Guest Column

What more can be done?

2017-05-12 08:37

Charles Villa-Vicencio

I ponder the question, what can I, a mid-seventy year old white South African male, do to turn this country around? Arguably very little except protest and support those South Africans who are standing up and saying no to the current regime in a clear and unequivocal way.

Yes, some members of the ruling party in Parliament acknowledge that President Jacob Zuma is an utter embarrassment. They have an opportunity to demonstrate their personal integrity in the pending parliamentary ‘no confidence’ debate.   

Gossip behind the scenes is slowly becoming noise and public demonstrations. The question is, what more can be done? Very few of us have done nearly enough to redress the inequalities that continue to be part of the apartheid legacy that weighs down on the nation.  

I get a bit embarrassed when I see whites carrying placards that read ‘Zuma must go’, remembering that not many whites took to the streets in protest against an array of pre-1994 presidents and politicians who brought this country to the brink of civil war. There were, however, whites involved, not least through organisations like Black Sash that consisted largely of white women who regularly took to the streets in public protests, worked in advice offices and documented apartheid crimes.

Faith communities protested, although in the churches, with exceptions, many whites resisted the theological declaration on apartheid being a heresy. Well, maybe (just maybe) all South Africans are ready to become involved in a new level of participatory democratic action.

Our nation was born in the womb of reconciliation. Remember the inauguration of President Mandela? While still a prisoner he favoured negotiations and reconciliation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was, and is, the symbol of a rainbow nation that still waits to be born. In the recent nation-wide campaign against state capture he stood in protest with Leah Tutu on the street outside their retirement home in Hermanus. The Arch remains the unparalleled moral conscience of the state.  

Most white middle class South Africans have benefitted from what has turned out to be a soft transition. For too many whites, reconciliation meant ‘being nice’ to one another across lines of class and colour. Pious words, good intent, even a measure of ‘guilt’ concerning past and present privilege will not save this nation.  

The sad reality is, however, that not all South Africans are getting that right. We continue to be confronted by racial atrocities in the media and experience a sense of white superiority on a regular basis. We need to do more.

The place to begin is to be part of the growing chorus across political parties, trade unions and business, insisting that the president ‘must go’, even if it means retiring him to Nkandla (That’s what we did with PW Botha.)  

Zuma’s ‘banishment’ will, however, not solve the problem. A friend reminded me of the old Afrikaans saying that in polite language states, “Die wat uit dieselfde bak eet sal nie kop uittrek nie.” (Those who eat from the same feeding trough will not withdraw their heads.) 

This is the problem. There have been too many ‘fat cats’ (black and white) getting rich from the public purse, from corruption or earning huge salaries through consulting and facilitating incompetent government departments. Wealth per sé is not the problem, provided it is honestly earned and expended in a responsible manner. It is rather the dreadful gini coefficient (or gap) between rich and poor that is the major source of outrage in South Africa.   

So what can those of us who have, in different ways, fought the good fight against white privilege do in the present political situation? We can vote, which is something that needs to be more thoughtfully undertaken than at any time since the dawn of our democracy.

Never having voted against the ANC (although with increasing hesitation), my next vote will be for the country, while keeping a beady eye on all political parties. We need to ask which party or coalition of parties can realistically deal with corruption, equip all young people with a decent education, grow the economy, create sustainable jobs and tackle the need for land distribution  – recognising that there is a lot  of land  owned by state and  local governments,  family trusts and deceased estates.  

In Cape Town alone there is (was) the Tafelberg School property in Sea Point, the Ysterplaat airbase, the abandoned Bowling Green on Bowwood Road in Claremont, plus derelict land in District Six and elsewhere  that  can be used for gap- and affordable housing.

Idealism aside, we cannot spend what we do not have. Equally true is the fact that the national government and many municipalities have access to more money and hidden resources than they care to admit. What is needed is honest and fair budgeting, the moral discernment of priorities, responsible expenditure and a more determined commitment to transformation.

It is in the interest of all South Africans to ensure that the escalation of anger, not least among young unemployed people, is ameliorated by tangible evidence of government and business reversing growing inequality. Without this we can kiss reconciliation goodbye.  

The poor are the barometer of the pending storm, fuelled by racism, economic inequality and spatial segregation. Clearly we need a president and a Parliament that have the will and the capacity to bust the existing cabal that says it’s now our ‘turn to eat’, to the neglect of those who voted them into power.

There are people in this country, black and white, rich and poor, hopeful and despondent who are asking what they can realistically do to save the country? Each of us at least has limited skills, capacities, influences and energy to contribute to the creation of a better life for all.

Some of the older generation are weak, tired and exhausted. Others are strong.  Most of us are kind of ‘in-between’, hoping our 1994 dreams will be realised before we ‘go forth’! It is over to the next generation and young people who are skilled, resilient and deeply concerned about the future – their future. Go for it, there are some old codgers who are ready to support you. 

- Villa-Vicencio is Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town and founder and former executive director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

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  |  reconciliation


Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.