A challenge to Kay

2012-11-24 09:57

Criticism is all well and good, but it needs to be offered with practical solutions, writes Denis Goldberg

Dear Kay Sexwale,

As one of the surviving Rivonia veterans you wrote to, I respect your right to speak out so critically about our ruling party, especially because you took in the ANC with your mother’s milk.

It pleases me that we live in a democratic dispensation in which we are free to debate and argue and condemn, even in intemperate language.

My problem with your letter (City Press, October 14 2012) is it raises well-known issues but offers no ideas about how
to resolve them. What we need is answers. I felt you reflect the daily bombardment by our media that glorifies the negative and refuses to acknowledge the positive.

I confess to being irritated by former passionate campaigners who became leaders in government as ministers, as directors-general, as advisers who got frustrated by the magnitude of the task of transforming our society, and left to get rich in business, offering nothing but carping criticism.

I, too, am critical because I think we should be moving faster than we have been to overcome the problems we have inherited from the past. But I am puzzled by your attack on leaders in general and not the new aspirant rich who rob and steal from government at national, provincial and municipal levels as though fraud, theft and bribery are what we struggled for.

Incidentally, I see there are literally hundreds of cases of disciplinary action against government officials in keeping with the current administration’s undertaking to combat corruption.

I also notice we have a courageous Public Protector who gets backing from the highest levels of government, even against its own appointees.

In the first years after 1994, there was the need to continue to build the institutions of political democracy: Parliament, provincial councils and municipal councils, and the public service at all levels.

In moving from a system that served the needs of five million whites and a few million of the national minorities, to serving the needs of more than 40 million people, we required a new civil service that had to function with inherited old attitudes among many officials.

At the local government level and in some provinces, we have not fully cracked this problem as we see inefficient use of public funds and a failure to implement policy. We also see personal wealth creamed off through improper means.

These are the people I wish you would criticise and demand they be removed from office.

The emergent trade unions of the 1970s and 1980s established the principle that working conditions did not stop at the factory gate. Living conditions, education and healthcare were all part of the conflict. Have we forgotten this?

How is it that so many who came out of that period of struggle became high-ranking politicians and top civil servants and then fled the governmental scene to get rich quick?

It seems that for them, earning 10 times as much as an entry-level worker or teacher was not a quick enough route to wealth.

They felt that being in government and trying to sort out the mess we had inherited was too frustrating. Did they stay to sort out the mess? No.

The miners of Marikana have been the spearhead of the newly re-awakened realisation that we have not changed the basic relationships of low-wage and high-wage labour, and even the obscenely high salaries of supervisors and managers in the private and public sectors.

I know public service workers are entitled to better working conditions and wages or salaries, but they are also citizens and too many of them have abdicated their role in transforming our country.

If education is such an important element in transformation, why do teachers as citizens not exert every effort to help train our children and youth to the best of their ability? Many do, of course, but many do not.

I see millions of people being treated in hospitals and clinics who had no hope of treatment before, and I do know many thousands still have to wait too long for treatment in facilities bursting at the seams. I also see officials in management positions failing to solve problems and health workers giving up.

You wrote your letter to my generation of activists because you know we were prepared to sacrifice our liberty and our lives for freedom for all. I ask you, is your generation ready to sacrifice to achieve freedom from economic deprivation?

That is the task we are engaged in, and I am optimistic. We now have a 30-year infrastructure and human development programme developed by the ministry of development and instituted by our current president.

Well implemented, it has the capacity to transform our economy, provided we can overcome the apartheid era’s system of masses of low-paid workers and high-paid skilled workers and managers, still mainly white.

Transformation is about wages and salaries, but it is also about striving for social and economic equality. I am afraid having a newly rich group of a few businesspeople merely shows skin colour is irrelevant when it comes to exploitation.

The huge wage differentials we say are necessary were socially and politically determined and are not the norm in developed countries.

We have to find answers or face increasing violence and disruption to the process of transformation of our society.

So my younger comrades, as a veteran who helped to create the conditions in which we have changed the lives of millions for the better, and must continue to do so for further millions, I say speak out. Mobilise and constructively find solutions to our problems because we have a world to win. It is about policies and implementation, and not about individual personalities.

Yours for a better life for all.

» Goldberg is a Rivonia trialist

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