United we stand?…

2010-12-17 00:00

THE late Guinea-Bissau revolutionary and freedom fighter Amilcar Cabral made a very interesting and telling observation: “No matter how difficult the struggle may be against the enemy, the most difficult and complex struggle is a struggle against our weaknesses.”

It is against this understanding that I recently asked if the black middle class really cares about the poor. I asked this aware that some were going to use that to support their claims about the shortcoming and limitations of the black middle class in particular and black people in general. However, such self-criticism is both necessary and beneficial if as a people we are to confront our weaknesses and make necessary amends.

The struggle for political liberation in South Africa was a struggle for majority rule. The call for majority rule makes so much sense that it is almost beyond reproach. However, there are some negatives that come from being a majority. When black people were a political minority (given that they were denied veto rights), they were very politically organised and their energies and passions were focused on what needed to be done to bring about political liberation.

When political freedom came in 1994, our priorities changed and there was no common objective since apartheid had been dislodged. Black people’s differences became very poignant and it was clear that we were never a homogenous lot, and that is where our weakness lies — in our inability to identify our common struggles after we had attained political freedom.

This weakness was evident in the demise of civil society soon after 1994. Civil society played a hugely significant role during the struggle and that kind of social consciousness and activism is still badly needed to champion other causes that are aimed at socio-economic upliftment of the former oppressed.

The plethora of political organisations with different ideologies in the country speaks to the maturity of our democracy and also speaks to the fact that black people are not homogenous. As heterogeneous as black people are, one significant fact should still unite them — black people were oppressed for centuries and still need to work together for their development away from the political sphere. Poverty and underdevelopment in black societies are without doubt a result of apartheid and all that it sought to achieve. What then makes black people believe that the political arena is the only terrain in which their socioeconomic development will be delivered? There is a strong case here for the reawakening of civil society to champion the development of black people.

This may sound incorrect to those whose preoccupation is political correctness and approval by others. The fact of the matter is black people are the ones most affected by ills like illiteracy, death through various illnesses, poverty and general underdevelopment. Being a political majority should not distract black people from these challenges. Government and political organisations can only do so much.

Our wealth, or should I say our disposable income as the black elite and middle class, should by now have enabled us to establish and efficiently manage at least a few private schools whose focus is the wholesome socioeconomic development of the black child. But no, we’d rather be seen in the “right” places, with the “right” people, drinking the “right” kind of stuff.

We don’t always have to wait for Oprah Winfrey to come and build a school for previously disadvantaged girls somewhere in Johannesburg. We can’t afford to wait for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to come and build a clinic for our people in Qunu or Nquthu — we have to do it ourselves. We need for a moment to forget that we are a governing majority and remind ourselves that when it comes to economic power and economic influence we are but a tiny minority. Perhaps, such a mind-set will help the way we view things.

The role of a strong civil society has never been more significant. The current administration has displayed its seriousness when it comes to issues like fighting crime, education, rural development, health, economic development and other government priorities. However, with help from organised and active citizenry, this country and its people can achieve so much more. Black people especially, should realise that the vision of a better life for all calls for them to unite, not on the basis of political ideologies, but on the basis of them still being the face of poverty and underdevelopment in their country.

Our struggle, therefore, should be against forgetting that not so long ago, we were the wretched of the Earth. We were one in our suffering, one in our struggling and one in our dying. We dare not forget therefore, that the struggle for our total emancipation is equally a struggle against forgetting our rather unfortunate past.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is an independent social commentator.

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