Sixteen years into our so-called democracy, things are falling apart…rapidly.
While the outside world sees South Africa as a country “alive with possibility”, no doubt revived by the ability to host a “world class event” of a magnitude of the FIFA World Cup tournament, the inside is furiously rotting away. Even though there are plenty of reports to remind us of this, it seems as though the gravity of the situation has not totally sunk into our heads. Let us pause for a brief moment to reflect on only a few of the things that remind us that there is no place for the Black majority in the Rainbow Nation.
Black South Africa has no healthcare system to speak of. Our people die in hospitals because almost all of these institutions are unhygienic, have no electricity, clean water or the necessary equipment to treat people. Diseases such as measles which, for many years successfully contained and controlled are slowly finding their way back into our communities because proper immunisation measures have been ignored. The education system has practically collapsed – with millions of Black learners dropping out because of the calamity that is Outcome Based Education and the failed National Senior Certificate, which saw over 100 000 matriculants failing their final examination in only its second year of implementation– there seems to be very little that can be done now to save it. It has been predicted that over the next few years, there is going to be a crisis in the quality of our drinking water. Already, there have been serious cases of cholera in some Black areas simply because state resources are not being used to ensure that the water we drink is purified sufficiently. Every year millions of people are evicted from their land in order to make way for mining prospects or private property development. On the other hand, government officials have become cruder in their abuse of state funds for their personal gain. Over the years millions of rand have been stolen by politicians in cahoots with business people and this theft is legalised and legitimised by our laws.
Police brutality against Blacks, which has been sanctioned by the state through its “shoot to kill” policy, has left many people, including toddlers, dead. Just recently, four Blacks were killed by security officers hired by Aurora, a mining company owned by relatives of Jacob Zuma and Nelson Mandela. The entire country was agape with shock, which was soon forgotten. The centre can no longer hold. Things are falling apart.
Our people are becoming more and more disillusioned with the current dispensation. Mass protests have increased considerably in recent years because people are slowly realising that the dream of Black liberation will remain forever elusive under the governance of the ANC. But such protests are exceptions where the rule is general acceptance of the Black condition as a natural existence rather than a creation of hundreds of years of systematic oppression. As Black Panther leader Assata Shakur analysed, “The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is a normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave”.
The September National Imbizo is therefore an opportunity for us to take stock of what has happened in the past 16 years and deliberate on what must be done by all South Africans who want justice and sustainable development for the majority. The conference is the first of many steps towards giving our country and Black people another possibility and new hope!
WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR COUNTRY?
Every so often, individual acts of racism are dramatised in the media. These include: The Reitz Four racist video and the recent killing of a metro police officer by a Blue Bulls player, which similar to the Skielik shooting, will soon be dismissed as a psychological dysfunction of an otherwise Black-people-loving, friendly White guy. There are also the numerous brutal attacks on Black slaves on farms. For nearly all of these crimes, the perpetrators are let off scot-free by a justice system that naturally cares little (if at all) about the transgressions against Black bodies. We have come to see these racist incidents as aberrations in an otherwise peaceful society but in fact, these incidents are symptomatic of something much more serious – institutional racism. This kind of racism is what defines post-94 South Africa. The fact that Blacks, amongst many things, continue to live in squatter camps, drink dirty water, are without electricity, work in White people’s ivory-tower homes to survive and are without land while a settler minority lives comfortably as a result of this IS racist.
Institutional racism affects everything in our society and has resulted in Black people being marginalised in all areas of life. Below we list a few examples from an endless list:
Our streets are full of Black young men and women whose hopes of attaining matric certificates, national diplomas and graduate degrees have been shattered. For the past 10 years, the South African government has allowed a failed system called Outcome Based Education (OBE) / National Senior Certificate (NSC) to be implemented in its learning prisons, resulting in an exodus of students who knew even before they sat for their final exams the futility of completing matric.
South Africa had 62 000 vacant teaching posts in 2008. A report by the Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta) forecasts that by 2015 there will be 94 000 vacant teaching posts. This is a clear implication of the damage that is yet to be done to the youth of South Africa, a great majority of which is Black people. Education is being used by the ANC government and its neo-colonialist friends as a tool for the subjugation of Black people by showing no commitment to eradicating the legacy of Bantu education.
The healthcare system of this country has collapsed completely. Our public hospitals continue to resemble abattoirs where Blacks are sent to their deaths. In April 2010, 200 Black babies were allowed to die due to an apparent lack of sufficient medical supplies and an acute shortage of nurses and medical doctors. The doctors and nurses are overworked but underpaid. One only has to look at the infrastructure of our public hospitals to determine the level of commitment that our government has dedicated to the bettering of Black people’s lives. Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (Bara) situated in the Diepkloof area of the Blacks Only concentration camp that is Soweto, is the biggest hospital in the African continent. Yet, it remains the face of Black poverty, an epitome of the Black condition. And the constitution lies to us by stating that health care is a “fundamental right”.
Since 1994 the ANC government has given back a meager 6% of the land to its rightful owners – Blacks. The willing buyer willing seller approach to land reform has ensured that the settler minority continues to live on 80% of occupied land obtained through hundreds of years of systematic violence and theft. As a result, it will take us almost 60 years to buy back a meagre 30% of our land. The fact that stolen property must be bought back is a calamity worse than the theft itself. The Use it or Lose it anti-Black campaign, which has seen land already given to Blacks being expropriated by the state, is one of the many ways that our government shows its allegiance to White capital.
Under the ANC government, South Africa has become the most unequal society on earth! We are world champions of inequality. The gulf between the rich and the poor continues to widen, making the rich richer at the poor’s expense. It’s been 16 years of ANC rule but Whites earn more than Blacks, even for doing the same jobs and having the same qualifications. The per capita income of Whites is R136 000 as compared to the meager R19 500 for Blacks. We have more than 40% unemployment rate amongst Blacks, whilst only about 5% of Blacks own approximately 5% of the wealth listed in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. This means that more than 90% of the listed wealth is in White’s hands (and of course the 5% is for BEE people who are linked to the ANC!)
WHY ARE THINGS THIS WAY?
Almost two decades before the so-called transition period of the early nineties, Steve Biko, through studying the liberation movements closely, prophetically declared that it would one day be possible for White capital to strike a deal with the Black middle class, while the majority of Blacks remain the underdogs. True to Biko’s words, the ANC elite negotiated with apartheid criminals to remove the frills of that regime while preserving its core elements. This meant that the country would be run the exact way that it was run yesterday. In other words, the plantation, which is the site of Black suffering, would not be obliterated, but would simply get new overseers or managers whose Blackness would legitimise an evil system. Earlier this year former Nationalist Party president, F.W. de Klerk, very arrogantly (and perhaps rightfully so) boasted about how the negotiations went in the favour of White capital and White supremacy. While the world was celebrating the toppling of apartheid, de Klerk and his cronies could not wipe the smirks off their faces because they knew that they had lost nothing significant through the negotiations.
Our celebrated Constitution, with all its assurances about access to formal rights, actually ensures that the status quo of White privilege, as a direct result of Black suffering, is preserved. Our demands and desires have been so meticulously tailored by the Constitution that we have limited our fights for a better life to the basics articulated in it, complete delivery of which would have no impact at all on the life of comfort and privilege led by Whites. Blacks have accepted the feeble promises made to them by the ANC to a point that they have no higher expectations beyond wanting RDP houses, enclosures around their toilets, or to have their squatter camps upgraded! It does not even occur to Blacks to demand access to or ownership of prime land in the country’s richest suburbs or considerable shares in companies such as Anglo American or Pick n’ Pay. We have been conditioned to accept suburbs as the exclusive enclaves of Whites and rich companies as entities where our place is only to seek employment and receive meagre compensation for working excruciatingly long hours. For lowering our expectations to this level for the benefit of the White capitalist class, the elites of the ANC are rewarded handsomely with access to some of the state’s resources which they happily plunder for their individual benefit. Not only does the ANC lower our expectations, it also unleashes state repression against those who dare threaten White interests. The Black community of Balfour in Mpumalanga, for example, has been under siege since February 2009 when it had the audacity to demand shares in a gold mine owned by White capitalists. No other community since 1994 has been victimised by state police to the extent that Balfour has precisely because it had the courage and sense to escalate its demands.
While the ANC is directly responsible for the state that our country is in, as citizens of the country we are however also complicit in how the country has been run at our expense. For the past 16 years we have simply surrendered our power to the politicians by voting for them over and over again while hoping that things will miraculously change for the better even though reality has shown us a different picture. What we do not realise is that all our current political parties’ greatest aspirations are to take over from the ANC without shattering the system that is the actual cause of Black suffering. Not a single one of these parties wants radical change. They are only interested in delivering on the promises made by the ANC which we have already established are the very cause for the continued oppression of Blacks. The DA for example, which is gaining more and more support amongst Blacks, has done well to build speed humps in townships in the Western Cape because the truth is; it is much easier to deliver such frivolous things than to threaten White interests by changing the lives of Black people fundamentally.
WHAT DO WE WANT?
Our racist and capitalist society has very successfully alienated us from ourselves that we no longer live for our own interests. We have been conditioned to accept an appalling life and our feeble demands reflect how we have come to see the value of Black life through the eyes of our oppressors. The September National Imbizo provides us with an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves this question: What does it mean to live a happy and secured life? It is clear that such a life is impossible under the current dispensation and that the responsibility to create a significant rupture with the current system lies solely with us. Taking into consideration our conditioning over hundreds of years, is it possible for us to imagine life without suffering, without having to endure oppression? One of the most important figures of Black liberation, Thomas Sankara, once dared Blacks to dream beyond what seemed possible. If we could all have a wish list of seemingly impossible things to make us happy would it not include? :
• Quality healthcare without paying the kinds of fees currently demanded by private hospitals or expensive medical aids
• Adequate housing that does not squeeze large families into hokkies like RDP houses do
• A type of education that does not perpetuate the existing inequalities or create citizens who are incapable of critical thought
• Enough healthy food for everyone every single day which is also very important for preventing diseases. There is currently an imbalance in the distribution of food, so much so that there are foods that Blacks have never even tasted let alone seen with their eyes even though they are grown and cultivated in their own country by other Blacks. What we eat is affected by politics and surely in the world we want to create we must imagine that, just like the people of Algeria for whom it took a revolution to taste grapes, Blacks in this country must taste and more importantly have a sense of ownership towards every type of fruit, vegetable and grain grown on their soil.
• A major reduction in the number of working hours per week. (We must remember that the number of hours we work now is solely for the benefit of capital which depends on the exploitation of our labour. We could half working hours and still produce enough food and other materials to keep us happy – provided that these are distributed equally).
• If working hours are reduced then it means that it is not only the privileged few that have access to leisure but everyone. Having enough time out of work means that people can spend more time with their families, if they so wish or have time for recreational activities such as sports, music in order to enhance the quality of their lives.
CAN IT BE DONE?
All of these things may seem impossible to achieve in our lifetimes but if we agree that the quality of our lives could improve by more than a few notches then we have to believe that we can create out of nothing, the life that we want. The first step is for us to get organised – to make our fellow citizens see that we can all share in the spoils of our country. If we are to live in a true democracy (as opposed to a democracy for the few) then we need to take back our power so that we can all participate and take responsibility for our country’s affairs. It is in the interests of our current government to hoodwink us into believing that having our demands met is a complicated undertaking but democratising the state, our economy and society would make life bearable.
• Millions of rand are wasted on government departments to which ordinary people have no say as to how they are run. When it was revealed, for example, that cabinet ministers were using up to R1 million each on a car, we were told that the manual on cars allows them this much. We were never told why exactly ministers can’t use cheap basic cars or public transport. This is one of many examples that illustrates how we have accepted that government officials are much more important than us, which is precisely why they do as they wish at our expense.
• What we need is a people-centred democracy where every single person in the country can have meaningful participation in the country’s affairs. For example, in a country like ours where more than 70% of people have cell phones, we could use SMSes to vote on important matters such as healthcare or land expropriation instead of waiting for 5 years to vote for people who decide for us what’s right for us. The point is that there are already technological advances that could make the involvement of people in the country’s affairs quite easy, but there first has to be a government that is truly representative and interested in its people.
• For Frantz Fanon, involving people in the governance of their country is an easy enough task. Using the example of the Algerian revolution he says:
Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you really want them to understand. And if you think that you don’t need them, and that on the contrary they may hinder the smooth running of the many limited liability companies whose aim it is to make the people even poorer, then the problem is quite clear.
Further down the text he adds:
For if you think that you can manage a country without letting the people interfere, if you think that the people upset the game by their mere presence, whether they slow it down or whether by their natural ignorance they sabotage it, then you must have no hesitation: you must keep the people out. Now, it so happens that when the people are invited to partake in the management of the country, they do not slow the movement down but on the contrary they speed it up.
Fanon shows us quite simply that when a government is interested in building a confident people, it does not compromise on involving them in the running of their country, even if it might mean that in some instances, it might take longer to make decisions. Since the ANC government has made it quite clear that it does not want us involved in the country’s affairs, it is up to us to imagine what self-governance in concrete terms would actually mean. It cannot be stressed more that we must take full responsibility for what happens with all of our resources and see ourselves collectively as rulers of our country.
The state is run in a manner that ensures that the economy remains as imbalanced as it has been since the beginning of colonialism. We should use the September National Imbizo to discuss how we want the wealth to be distributed equally. The following points ought to be considered:
• Firstly, the wealth of this country belongs to all even though it is currently concentrated amongst old White capital and a minority of politically connected individuals. Recently, the ANC government raised the issue of nationalisation as a remedy to this imbalance but the truth is that were it to be implemented under the current administration, it would only lead to massive state-led theft of our natural resources. It seems very suspect that Julius Malema and the ANCYL would call for nationalisation when their mother body has failed to use State Owned Enterprises in the interests of the people. These are the same people who have also failed to protect communities in platinum areas who are being forcibly evicted by ANC linked comrades and assisted by government policies on mining.
• The economy must serve the people directly, we want to become shareholders of this country – all of us – not only those who can afford to buy shares. More importantly, we have to see ourselves as the managers of all companies in this country that use our resources. In other words, businesses must be collectively run by the people for the benefit of all. And it IS possible! In the early 90s workers in Argentina took over factories and ran them without traditional managers who earn ridiculously high salaries at the expense of the workers. Black workers in this country must rid themselves of the idea that marching for meagre increases each year benefits them in any significant way and instead think of how much better off they would be if they could share equally in the profits of the companies they work for.
• We need to rid ourselves of the mentality that economic development of our people equals to building monstrous malls in townships. We have to ask ourselves who actually benefits from these malls and how we can turn from being consumers to owners of products, not as individuals but as the whole Black community.
• There is plenty of land in this country, but most of it has been occupied for hundreds of years. As has been mentioned above, the ANC government has shown no interest in returning this land. We simply cannot accept that it should take this long to return what is rightfully ours, let alone buying it back. The Imbizo should help to inspire us as to how land can be returned to us, in spite of the ANC. The evictions of farm workers should also end and farm workers given land so that they are in no way dependent on their employers. We note the ongoing violations in Ventersdorp even after the death of Eugene Terreblanche. We call for hearings and investigations for the brutalisation of Blacks in that area!
• If we are to raise our demands, then we need to first feel entitled to our country and its resources. But you cannot feel entitled to what is yours if you do not have a sense of what has been taken from you. Unlike Blacks in the US who have over the years built a strong movement around claiming reparations, Black South Africans are yet to collectively claim for the loss of their land, their labour power from which White South Africa has gained incredibly. Without there being “some form of articulation between the party that has lost and the party that has gained” the magnitude of Black suffering as a direct result of colonialism and apartheid cannot be understood, even by the victims themselves. It is for this reason that the SNI should be fertile ground for us to begin seriously thinking about an Economic Justice Commission which ought to, amongst other things, investigate the impact of colonialism and apartheid in creating racialised inequalities. The EJC should also quantify what is owed to Blacks by the current White capitalist class and undertake a campaign for reparations. Reparations in themselves are not enough to repair the damage of the past but the principle is important even if only to infuse Blacks with a crucial sense of entitlement.
• In a racist capitalist society like ours, Black people are oppressed through institutionalised racism which reduces their lives to nothing. We also know though that Blacks oppress one another within their communities and these oppressions are exacerbated by racism and capitalism. Patriarchy or the rule of men over women is one such oppression which should not be tolerated by people who claim to concern themselves with the liberation of ALL black people. We should commit ourselves to understanding: how patriarchy manifests itself, how it has been worsened by the colonial encounter, how it disadvantages all Black people (even men who are its so-called beneficiaries) and finally how we are complicit in its perpetuation so that we can begin to root it out of our society.
• Linked to patriarchy is the issue of homophobia or the hatred of gays and lesbians. Again, Black people’s encounter with colonialism and the subsequent Christianisation of our desires and behaviour has to be understood as being a key influence on the majority of Black people’s attitudes towards homosexuals. Blacks have convinced themselves that being homosexual is unAfrican, even though homosexuality was practised freely in many parts of our continent prior to colonialism and that “very often what is said to be the soul of an African, is in fact a creation of Europe”.
• Tribalism and afrophobia within our communities are also areas of major concern. The appalling conditions that Blacks live under have turned us into the most violent people in the world. At times this violence is directed towards vulnerable groups in our societies and in the case of tribalism and afrophobia; we have to again interrogate how White supremacy has a direct influence on who within our communities becomes a target of this violence.
• Finally, Black people have been so dispossessed of their beings that they desperately cling on to cultural practices that have no impact on their lived experiences as slaves. Instead, they defend those cultural practices even when they result in the oppression and sometimes deaths of their own people. It should worry us that none of our cultural practices have inspired radical resistance in our people and instead seem to encourage the continuation of our subjugation. In the world we will create with our bare hands, culture should serve us and speak directly to our reality and when it ceases to, should be abandoned.
WHAT EACH OF US NEEDS TO DO
Each of us has an enormous responsibility to think about the issues mentioned in this document and start talking to those around us about the current condition of Black people’s lives and the urgency with which it needs to be changed. You can speak to people in your family, on taxis, in trains or form discussion groups focusing on the main aspects of the document. Nothing will change until we realise that our salvation depends solely on us.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself and those around you
1. Do you agree with the problems identified by the SNI? If not, what according to you is the problem?
2. Is the ideal society described here desirable to you and do you think it achievable? What alternative proposals to do you have?
3. What is your view on the suggested solutions? What are the strengths or weaknesses in these solutions? How can they be improved?
4. What are you going to do to realize this dream? (Think about some concrete, manageable AND sustainable steps)
It is indeed true that another world is possible. However, to realise that world, we must first understand what lies behind us and be able to imagine what could lie ahead of us… for ALL that is reality was once but a dream!
The SNI Communications Team
the sni website is here