“There is no messiah who is going to save us”
It is worthwhile time-travelling back to that moment in our history twenty-four years ago on April 27 1994 when we South Africans in all our shades of age and ethnicity patiently queued in snaking lines, to cast our votes for the first time in our lives. The mood was exhilarating and joyous. We had overcome the reign of the heinous apartheid white supremacists with their security branch and death squads, pencil tests and immorality laws, separate development and dompas. We were free at last.
Today that fleeting feeling of freedom is a distant memory and it means very little to those born after 1994, who argue that the freedom we attained was not enough. They are right. It is not enough when 51 percent of young people are unemployed, when access to quality education and the hope of better work opportunities favours the wealthy.
Twenty four years since the demise of apartheid, South Africa still consistently has the highest rates of inequality in the world measured by the Geni coefficient, coupled by single digit growth of the economy.
The global financial crisis of 2008, followed by the depressing shadow of corruption, state capture and shoddy or absent service delivery which marred the Jacob Zuma presidency has added to this climate of negativity. This mood was reflected in a survey by Ipsos in November 2017 which found that two thirds (66%) of adult South Africans believed the country was moving in the wrong direction. A large contributory factor to this mood was President Zuma and his cohorts’ controversial dealings with the Gupta family, his lavish expenditure of state funds on his Nkandla residence causing his approval ratings to plummet from 70% in May 2010 to 25% in November 2017.
It is thus fitting that the first glimmer of hope for the majority of South Africans happened late on Valentines evening on February 14 when President Zuma announced on national television that “even though he disagreed with the leadership of his organisation (The ANC),” he was resigning as president of the Republic with immediate effect.
This glimmer grew brighter when it became clear that the politically powerful are not immune from facing the rule of law when on Friday 16 March Shaun Abrahams announced that Jacob Zuma would finally have his day in court to face five charges of corruption, one charge of money laundering and 12 charges of fraud.
We should not be fooled into believing that this hope can be attributed to one man or one party. Zuma’s resignation was due to the collective effort of a diverse swath of South African citizens which include the work in parliament and court by opposition parties The EFF and DA. It is also due to the integrity in action of a range of individuals and civil society activists comprehensively listed by Vishwas Satgar, Wits Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations in an article published by The Conversation Africa. They are:
- The South African Communist Party (SACP) members who were expelled for questioning the Zumafication of the left
- Feminists who protested during Zuma’s rape trial and subsequently through #RememberKhwezi
- Communities who consistently protested against corrupt officials
- Metalworkers Numsa and The NUMSA-led United Front who called for Zuma’s removal
- The #ZumaMustGo Campaign in response to the sacking of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in December 2015
- The #FeesMustFall movement
- Investigative and nonpartisan media like amaBhungane who exposed the corruption scandals.
- Public protector Thuli Madonsela who drew attention to ethics and legal violations by Zuma
- Court decisions affirming the judiciary’s independence in relation to Zuma
- #SaveSouthAfrica, a civil society movement, which gave rise to some of the biggest post-apartheid protest marches after Pravin Ghordan and Mcebisi Jonas were fired as finance minister and deputy finance minister
- Liberation struggle veterans like the late Ahmed Kathrada and others who called for Zuma to resign
President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of this being the “dawn of a new era”. An era which entails a drive to attract at least US$ 100 billion in new investments over the next five years, stabilising strategic state owned enterprises, improving the functioning of key institutions like SARS, finalising a new Mining Charter through consultation with all stakeholders, processing legislation for the implementation of the National Minimum Wage and the promotion of labour stability, and launching the Youth Employment Service to increase the employability of first-time job seekers.
This work to fix the institutions that our elected government allowed to slide on their watch over the past nine years is a good start. But, there is no quick fix to our problems. No magic economic formula will turn our gross inequalities into heaven on earth for all. There is no messiah who is going to save us. The era of putting political heroes and martyrs on pedestals has passed. It is not up to politicians, investors and big business to determine our destiny. It is up to us as individuals, as civil society, as activists, as a collective to continue to work together and strive for the tomorrow we dream of. To hold to account those we elect and appoint into positions of power. To be truly free.