Guest Column

Challenging the ‘premier league’ in its heartland

2016-12-14 12:06
Sipho Pityana and Ahmed Kathrada at the announcement of a ‘people’s motion of no confidence’ in Zuma at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. (Mahlatse Gallens, News24)

Sipho Pityana and Ahmed Kathrada at the announcement of a ‘people’s motion of no confidence’ in Zuma at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. (Mahlatse Gallens, News24)

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Lawson Naidoo

“Welcome to the nerve centre of the Premier League!”  

Those were the words that greeted the Save South Africa team from one of the organisers of our visit to the Free State this past weekend. 

When we arrived at the Roman Catholic Church in Section E, Botshabelo, we were told of various attempts at sabotaging the Save SA townhall meeting. These included warnings to public servants not to attend with the threat of loss of employment, and threats to suppliers of services such as transport and sound equipment with the withdrawal of business from the ANC and provincial government.  A grim reality check, if ever one was needed, as we were about to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Constitution.

A climate of fear and intimidation exists here, where universally accepted norms of civil liberties drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on that very day in 1948 by the United Nations, are routinely abused. Freedom of expression, the right to assemble and the right to free political association guaranteed in our Bill of Rights are almost as elusive for the inhabitants of the Free State as the socio-economic rights to health, education and housing.

However, we found a quiet determination among the people of Botshabelo not to accept this new form of human subjugation. It recalled the defiant spirit of the Botshabelo Youth Congress that was launched at this very same Momohau Hall of the Catholic Church back in 1985 amid intense repression by the apartheid regime. It is also the same church that provided safe refuge for many activists en route to crossing the border into Lesotho.   

No accountability in our political system

That such fear is being instilled into people by the very organs of government that should be representing and protecting the interests of these people says much about the state of governance in South Africa today. It tells us that we have a government that does not care for its people; that it is a government pre-occupied with serving its leaders and their cronies. It is a government that has breached the trust of the people. Although democratically elected (though concerns about the integrity of the electoral processes in the recent local elections were expressed) the provincial government cannot claim any moral legitimacy amongst the people it is there to serve.

It is a government that sexually harasses young women. I heard stories from a young woman who has worked hard to earn 3 diplomas but cannot find work. Each time she gets close to a job, sexual favours are demanded by a ‘powerful man’ before the job can materialise. These are filthy, lewd stories of how ‘leaders’ act in a manner not too dissimilar from the alleged behaviour of Marius Fransman that has seen his membership of the ANC suspended.

What this says is that a culture of impunity prevails – there is no accountability in our political system. These so-called ‘leaders’, whilst touching women and girls in a demeaning way, are themselves ‘untouchable’. They are protected by what the Mafia would refer to as ‘the family’. That is an apt description of the kind of gangster paradise we have become. The protection comes from their proximity to Number 1, and the predatory networks that they collectively feed upon.

What really struck me was the level of despair and desperation being experienced by a vulnerable young woman that she felt it necessary to confide in a stranger. She had to confront once again the level of indignity to which she and some of her peers have been subjected. She was not a political or even a community activist but a regular young person who wants to get a job and better herself. Yet she is aggressively prevented from doing so by illegitimate leaders who seek to force themselves on young women as they simultaneously pillage state resources.

Systemic sexual abuse has been declared a war crime – we may not be in a conventional war, but what is being waged here is as abhorrent and ghastly. That this young woman chose to raise her grievance with the Save SA campaign says much about the faith and optimism that has been instilled in ordinary people by our campaign. The messages of fighting corruption and state capture resonated amongst the people we engaged with. Their tales of corruption and lack of accountability at a local level mirror what we see from Zuma and his Cabinet cronies. The lack of respect for the Constitution and the rule of law permeates downwards from Zuma to local councillors.

Constitution provides the roadmap to a better future

Meqheleng, Ficksburg, home of Andries Tatane, hosted a Save SA townhall meeting on Sunday 11 December. Tatane had been killed by police during a protest outside the municipal offices about the provision of water just ahead of the local government elections in April 2011. Although the video footage of Tatane being shot repeatedly at close range by police officers was available (and shown on national television news), no one has been charged with causing his death.  

It was clear to us from our interactions with people in both Botshabelo and Meqheleng that they recognise that the Constitution provides the roadmap to a better future. They are however tiring of the empty promises made by politicians when all they see is gross corruption and maladministration by those they elect to office. Their lot in life has not lived up to the promises of the Constitution. But they also recognise that they have it in their power to effect change. 

To paraphrase former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, sometimes in order to reach your destination you may need to replace the engine of the vehicle you are travelling in. People in the Free State, and I daresay elsewhere in South Africa, are exploring what other engines are on the market to drive us to the vision of human dignity, equality and prosperity that the Constitution envisages. What is clear is that this engine is kaput!

Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst who accompanied Save SA this weekend, reminded people that communities must not restrict themselves to organising within political parties, especially if those parties are corrupt. People should organise outside these structures to exert meaningful peoples’ power and hold elected officials to account. 

The Save SA campaign speaks directly to the frustrations that the ordinary folk who came to these townhall meetings are feeling. It found expression in the vibrancy that characterised these engagements, highlighted by the passionate and expressive singing of struggle anthems, including those calling for Zuma to step down. People see hope in the Save SA call for Zuma to go, and eagerly signed the Peoples’ Motion of No Confidence in him. They have also committed to use it as a tool in their broader community mobilisation to get others to sign on and hasten the downfall of the Premier League’s role model. 

Even in the heartland of the Premier League, the writing is on the wall. President Zuma, “It’s time to go!”

* Lawson Naidoo is a member of the steering committee of the Save South Africa campaign.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    corruption  |  save sa
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