election campaign will take longer to erase from poor communities who have been told to hate people with a bit more privilege than them. In many cases, political electioneering promotes hatred and sometimes even violence. Yet, the same people who promoted intolerance might soon find themselves in alliance with others against whom they campaigned not too long ago.

It is probably a tall order to think that politicians will be more deliberate in their utterances and will think about the long-term consequences of what they say. But, again, I suppose politics is not about the long term, it is about how many votes they can get in the short term so that they and some of their supporters can also get on board the political gravy train.

All of us should have the interests of South Africa at heart and we need to show this in our words and our actions.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 4 May 2019)

#FreedomDay: We sacrificed for right to vote

In less than two weeks, South Africans will be able to vote for a new government or will continue to support the old one. The ANC’s promise of a “new dawn” has been met with scepticism in some parts, but to be honest, none of the opposition parties have put up their hand to attract people who might not want to put their fate in the ANC’s hands again.

Most people know the story of the ANC, the once-glorious liberation movement that became mired in corruption, mainly because it made some seriously bad leadership choices. But I want to look at the opposition parties, those in Parliament and those who are hoping to be there after May 8.

The DA is increasingly showing that they are a party struggling to deal with political realities in democratic South Africa. Quite often the actions of the party betray the “D” in their name.

The DA can rightly feel that their dominance in the Western Cape is under threat after the shoddy way they treated former mayor Patricia de Lille, whose own Good movement is hoping to put in a decent enough showing in the Western Cape, taking away some support from the DA, which could see them ending up as kingmakers in the province.

If this happens, don’t be surprised to see De Lille assuming the premiership as part of an alliance of “anyone but the DA”.

De Lille is the closest thing to a political celebrity in the Western Cape. At the recent Cape Town International Jazz Festival, she struggled to see any of the acts because she would be confronted every couple of minutes by people who wanted to take selfies with her. Whether that is an indication of her electoral support remains to be seen.

The EFF has some appeal to post-apartheid youth who feel that the state should provide them with everything, including free education, housing, wi-fi and land, among many others. The EFF manifesto is unrealistic and dangerous, because they do not seem to consider where the state is supposed to get the money to pay for giving everything away for free to its citizens. But while the EFF seems to be the popular party for the Twitter generation, they do not appear to have the support where it matters among the electorate because many young people have not bothered to register to vote.

The ACDP has been very active in areas such as Mitchells Plain, where I have seen their campaign workers trudging the streets on Saturday mornings. They have also had a strong push to gain support from church leaders, especially in the “coloured” areas. It remains to be seen whether the ACDP will become more than a party that wins a reasonably insignificant amount of the vote at election time.

One of the proverbial dark horses, in the Western Cape at least, is the Land Party, which was started by former disgruntled members of the ANC and the EFF which, incidentally, is also a party of former disgruntled ANC members.

Another party of former disgruntled ANC members is Cope who seemed to have run out of people to support them. Bantu Holomisa’s UDM could also be seen as disgruntled former ANC members, but the former homeland general appears to have retained a decent relationship with the party that expelled him.

It is difficult to see single-issue parties such as the Land Party or the Green Party making significant inroads among the electorate. Our society is complex and parties with solutions to more than one of our serious issues are more likely to be taken seriously by the voters.

I am finding it difficult to decide on a party deserving of my vote in the Western Cape, but come May 8, I will be at my local polling station to cast my vote. We fought too hard not to exercise our right to vote.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 27 April 2019)