How civil society is taking the fight to government

2017-10-20 10:14
People speaking at Save South Africa's 'real State of the Nation Address' say citizens are fed up with the state of the country under the current administration. (Paul Herman, News24)

People speaking at Save South Africa's 'real State of the Nation Address' say citizens are fed up with the state of the country under the current administration. (Paul Herman, News24)

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President Jacob Zuma’s state capture project is provoking a growing sense of resistance among ordinary South Africans.

More and more people are voicing their objections to the looting and theft, and there are growing demands for a return to the values enshrined in our Constitution.

As a result, South Africa is seeing an increasingly muscular civil society response to a delinquent state.

This process is gaining momentum, but has its roots long before the Zuma years:

The Treatment Action Campaign, for example, took to the streets and the courts, and with its peers forced an obstinate ANC government to make medical treatment available to those with HIV/Aids.

Were it not for the court action by a private individual, Hugh Glenister, Zuma would have not only been able to destroy the Scorpions, but also replace them with a much weaker Hawks unit.

A government too preoccupied with corruption to pay any mind to the education of the country’s poor, was forced by Section 27, another brave NGO, to deliver textbooks to learners. Together with Equal Education, a separate court action forced the ANC government to regulate norms and standards for a decent quality education.

Seventeen million grant recipients have the Black Sash to thank for the successful disbursement of their meagre social security grants earlier this year as it was threatened by a corrupt regime in the Department of Social Development, working in concert with private interests.

And let’s not forget that it was the combined outcry of civil society formations, including the churches, trade unions, communities and public interest legal groups that forced the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre and the ultimate dismissal of the commissioner of police.

The list goes on and on, and the activists involved include those I have named as well as others from from Corruption Watch, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Right to Know campaign, Ndifuna Ukwazi, Save South Africa and others.

In all these efforts, our struggle has been assisted by an independent media that has fiercely and fearlessly ensured that the public is informed. Most of the scandals surrounding the Zuma administration were exposed by investigative journalists, sometimes risking their own safety, to break stories such as those involving the #GuptaLeaks.

Many of these journalists this week observed “Black Wednesday” – the day in 1977 when a number of newspapers were banned and some of our most courageous anti-apartheid journalists were arrested and banned. I’m sure there will be no difficulty drawing parallels between the evil that journalists reported on during apartheid and the growing menace that we see in South Africa today.

These journalists are a national treasure, and also a potent weapon in the arsenal we are forced to employ to defend our constitutional democracy. They toil alongside civil society, our independent judiciary and many of our Chapter 9 institutions in holding our leaders to account.

But at this stage of our struggle against state capture, we have to ask: Is South Africa’s constitutional democracy sustainable?

In large measure, as a direct result of state capture, civil society has truly been awakened – to defend our democracy, to protest against excesses, and to remind our leaders that we are a nation that has experience with people’s power, and we are prepared to use it.

We are making maximum use of the space provided by the Constitution, and forcing accountability from people who prefer to hide in the shadows.

What we are seeing is People’s Power in action. And it’s working.

As civil society, we intend to build on this momentum. We are determined to strengthen this countervailing force of people’s power into a formidable political centre that those in power will ignore at their own peril.

Yes, the ANC’s elective conference in December is important. But it is not our Waterloo. We will be there, stronger than ever before, whatever the outcome. Whoever emerges victorious must know that we are demanding that those in leadership govern with integrity and respect. We are demanding that a corrupt president must be removed, not just from leading the ANC, but even more importantly the country – and with immediate effect.

We are demanding the immediate removal of corrupt Cabinet ministers and a comprehensive clean-out of corrupt government departments, state-owned companies and businesses. We are repeating, again and again, that there must be accountability for wrongdoing, and people must serve time in jail for breaking the law.

We have made our minimum demands clear, as the Save South Africa campaign:

We demand an immediate judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, and appropriate action be taken against all those found to be involved in state capture and other corrupt activities.

We demand the restoration of credibility in the criminal justice system, and all institutions that are crucial in the fight against corruption.

We demand public affirmation by all political parties of the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of Chapter 9 institutions.

We demand the appointment of credible leaders in key economic institutions linked to the fight against corruption, including National Treasury, SARS, the Chief Procurement Office, the Public Investment Corporation, the Financial Intelligence Centre and other economic ministries.

We demand full investigations into corruption and mis-governance in state-owned companies, followed by the removal of boards, CEOs and management found to be corrupt, and their replacement with reputable and experienced leaders.

Finally, we insist that Zuma and the Guptas must not be allowed to leave South Africa. Their passports must be revoked until investigations around them are finalised.

Once we have succeeded in turfing the crooks out of office, we will embark on a massive campaign to rebuild government, and to rebuild and revitalise the public service. We will also put a leadership code in place to ring-fence all political and business leaders, to ensure we never go down this road again.

We will fast-track the move towards full transparency in party political funding, to break the crooked symbiosis between political parties and business.

Our electoral system will need a major overhaul, to ensure we do not endure these problems again. Our system of proportional representation may have helped us navigate throgh the early days of democracy, but it is completely inadequate for the South Africa of today.

I strongly believe that our constitutional democracy is sustainable because those of us who firmly believe in its efficacy will not allow it to be trampled upon by anyone.

Our resolve in this regard is well documented. And we shall overcome.

- This is an edited version of the Bram Fischer memorial lecture delivered by Save South Africa convenor Sipho Pityana at Oxford University on 19 October 2017.

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Read more on:    media freedom  |  civil society
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