Breaking the line

2012-11-24 09:13

Democracy and good governance aren’t the same thing

Dear Ms Sexwale,

I was moved by your letter (City Press, October 14 2012). I am pleased to see the younger generation takes politics seriously and raises tough questions about the direction of our country.

In our time, we too raised questions and we found the answers in the struggle for freedom. Then, as now, at the centre of that was the ANC.

I want you to note that I say the ANC and not Dr JS Moroka, who was ANC president. I joined the ANC, not Moroka, who left office in disgrace and later even repudiated the ANC.

It is vitally important to separate leaders from the movement. Presidents come and go, but the movement lives on and outlasts them.

The media finds it easier to reduce politics to personalities.

The question that faces the voter, including yourself, is not whether you like this candidate or that one, but which political party is likely to take the country in the right direction.

In four successive elections, the overwhelming majority of South African voters said that party is the ANC.

Despite what opinion makers and opposition parties claim, the ANC never abused the two-thirds majority it had in 1999 and 2004.

When we went to the polls in 1994, the ANC went to the electorate with the campaign slogan “A better life for all”. Its slogans have been consistently inclusive. Can you say the same of the main opposition parties?

In 1999, the Democratic Party went to the polls on the slogan “Fight Back!” Was there ever the slightest doubt who was being incited to fight back? And to fight back against whom?

During the 2009 elections, the Democratic Alliance campaign called on voters to deny the ANC a two-thirds majority. What for? To advance the freedom struggle of our people, perhaps? I wonder.

How do you explain the inclusivity of ANC campaign slogans while other parties always appeal to only sections of the population?

Our people do not follow the ANC blindly. Our people support the ANC because of its track record of 100 years of selfless struggle.

You seem upset that there are strikes, demonstrations, public protests and other manifestations of displeasure with various aspects of life.

Well, that is what we actually fought for, were arrested for and spent 27 years in jail for: the untrammelled right of the citizen to raise his or her issues publicly in the most effective manner.

We fought precisely for the right to strike, to demonstrate, to march – in designer or just plain takkies.

Such public manifestations are a daily occurrence in virtually all the capitals of the developed world.

What such protests, in South Africa as elsewhere, indicate is citizens are unhappy about one thing or another. In De Doorns today it is farm workers protesting against their shockingly poor wages.

Tomorrow it might be factory workers demanding better conditions. These are not symptoms of a democracy’s ill health. On the contrary, these are signs of its vibrancy.

Let us remember, democracy does not promise a government that will bring heaven to earth.

What it promises is a government of the people, by the people and for the people: a government citizens put in office, a government citizens can vote out of office, and a government citizens have the right and power to challenge in the courts and on the streets.

Don’t mourn the demonstrations, strikes and public protests. Celebrate them as proof of a functioning democratic system.

Regrettably, the contentment of citizens is never reported, because they express it quietly in their homes or during the occasional opinion survey. Strikes and demonstrations can give the impression of massive discontent, when it is limited.

We do not have a one-party state. We do not have a one-union country. Before the mid-1970s, the racist regime and
all white employers did not recognise the right of African workers to form unions, let alone go on strike.

Cosatu-affiliated unions literally had to be organised from scratch, under the hostile eyes of the apartheid police and employers’ organisations like the Chamber of Mines. The activists who went about organising the workers were jailed, detained and tortured, not for alleged “terrorist activities” like me.

They were persecuted purely for organising African workers. Comrade Neil Aggett was literally beaten to death for doing nothing more.

That tells you every little right that African workers have today was purchased with their blood. Are you surprised they defend those rights with such fervour?

Is Cosatu ruining the country by making unreasonable wage demands? Have you considered the success of South African businesses since democracy? They have flourished.

Marikana, which you rightly decry, and the current unrest in De Doorns, offer some clues. Mining corporations have made millions, and pay their directors and senior managers huge bonuses each year.

Yet these same companies expect African miners to be content with low wages.

The fruit farmers of the Hex River Valley export to Europe and to the East, where their products command high prices. Yet they expect their workers to live on R70 per day.

Who, then, is running the economy down? It is white-owned and controlled business that developed and grew on the basis of a low-wage economy, satisfied to meet only the needs of the white minority who are doing this.

Working people do not only deserve better wages, but it is the only way in which the economy will produce a consumer market here at home to grow the economy.

During my own years in the movement, there have been terrifying moments of despair when one thought all was lost.

Instead of giving up, comrades like Chris Hani had the courage to stand up and demand change. The 1969 Morogoro conference, that set the ANC on the right path, was the result.

So, too, today when you feel things have gone wrong, do not throw your hands up in despair. Do what Hani and others did.

As one who was born into the ANC, I imagine you are a member of a branch. Demand and organise to bring about change.

The hard truth is that the other parties have neither the policies nor the will to solve South Africa’s problems.

Thousands of people died so that you today have the vote. Please don’t mock their sacrifice by throwing it away on a whim. Despair helps no one and is the road to defeat.

Yours for a better life for all.

» Mlangeni is a Rivonia trialist and former Robben Island prisoner

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