'We have no freedom to celebrate today. We live in a radically unjust society…Until everyone’s voice counts equally we cannot say that we are free’, the Unemployed People’s Movement writes from Grahamstown, in a statement to mark South Africa’s ‘Freedom Day’ on 27 April.
On the 27th of April 1994 the people of this country stood in long queues for many hours, waiting to cast their vote for the first time. In some parts of the country the weather was indeed hostile, freezing cold, while in other parts of the country it was scorching hot. Our people were voting for the first time, voting for an end to racism and for democracy and a better life – for jobs, free education and decent housing. Over and above their vote for their material needs to be met they were voting for their freedom. Or so they were made to believe!
The rays of that sunrise were breaking through the dark storm clouds. The first beams of the new sun were making their way through the clouds into the new blue sky. After centuries of oppression hope was rekindled, a new nation, a rainbow nation was born. Or so we were made to believe.
I remember watching the proceedings on television. I saw the Right Reverend, the Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, casting his vote. The great man then jumped and said “Free at last! Free at last!” He was coming on the heels of the former president, Nelson Mandela.
Freedom is the ability of the people not to be oppressed and to be able to determine their own future collectively and by their own wills. Freedom is the realization of the will of the people. When there is freedom the government is for the people and by the people because the people govern themselves. Freedom is the ability of the people to determine their own destiny. Freedom is self- government.
When there is freedom the people do not have to beg the government to recognize them as important because they are the government. When there is freedom people are free from hunger, poverty, diseases, homelessness and an inability to access basic needs. Justice, peace, dignity and access to the country’s wealth are central to freedom.
Freedom means that people must come first. It means people before profit. It means people before the big transnational corporations. It means that the people’s sovereignty and rights have been restored!
Freedom does not mean that the people vote for some few politicians to take their friends and relatives and go and join the old white capitalists as they feast off the devastation of the people behind high walls and police officers who shoot us to kill us. Freedom does not mean that our so called leaders become managers of capital, running the country and disciplining the people on behalf of the capital.
Freedom does not mean that politicians become little Gods. Freedom is also not the rule of experts in civil society. Freedom is not the rule of the police. In a free country it is the voice of the citizens that matters the most. If Azania was free the voice of every Azanian and of every community in Azania would matter equally. Until everyone’s voice counts equally we cannot say that we are free.
After seventeen years of democracy our townships are broken. All you see is drunken men and women walking aimlessly like zombis their blood stream flowing with cheap alcohol. This is how we drug ourselves against the nightmare of a democracy that is really neo-apartheid and not post-apartheid. This is how we drug ourselves against a society that has no respect for us, no place for us and no future for us. In the Eastern Cape they drink umtshovalale. In Kwa-Zula-Natal they drink isiqatha. In Gauteng they drink gavani. In the Westarn Cape they drink spirits. This alcohol has a hazardous effect. My people, young and old, have been silently taken to the graves due to the effects of this alcohol. We are poisoning ourselves to drug ourselves against the horror of our lives. Throughout South Africa young people smoke ARVs. It is a well known thing. We live below poverty line and we have completely lost hope.
South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. The gap between the rich and the poor is so vast and it is growing. The unemployment rate is so high. It is above 40%. Poverty rates are sky rocketing. In a place like Alice residents drink unsafe water. At times there is no water at all. In Grahamstown we continue to use the bucket system to shit. All around South Africa there are crumbling RDP houses and municipalities are falling under corruption while Zuma’s family, his wives, children and relatives’ are becoming billionaires. Shiceka spent R640 000 in one year on rooms for himself and his staff at the One & Only hotel in Cape Town, flew to Switzerland first class to visit a girlfriend in jail and hired a limousine to drive him to the prison. What kind of politician lives like this while the people are suffering as we are? What kind of politician lives like this while South Africa has become "the protest capital of the world” with one of the highest rates of public protest in the world?
Shiceka is a predator and not a liberator. He is not the only one. In 2010 Eskom announced its decision to increase the tariffs by 35% assaulting the unemployed and the poor while the ANC Company, Chancellor House, are ripping the profit from the shaking hands of the people. Very soon the coffers of this country will run short and we will be asked to give even more to the ANC, to Chancellor House and the Zuma family. The way they are looting our resources is beyond imagination. They way that they have privatised the struggle of the people is incredible.
We are a bleeding nation. All the power that belongs to us has been centralized to the ruling elite. We do not participate on the model of the RDP house that must be built. They decide for us. The Integrated Development Plan (IDP) meetings are a platform to manage us. There is no veracity. They choose those who must represent us in local chambers, come back and parade them as our leaders. When we ask to speak to these leaders they call the police. We have no power. We have no voice. We have no freedom to celebrate today. We live in a radically unjust society. We are oppressed.
The ANC tries to control the people with its police, social grants and rallies with celebrities and musicians. The ANC tries to drug us against their betrayal by keeping us drunk on memories of the struggle – the same struggle that they have betrayed. But everywhere the ANC is loosing control. Protest is spreading everywhere. Everywhere people are boycotting elections and running independent candidates. Everywhere people are organizing themselves into their own autonomous organizations and movements.
Mostafa Omara, narrating the Egyptian Revolution, writes:
“People look more relaxed and at peace -- you can see it on their faces. People in Egypt will tell you: Gone are the days when we felt helpless and little; gone are the days when the police could humiliate us and torture us; gone are the times when the rich and the businessmen think they could run the country as if it was their own private company.”
In South Africa we long for the same feeling! Seventeen years did not relive the pain and suffering of centuries we endured under the apartheid government and the colonial governments before that.
Revolutions do not spring out of the blue. Revolutions are organised through the united action of men and women, rural and urban, which spring from their needs. Revolutions happen when ordinary men and women begin to discuss their own lives and their own futures and to take action to take control of their own lives.
The rebellion of the poor that has engulfed this country is growing. More and more organisations are emerging. More and more people have become radicalised. More and more communities have lost all illusions in the ANC after experiencing the violence of the predator state. More and more people are starting and joining discussions about the way forward for the struggle to take the country back.
We need to move forward with more determination working all the time to build and to unite our struggles. As we connect our struggles, from Ficksburg to Grahamstown, from Cape Town to Johannesburg and Durban, we are, slowly but steadily, building a new mass movement. We are building a network of struggles that are determined to be in what has been called a living solidarity with each other.
Struggle continues! Victory is certain! Nothing for us without us.
Ayanda Kota, Unemployed People’s Movement Chairperson, Grahamstown
* Contact the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) at 69 “C” Nompondo Street, Grahamstown, 6139. Tel: 072 299 5253, 078 625 6462, 073 578 3661.
Email: [email][email protected], [email][email protected]
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