Enough of talkin' about a revolution let's march

A few months ago, I was added to a group of former 1980s activists on WhatsApp and e-mail. I have remained a member of the group, even though I have not been active, mainly because of a crazy schedule. But I support what they aim to do.

Nowadays I find it is difficult to even make time for my family, let alone for fighting the revolution.

But South Africa needs a revolution and I appreciate the people who are making the effort to attend meetings, march and protest, and distribute pamphlets highlighting some of the issues facing us today.

The term “revolution” might seem a bit strong, but I think it is precisely because we forsook our commitment to change this country in a revolutionary manner, that we have ended up with the situation we have today.

And let me say it outright: there is no way that democratic South Africa can be compared to apartheid South Africa. It is easy to forget the oppression and repression that we suffered under apartheid, and we are far from that. Hopefully we will never go there again.

But South Africa has many problems, some because of our stupid idealism, and some because of factors beyond our control. That crime rates continue to rise almost unabated is a serious blight on our leadership. And not creating jobs - in fact, losing jobs - is unacceptable for a ruling party that promised “a better life for all”.

It is easy to ridicule the ANC. The ruling party should accept the blame for a lot of what is wrong in our country today. But they are not the only people who are to blame.

And this is why I support the group of former UDF activists. In fact, until recently I used to joke and refer to us as “expired activists”. Some of the comrades in the group have shown they are far from expired.

Indeed, some of us had expired for most of the past 23 years or so. Many of us had thought that, when Nelson Mandela and others were released and the ANC and other organisations were unbanned, our struggle was over and we could halt our activism to do “ordinary” things, such as raising our children and pursuing our careers.

Some decided to enter formal politics and quickly discovered its limitations because, in many cases, they became beholden to the party for keeping roofs over their heads and forgot why they joined the Struggle in the first place: to fight for the rights of the downtrodden and to make sure that everyone would be able to reach their full potential in our beautiful country.

Many of the comrades in Parliament put the party and their own personal interests ahead of the interests of the people who held out hope their lives would improve under a democratic government.

Some in government will point out things like fresh water supply and electrification of townships as ways in which lives have been improved, but this is the very least that we would have expected of a government who cares about the majority of the people.

When some of the people who we entrusted to lead this government decide to enrich themselves rather than caring about the poor, then you have a problem.

I really thought our days of marching and protesting were over, but clearly they are not. We all need to take responsibility for taking our eye off the ball and depending on those we entrusted with leadership to pursue the things we identified in documents such as the Freedom Charter.

We really thought our comrades would fight hard to ensure the doors of learning and culture would be open, that everyone would have houses, security and comfort, that the land would be shared among those who work it, and that all would be equal before the law, among others.

This week, a few old comrades who are part of the old UDF activists group and who should really have been reflecting with pride on the achievements of our democracy, were arrested for demanding the president be charged with corruption. That it has come to this is a serious indictment on a movement that many of us once followed almost slavishly.

Those who still refuse to admit something is seriously wrong in our country, need to reflect on how true the ruling party remains to the goals of the Freedom Charter. Honestly, they have not done much. Which is why, at a time when we should be thinking of slowing down, many of us are expected to become revolutionaries once again. The Struggle continues.

(First pubished as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 4 November 2017)