The South Africa We Deserve

Published on 24th October 2017

The Black Management Forum (BMF) is far from being happy with the South Africa we live in presently; that we deserve better than this; that our levels of poverty are painful and unjustifiable and that we deserve to be better led. Being a middle income country that we are, generously endowed with mineral wealth as we are, blessed with a geography that allows for different kinds of plant and animal husbandry and blessed with a fairly well-developed road, air, sea, electricity and water infrastructure, as we are, we should not be in this position.

Indeed, we should not be, and all of us should hang our heads in shame. We have failed the vast majority of our people who had thought that their heroic deeds that defeated racist settler-colonialism heralded a new era of hope, opportunities and progress. But alas, 23 years later, we are not even stagnant, we are not marching on the spot, but are in reverse gear towards the abyss and possible ruin. There is consternation on the part of many in the country, some in our midst are scratching their heads, wondering how we arrived at this point.

We don’t as yet have the South Africa We Deserve because in the past 23 years, we have slowly, but progressively, lost those intangible but honourable and powerful attributes that propelled us in the right direction for a long time. We have jettisoned patriotism, solidarity and ethics, and with that, the dreams of many. In the last eight to ten years, in particular, we seem to be accelerating inexorably towards a ruinous precipice.

By themselves these attributes do nothing, but their presence enable so much to be done. They are like Wi-Fi, which is an intangible thing that does not do anything itself, but enables so much to be done. Once you have got Wi-Fi, you have got connectivity and you can do all sorts of things. It is not the Wi-Fi itself that does anything, but it enables and facilitates.

It is these attributes of patriotism, solidarity and ethics, our Wi-Fi, so to speak, that saw us doing amazing things in the interest of our people and country. Ever since the commencement of the colonization process of our country, we have seen our people, enabled by our Wi-Fi, confront the forces of oppression with courage and self-sacrifice.

In recent times, it is our Wi-Fi connectivity that saw us confront the system of oppression at Sharpeville and Kwa-Langa; that saw our youngsters face the might of the racist regime with dustbin lids and bare chests in 1976; that saw a Dikgang Moseneke at the tender age of 15 years challenging the forces of oppression and being sentenced to ten years on Robben Island; that saw many leaving the country to receive military training so that they could come back and engage the enemy at that level. Many died in battle whilst others were hanged by the regime. We are a country of heroes and heroines, and we, sitting in this room, emerged from the same loins as the rest of the heroes and heroines; the blood in our veins flowed in theirs too.

We did not, as a people, engage in these heroic deeds for monetary or material gain of any sort. To the contrary, these actions on our part invited untold pain, suffering, sacrifice and death. Yet with our connectivity, we ploughed on.

If our connectivity remained, we would be binding together in a strong scrum and toiling to build the South Africa We Deserve, a beautiful country we would bequeath to our children and grandchildren with much pride. That South Africa of our dreams can only be built by all of us together, united in our love for our country and its people. It is not the responsibility of a certain party or group of people to do that. The country does not belong to a political party, an individual or sector of society. It belongs to all of us. And in the present context, we don’t have to suffer persecution, detentions, torture, imprisonments and death to advance our country. Our freedom fighters have done the work that puts us in a position to engage in the business of building our country without the fear of physical harm.

With the absence of our Wi-Fi and the loss of connectivity, we are left adrift, floundering, with no direction or purpose. Crass materialism and immoral accumulation of wealth have taken over. The hearts and minds of many in positions of leadership and authority, in both the private and public sectors, are emptied of any semblance of shame and conscience. Shame makes us human. If you cannot be shamed you are beyond the pale. The attitude of those caught stealing from the public seems to be: so what? Catch me if you can! Otherwise, there is no shame. Abantu bazothini or batho ba tla reng, seems to have no currency whatsoever in this environment.

In the absence of our Wi-Fi connectivity and the release from shame, it has become easy for us to be overtaken by corruption, greed and sleaze. And unless all of us fight and defeat this scourge, our country would be destroyed and people would literally die. In an environment contaminated by corruption, it is almost impossible to build anything.

Yesterday, all sorts of companies, different types of organizations, government departments and their entities were able to accept audited financial statements as the gospel truth. Today we are not so sure. Now it is difficult to imagine how we would be able to function in the absence of trust in audited financial statements.

In an environment infected with rampant corruption, it might be difficult to accept educational qualification at face value. You might not be sure the person teaching your children is qualified; that the person presenting a certificate to you as a qualified lawyer, doctor, engineer or accountant has actually passed an examination, because anything can be bought. Imagine being operated upon by a bogus surgeon!

Police might not investigate a matter unless their palms are greased, or they can always be bought not to investigate; a prosecutor might be of similar stripes, deliberately botching prosecutions; judges and magistrates might be in the payroll of crooks, as indeed they were under the Mafia in Italy not so long ago. To obtain your ID card, passport or birth certificate, you might first have to pay a bribe.

It is a scary thought, but one that we might be nudging towards in our country, judging by the speed with which everything is crumbling around us. Eskom, which not so long ago had a strong balance sheet, is almost bankrupt. And all we see and hear about is a procession to Dubai. Some say it is not just a procession of human beings to Dubai, but also a procession of crates of our money. Scandals are unfolding around us on a daily basis but we see no arrests, prosecutions and imprisonments.

In a corrupt environment money for books, chalk and desks for our schools is stolen; hospitals and clinics suffer a similar fate with medicines, medical equipment, linen or money stolen by corrupt elements in our society. Already, there are hospitals in our country that are being described as places of death, not healing. The list goes on and on. It should be clear that if we are to build the South Africa We Deserve, one of our urgent tasks would be the fight and defeat of corruption in our private and public lives.

The vast majority of our people in mikhukhu, townships and villages cannot do much about this situation, except to spill into the streets every now and then to toy-toy against so-called poor service delivery. By and large, they don’t have the expertise or access to the corridors of power to know exactly what is going on. It is mainly the people with an education in the civil service and in the private sector that play the corruption game. It is therefore us, the petty-bourgeoisie, especially the Black petty-bourgeoisie, who bear the greatest responsibility to take us towards the South Africa We Deserve; a more equal country with drastically reduced unemployment and poverty levels. For that, we need to re-discover our solidarity as a matter of urgency.

Back in 2003 when I was still the leader of AZAPO, that organization produced a pamphlet entitled: Stretch the Rand. Basically, the pamphlet said that whilst it is justifiable, given our history of social degradation and economic exploitation, to complain about our poverty, we can also do more to tackle our problems through greater social and economic solidarity.

The pamphlet held that it is unsustainable for about 90% of the population to expect to be affirmed by its remaining 10%. The pamphlet exhorted us to take measures to ensure that our rands circulated in our communities and settlements more than we are doing now. The overwhelming tendency now is that the rand we earn leaves our communities almost immediately. And then we turn around and complain about how poor we are. The pamphlet said:

If your tank is empty, fill up at a garage in your township. If you have a legal problem, see a Black lawyer. If you are sick, consult a black doctor. If you have a wedding or any function, source as much of your needs as possible from Blacks in your area. Buy as much of your household goods from the shops next to you as possible. In return, the businesses or professional outfits should strive for the best service possible and form relationships with schools in their areas such that they could donate books or other learning necessities once a year and offer themselves as role models to the students and youths in their communities.

In this way we would improve economic activity in our areas, create employment in these areas, solidify community cohesion and improve the quality of education in these areas. We might then be in a position to produce more engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants and similar professionals. In the long run this could go a long way towards the reduction of poverty and crime.

Much as the state is a formidable force with lots of resources which should be deployed to uplift the citizens, we can also play a meaningful role in pooling ourselves out of the difficulties history has placed us in. Being 90% of the population, this could give us possibilities of building and growing bigger businesses and forming new companies. With the assurances of a market and solidarity, we might be able to build banks or insurance companies and other such undertakings.

In this way, we might be able to work better with the white minority that has long empowered itself. As things stand, building a non-racial society and forming partnerships is difficult as blacks remain underlings that must simply be assimilated in already existing businesses. More often than not, Blacks come into businesses run and owned by whites to satisfy regulatory requirements than as desirable business partners.

We, the Black majority, really need to step up in a concerted, coordinated and conscious manner. Why are we not embarrassed by the fact that we are this majority and yet you are more likely to find a Chinese, French, Italian or Tai restaurant in this country than an African one? And what about a clothing house?

This kind of social and economic solidarity should not be the subject of party political discourse, but a survival kit for all of us. The South Africa We Deserve would not emerge from sectional or factional political maneuvering, but from a united action by the people of this country. Issues of national development are much bigger than individual party political activity.

Imagine where we would be if we stretched our rands, growing strong businesses in our communities, giving more people employment in the villages and townships! Imagine where we would be if our communities and their business and professional people embraced one another and worked together to advance themselves! Imagine what kind of society we would have if we were to release most of the 15 million of our people who depend on social grants for survival! Imagine the dignity that would be regained by that possibility! Imagine us releasing the majority of our people from the prison called delivery! Indeed, delivery is a prison, where a lot of our people are sitting and waiting for someone to deliver a house, a grant or water for them.

Imagine if more and more of our people were able to build or buy their own houses, pay for their water and electricity and school fees for their children! Imagine if our teachers taught our children with love and dedication, enabling most children to walk to the nearest school, not bussed to faraway schools at the crack of dawn! Imagine our schools producing the skilled young people the country needs for its development!

Imagine us having public hospitals and clinics that are clean, have medicaments and staffed by adequate numbers of health workers who really care! Imagine us having a fair and efficient criminal justice system that would free all of us from the fear and scourge of crime!

Imagine us having honest and hardworking public representatives and civil servants who are motivated by public good! Imagine how great it would be if we had leaders that are not possessed by the demons of unbridled and seemingly insatiable greed!

These and many other things we can only imagine at the present point in our history, but they are not impossible to achieve. They are dreams we are entitled to have. These things will not fall from the sky like rain. We have to work for them. They are some of the elements of a South Africa We Deserve.

Let us do our best, so that our children and their children can inherit a working, safe, ethical and rich country. Remember, this country does not belong to us. We have just borrowed it from our children. For us to do right by our children, we need to restore our Wi-Fi. 

By Mosibudi Mangena

South Africa politician, former President of the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO) and  honorary President of AZAPO.

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