Such bravery is rare

2016-09-06 06:00

A13-YEAR-OLD schoolgirl showed more courage and leadership this week than South Africa’s contingent of elected leaders.

Zulaikha Patel was at the forefront of a protest at Pretoria High School for Girls against a policy that prevented pupils from wearing their hair naturally.

The protest drew attention to the discrimination and ridicule of black girls at various schools around the country, including racial slurs.

School policies prescribing that pupils’ hair should be “neat” require them to straighten or braid their hair, which exposes them to harmful chemicals and can be painful. In enforcing these policies, it has now emerged that some teachers taunt and insult young girls, including calling them “monkeys”.

Zulaikha’s refusal to conform to unfair and discriminatory policies allowed other children to speak about their own hurtful experiences and forced the intervention and scrutiny of school policies by the Department of Education.

For a 13-year-old who has faced punishment over her hair in the past and has often been brought to tears because of the insults she had to endure, Zulaikha displayed enviable courage to stand up for her rights. Such bravery is hard to find in our society.

There are many members of the ANC who are increasingly anxious about the state of decay of their organisation and the political leadership that continues to plunge the country into crisis after crisis.

But they choose not to speak up.

In the past week, the rand took another hammering after it emerged that the Hawks are again pursuing Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on charges related to the operation of a special intelligence unit at the South African Revenue Service when he was commissioner.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said on Tuesday that the party has “unreserved confidence” in Gordhan. He said the Hawks’ investigation is “unnatural” and was “delegitimised” by the way it had been conducting it.

But despite the economic turmoil resulting from this investigation, the ANC continues to sit back and watch the chaos unfold. It has also repeatedly resolved at various high-level meetings that there should be reform and stability at state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Yet this week we saw more running battles between National Treasury and Eskom and Denel. Both companies seem to be fighting off attempts by the Treasury to scrutinise their contracts with companies linked to the Gupta family.

On Thursday, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was answering questions in Parliament and had the opportunity to pronounce himself on all these issues causing economic instability.

He was also speaking in the wake of an announcement by asset manager Futuregrowth to suspend loans to state-owned enterprises due to uncertainty about how they are being run. Futuregrowth said it will proceed with financing SOEs only when “proper oversight and governance” have been restored.

Denmark’s Jyske Bank followed suit, saying it will stop lending money to Eskom. Ramaphosa avoided speaking clearly on these issues, even when asked about the government effectively being at war with itself. He said those making “sensational statements” should refrain from exacerbating the situation and that processes were under way that will “put the matter to bed”. “We are taking all measures possible to ensure economic growth,” Ramaphosa said.

You would struggle to find more woolly statements at a time when people are searching for strong leadership and clear direction. Such statements could hardly serve to calm investor and financier jitters about the state of the country.

Last weekend, the Guptas announced that they will be selling their shareholding in all their SA businesses. While this is to be welcomed, there is no indication that their stranglehold on people in the ANC and the state has been broken.

For as long as people keep silent, the looting of the state will continue and South Africa will remain on its downward spiral. People like Ramaphosa and Mantashe should take lessons from the 13-year-old girl who stood up for her rights and spoke truth to power.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick - ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

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