Oxfam Sa hosts “The South Africa, We want Dialoque’ discussion. First panel discusses “Naming the Moments”: Crisis of democracy in SA, Africa and the world.
Several activitist, academics, analysists addres the audience at Sunnyside Park Hotel.
Here are full speech of OxfamSA Executive Director Siphokazi Mthathi;
We all know the South Africa we want.
People defined it through their various rebellions against colonial incursions. In 1954, The Federation of South African Women defined it through their Women’s Charter. Thousands of South Africans defined it through the Freedom Charter of 1955. A year after the freedom charter was adopted, women defined it through their bold march to apartheid’s belly of the beast. The Women’s National Coalition defined it through their Women’s Charter and we thank those feminist ancestors who mobilized more than 2 million women across the country and delivered for us the women friendly rights in our Constitution. Just in case you thought it was Ramaphosa or Roelf Meyer or Mandela who gave us our women rights. Women gave us those rights, thankyou. Bev Ditsie, Simon Nkoli and many of our queer liberation leaders defined it as they formed glow. They gave us non-discriminatory clauses in our constitution. Bev Ditsie and Simon, we honour you.
People’s movements since then continued to define the South Africa they wanted through their acts of resistance to white supremacy and all that apartheid was about.
Workers defined it when they formed their various unions which culminated in the formation of COSATU. What a tragedy it is that our parent’s, uncles’, aunt’’s unions and Federation have been since been so thoroughly captured.
This vision of a South Africa we want was codified in the Constitution adopted in 1996.
All of us here, in one way or the other, since our democratic transition in 1994 have been involved in a daily struggle to define practically this South Africa. To fix the flaws.
Working to defend the rights of farm worker/dwellers to tenure. To land and dignity.
Working to fix our sick food system which sees food and food security become a commodity for the control of the powerful, from those who want control over our seeds and are now being helped by a government who wants to legislate away the rights of and criminalise indigenous communities for owning seeds whilst Monsanto gets to be legalized to steal. GMO is not invention, it is theft. Food retail supermarkets/ corporations who monopolise our food market and cut out small producers and now want to retrench workers whilst continuing to give CEOs obscene salaries.
Some of us here have been working to fix a broken health system, designed on the basis of a capitalist logic that makes health just another commodity to be packaged in the same way like “shoprite cabbages” and sold back to us at a price most of us can’t afford. A logic in which health is a privilege not a right, rendering the right to life enshrined in our constitution meaningless.
Many of you are working to fix a broken system of democracy. One that is inherently colonial, designed to entrench elite privilege and turn people’s participation into a meaningless string of mechanical processes where people’s voices never matter excerpt when they serve a particular elite interest. To top it up, our government has designed secrecy laws to justify why it must be ok for them to make decisions without us even knowing the basis for those decisions. When we speak of State Capture, we must be clear we speak of all these ways in which this government has been hollowing democracy from above, not just the Guptas.
Then we talk about Capture and looting as if it’s a new phenomenon that is as simple as Zuma.
Since 1994, through flawed policy and other missteps, we have designed a social set up whose only outcome could be the rates of income, asset and power inequalities that characterize South Africa today, with the social dynamics of social fragmentation and ferment that they have produced.
It is a policy choice we have made that a mine worker who produces “wealth” can earn a 100th of a CEOs salary, and often goes home sick with a petty pension if they are lucky whilst a mining boss will be able to retire in happiness because they get shares, and that mining communities from which wealth is extracted are some of the most desperately poor communities in this country.
We made a policy choice not to disrupt apartheid special geography which means that rural and Urban South Africa, cities like Cape Town and places like Alex and Kliptown, are pretty much the same as they did in 1994 with respect to social and economic dynamics.
We know what we have today is not the South Africa we want. We know what is bad about it.
We know what we want and what we do not want.
But are our modes of organizing, our movements, networks, formations with their requisite tactical choices able to rise to the challenge of these times? Do they ways in which we understand and articulate our present reality enable us to do what my feminist idol Dawn Kavanagh calls “build compelling ideas that make it impossible for us to not get out of bed in the morning and get back to the streets”? What really are we transforming? If we look back at what we have done in the past 24 years, why have we not succeeded? What are the lessons? Regardless of whether Zuma is gone tomorrow or in December or in 2019, what is our work towards building the South Africa we want. At this rate, its possible that the new SA will be quite a miserable 25 year-old. How are we going to build now so that she has a better chance, so that we and future generations have a better chance?
Thanks Mthandazo and Ralph for bringing us together here like this. There are many conversations taking place across the country, and tomorrow people will be marching to parliament and other places to voice their discontent with Zuma’s regime of theft and corruption. We know what is happening in SA is not unique, if you can please read Naomi Klein’s latest book: No is not enough, defeating the new shock politics and winning the world we want. It is instructive on our global moment and the choices we have to make. We all get tired of talking. But sometimes saying things out aloud helps us refine our thinking. Maybe Dawn through this dialectical process we will yet come up with at least one compelling idea that gets us out of bed in the morning.