Has much changed since 1976?

 A woman runs from the police during June 16 1976 Soweto riots    Picture: Bongani Mnguni
A woman runs from the police during June 16 1976 Soweto riots Picture: Bongani Mnguni


Few have more succinctly summed up the general malaise of the South African political condition than Smuts Ngonyama has.

In 2004, to national incredulity, the then ANC national spokesperson glibly confessed that he “did not join the struggle to be poor” – an utterance that saw him swiftly savaged.

To his credit, though, Ngonyama was at least self-respecting enough to admit to what his ANC colleagues would rather pretend was not really the case; that theirs is a self-centred government.

As throngs of analysts have long written, the black poor remain a distant consideration.

So much so that salaried officials have stooped to the incomprehensible level of stealing food parcels meant to keep the poorest from starving during the nationwide lockdown enforced due to Covid-19.

Along government corridors, Madiba’s spirit of “a humble servant of you, the people” has long been extinguished, replaced by condescending “points of order” and standard bureaucratic hogwash.

The one good thing about the lockdown is that we were spared the high-flown speeches of a “good story to tell”
Phakamisa Mayaba

“We will investigate”, “create jobs”, “a better life for all” ... sound familiar?

The one good thing about the lockdown is that we were spared the high-flown speeches of a “good story to tell”, and instead saw real poor black people being evicted from their shacks, and being frog-marched and klapped around by soldiers and police.

The examples abound; there in the death of Collins Khosa, a man allegedly beaten to death by members of the army, yet the alleged murderers were safely hiding behind Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s frock.

We’ve seen this tragic drama before; a government so proud it knows not the humanising force of an apology. We’ve heard of no plans of government meeting the Khosa family, no concessional settlements out of court; not so much as a bowed “I’m sorry”.

Why would they?

You see, this sixth administration, given its racist predecessors, doesn’t have to try very hard. Whether they’re mowing down 34 mine workers in Marikana, killing 143 Life Esidimeni mental health patients or 11 citizens during lockdown – Khosa among them – the barbarians who came before them were so savage that we are vaguely thankful even for these naked injustices.

When our collective intelligence is so insulted as to be fed the bull dust that Khosa died of blunt-force trauma, which the well-trained officials who’d just klapped him around supposedly did not inflict, we scratch our heads, make some noise and then go back to our lives.

In a week, it’s another scandal; a twisted body mangled on the front page, but that too shall pass.

A man dead, a man forgotten.

Perhaps you will not say it, but in this Youth Month, I refuse to cower to the secret knowledge that to criticise government sometimes means you will not be getting that government job.

Your application for an RDP house might inexplicably vanish from a municipal desk. You don’t qualify, sir, for food parcels during lockdown.

This, my fellow South Africans, is the monumental month of rebellion, where, on the streets of Soweto in 1976, youngsters – some barefoot and hungry – had had enough and set fire to things in frustration.

It is no time for sacred cows, because people actually died for the freedom in whose name we uncork beers and light up braais, celebrating how things are better now.

But are they really better when leaders can show us the middle finger?

When they are forgetful that this was not a liberation victory of elites, but of ordinary men and woman who actually threw stones at police casspirs and suffered in “detention without trial”. Who died alone and naked in blood-stained prison cells.

Sure, you’ve heard of Hector Peterson, the lifeless body of the Soweto student uprising, but do you know of Funeka Siyonzana, Mongezi Juda, James Marumo and Krakra Maciki, whose blood soaked the soil of Colesberg? For this fallacious freedom, they paid the highest price.

Unlike your Matthew Goniwes and his Cradock Four, few know of these names – decent teenagers who loved their mothers and hated apartheid.

READ: The vigour of SA’s youth can be seen as far back as World War 2

But one wonders if they’d ever imagined that dark faces of revolution would someday resemble the pale-faced monsters of yesteryear; that former so-called stalwarts would have the blood of innocent black men on their hands.

And, worse, that they would unashamedly admit that they were in the struggle for the loot that was to come.

Inasmuch as we glorify the class of 1976, we should not forget that the youth of 2020 are equally confounded.

Nearly 60% of them are jobless; so despondent that they loiter on street corners, snorting drugs or planning a crime.

The “new dawn” is yet to materialise in the lives of these black people who are yet to make something meaningful of themselves.

And, inasmuch as we doff our hats to their forebears, may we never forget that their own battle is equally hard, and cross fingers that they too shall prevail.

Mayaba is a layperson who has been to university


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