Please stop telling me about respect because you only have oppression, corruption and ageism to give in return. Do not hide your incapacity, insecurity and unintelligibility with age – it’s stale and it’s embarrassing.
And if you went to Robben Island, even for a week, just say so and I will start a fund to thank you. But please, no amount of going to prison in the world, even for political reasons, ever qualifies you to steal my future and the future of my generation.
If you were in Angola or Morogoro in Tanzania, I will learn your songs. If you were in Lusaka, I will even name streets after you. If you were in Kliptown in 1955, I will name my child after you.
But please, these are not enough to buy my time, to ask me to wait for another 20 years before there is a decent, qualified maths teacher in my class.
I have heard over and over how you took a bullet, that they tortured you and left you to die.
I heard that you missed school, maybe all or half of it, trying to fight against unjust laws.
I also heard you had a white girlfriend and were imprisoned for it.
I saw you at a big funeral lately. You looked so good with the white lady next to you. I saw you walk out of a convoy of black cars and the cameras were flashing at you. I heard your speech paying tribute to your comrade who fell. It was moving, poignant and inspiring. Then they sang, chanted and danced along with the gunfire and salutations. Yes, my soul said, yes and yet another yes.
But a burp of nauseating nos was building in my chest and a bitter no finally spewed from my throat because my comrades are taking drugs; they eat nyaope daily. My comrades idle, even in school.
When they fall in death, there are no gun salutes at their funerals, there are no cameras. Only sorrow, darkness and pain. Everyone is angry, from the preacher to the chorus leader, because my comrades die young from disease and drugs.
No I said, because my comrades kill each other, they fight among each other, they fight for each others’ respect. They kill each other to earn the respect of drug-addicted, disease-ridden, illiterate, idle, bastardised foes. My comrades also live in gangs; they carry sticks, knives and at times, guns.
They rob to eat, they rob to dress, they even steal from their parents’ homes.
A few of them, though here and there, find the escape to go to university but come back sometimes to visit us. They remain my comrades, but I can’t pretend they have not progressed while many of us remain here in this place, in this mud, this wasteland, where they frequently visit us.
They also visit their parents because half of them still live here in the mud.
Some work in the malls you built for us, they work in retail stores, earn peanuts, or work in KFC – but no amount of chicken-cooking, finger-licking good is turning their bastardisation around.
These are my comrades, there are no gun salutes when they die, there are no history songs sung, only church hymns. People ask them to rest in peace and in peace they truly go, and are gone for good.
They leave us here in this mud, the slippery mud everyone slips into, eats up and is buried in. Maybe soon we might be eating each other up in the cooked, slippery mud of our mud towns. Their lives have no other meaning except that they were here; like the meaninglessness of your past songs, exile, imprisonment, stayaways and ballot boxes.
This is our life, the life we seek to change and have decided to change. This is the fate, our fate, a fate we have since decided to change.
We want freedom but not your freedom – the freedom to reminisce on days gone by when you were a hero of the people. We do not want your freedom, your place in the past.
It belongs to you and it will always be where you belong.
Our freedom is here, it is now, in our lifetime.
We want our freedom. We have had to call it economic freedom and we want it in our lifetime.
It is the freedom to participate in economic production. To produce, innovate and live under the conditions that are human.
You will remember that we tried to ask for it from you, but every day you demonstrate you are not prepared to give it, that you do not even know how to give it. So, we are going to take it.
And please do not tell me about respect because if we have to listen to you one more day, our future will be lost like all our lost comrades, lost in the mud, swallowed by our own slippery mud.
Please listen, this is our struggle, one that you, with your suffocating demands of respect will not and shall not stop. This is it and the sooner you accept that, the better the present. If you will not accept it, we will accept it on your behalf.
These are the resounding bells of our future and only we can bring it to pass.
Ndlozi is EFF spokesperson