Every half-literate South African has known for more than a decade that President Jacob Zuma and various of his close relatives and party associates took huge bribes in relation to the 1999 arms deals. Somehow that has made little difference to his ever-advancing political career.
The extraordinary extent of inappropriate influence exercised by the Gupta brothers on Zuma’s reign has been as obvious for half as many years, with similarly little impact on the course of his career. His ANC supporters appear to see nothing wrong in their leaders taking backhanders from the rich. Perhaps, given the opportunity, they would do the same. They clearly have until now had no comprehension of who finally pays the bill; that it all, ultimately, comes out of the national treasury; a treasury that is less and less able to afford those services the poor depend on to survive, let alone advance in life.
In a world not governed by the need to defend Jacob Zuma and his clan at all costs, the flood of incriminating Gupta emails would within days have been the end of the Zumas – and the Guptas. The emails call into question the President and his cabinet’s understanding of and allegiance to the rule of law. They cast Zuma and any number of his cabinet appointees and fellow ANC leaders as liars and scoundrels on every front, endlessly engaged in actions that are undoubtedly illegal, often criminal.
But ANC MPs and Zuma defenders cannot accept their true meaning. To do so would be to acknowledge too much.
They have to distort reality and embrace dishonesty to deny the significance of the emails and their newsworthiness. Even the party’s proposed saviour, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, is happy to squander another year or two on an inevitably farcical – and costly – judicial enquiry into what must be plainly obvious to anyone with half a brain.
But the ANC leadership does now, finally, have reason to fear – not lawyers and judges but ordinary citizens. The outcome of all this corruption is by now to be seen and felt by everyone, even the illiterate, everywhere. KZN’s development budget is wasted on insane schemes to further enrich the politically connected rich (see “Library at the end of the universe” in this issue), its health services collapse, leaving direly ill people to die without care (see “Dithering provokes KZN cancer crisis” in this issue), the redistribution of land is a corrupt mess, causing misery and disillusionment on all fronts (see “ANC bigwigs nobble 103-year-old land claimant” and “Stuffed” in this issue). The collapse of our law enforcement agencies means that not only small-time thieves and township rapists, but major corporations feel free to break the law with impunity (see “How Allan Gray lay down with dogs and got up with fleas” in this issue). Working people’s pension funds are being robbed blind.
The battle we’re having now is no longer about right versus left, or black versus white. It’s about truth and survival, which leaves no room for compromise.
Ordinary citizens in South Africa are, frankly, not doing enough in terms of being activists and using their power to change society.
Why should all the activism be left to organisations like Section 27, the Treatment Action Campaign, the Right2Know Campaign and Noseweek?
The question is posed by Mark Heywood, executive director of Section 27 in an interview with Noseweek journalist Susan Segar. He is the author of a just-launched book, Get Up! Stand Up!
“Everybody has power – thanks to the supreme law of the land – and it is up to all to do their bit to exercise their power.
“The Constitution encourages, and in fact requires active citizenship and creates a form of government that can really only work if citizens engage and take part in oversight, ensuring accountability of government and in policy making processes,” said Heywood.
“If we don’t do that, we can complain till the cows come home but we will be our own worst enemy.”
It is not fair, he says, that small groups of people, like himself, in activist organisations are doing so much of the work. The type of action we really need is activism that engages continuously with every government department, in an intelligent, informed way.
“That activism should extend not just to governmental conduct but to the conduct of other powers in society, eg corporate and religious power or the powers of traditional leadership”.
Heywood has played a vital role in public life and in the movement for social justice, including founding the HIV/Aids advocacy organisation Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). He also played a key role in establishing the right of children to free school textbooks.
His book tells the story of his personal journey and provides inspiring insight into how power and politics work, and urges all South Africans to stand up and play their part.
Many South Africans say they feel powerless about the situation in South Africa at present, says Heywood, but they have never before had so much power. It is just that they are not using it. Look back 30 or 50 years to the situation that faced human rights activists and trade unionists, who often worked without legal protection or recognition of their rights. Today, our supreme law propels the country towards what we call social justice, it guarantees freedom of expression and, in fact, requires us to exercise our rights.
“Wherever you look in the law in South Africa, you find power is given to people, in the establishment of local government, in the schooling and health systems… but we should be exercising it for good.
“Similarly, in relation to international human rights, in the last forty years, the development of frameworks around the universal declaration of human rights has potentially transformed the world, but those human rights frameworks are under threat now because of the rise of China and Trump etc. Again, people are just not using those rights,” said Heywood.
Heywood believes we are in the eye of the storm right now and that, sadly, things could still get a lot worse.
“But we don’t realise how much, as a country, we have achieved,” he said.
“We’ve made huge civic advances, pushing back against bad governance. We’ve just not yet achieved the objective which is to remove Number One.
“But we need to do more, to rally together with a common purpose, not just mobilise around criticism and the negative. Our advances will be far more inclusive and so much better for the poor if they start to be about tangible change, which is really possible.”
Heywood’s book is “one person’s story about what one person can do”. Being an activist “doesn’t mean you become monochrome and give up all your joy”.
“Just orient yourself to the public good and you will have a very satisfying experience of living as well,” says the man who has completed 17 Comrades Marathons.
Some inspiration from the US: when President Donald Trump recently nominated a BP oil-spill lawyer to serve as an environmental attorney at the US Department of Justice, and announced plans to exit the Paris Agreement on climate change, the governors of California and 16 other states simply refused to follow suit.
Hawaii has already become the first to pass a law committing it to the Paris accord.
Back home, seeing Eskom as a threat to the future of its business, agricultural company Senwes launched the first solar photovoltaic-powered silo system in South Africa, at Hennenman in the Free State.
“Around 1,120 solar panels were installed, with a total capacity of 358kW, providing 62% of the total electricity consumption of the Hennenman silo and will result in a significant cost saving,” Senwes CEO Francois Strydom said.
Engineering News reports that, quite apart from the cost savings, the projected carbon savings will amount to 472.5 tonnes of CO2 per year.
The project started in January and was completed in April – Eskom take note.
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