Hail the new trend of activist politics

2013-05-12 10:00

There is a sterility about party politics in South Africa. The governing ANC says boo and the opposition DA says pah!

So it goes in a pattern of tiresome predictability. The smaller parliamentary parties are too occupied by the processes of the legislature to get out much and do the important constituency work they need to do to measure a genuine national pulse.

This is not to knock our system. It is a functioning multiparty democracy. But the conditions of our public schools, the crumbling RDP infrastructure and fetid toilets across the land are crying out for new heroes.

The rate of protest in South Africa, coupled with the fact that there is no shortage of money, highlights an anaemia in our politics, a disability in the system. And now we know why, thanks to the new politics.

Equal Education should get a national order next year for taking up the cudgels for students in public schools across the country. This creative group of young people has occupied the news agenda by doing something relatively simple: they audit the state of schools and go to court to get government do what it has promised. Simple.

That they had to do this is a symbol of a failing system. Where were the ward committees, the school governing bodies, the parents, educator unions and teachers? Apparently all asleep at the blackboard.

Section27, another organisation geared to the realisation of the Constitution’s promised socioeconomic rights, is taking up similar cudgels for decent toilets – a cornerstone of dignity.

It is also the driving force behind the campaign to ensure there are textbooks in schools. Section27 fights on numerous fronts, including healthcare and other education rights.

The Treatment Action Campaign got the ball rolling in the 1990s when it fought pitched battles against former president Thabo Mbeki’s Aids denialism.

Its methods are simple: to organise locally, build grass-roots movements and contacts, to use the media and the courts as levers in their push for a better life.

As we head into the season of elections, party politics will hold the political imagination. But look hard and see how a new generation of activists, lawyers, lobbyists and philanthropists might contain the seeds of our hopes. These are not agents provocateur or a third force as some politicians like to suggest.

They are salt of the earth: the true patriots and the new politics.

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