When the National Party government realised it was losing its grip on power, it became preoccupied with state security. It was so paranoid that secrecy and censorship became a tool of oppression. It was criminal to possess any document government saw as threatening. Media censorship was severe. On ‘Black Wednesday”, October 19 1977, 18 black consciousness formations were banned and their leaders jailed, tortured and killed. Newspapers were also banned.
Former president Nelson Mandela, addressing the Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) in 1994, said: ‘If the ANC does to you what the government of the National Party did to you, you must do to the ANC what you did to the government of the National Party.”
But when the people protest against corrupt politicians who treat the poor with contempt, the ANC does not listen. Instead we are beaten, jailed, tortured and even killed. Who can forget Andries Tatane? His murder was a repeat of what happened to Hector Petersen on June 16 1976. He has become the martyr of the rebellion of the poor. Who can forget what happened to the demonstration of Abahlali baseMjondolo in 2006, when police open fire to a peaceful march? It was a repeat of the 1980s. Who can forget when the residents of Hangberg in Cape Town were jailed and shot at for refusing evictions? Some lost their eyes to rubber bullets. It was a repeat of what happened at Crossroads in Cape Town when people resisted illegal evictions.
Recently reporter Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested and no one knew where he was being held. This was a move to intimidate journalists. It was a continuation of apartheid tactics and a collapse into rule by decree, outside the Constitution. This is not democracy.
There is no freedom if the people do not know what the government is doing in their name. Every cent that goes to a political party or to a politician should be public knowledge.
Otherwise how do we know why or in whose interest decisions are made? The arms deal and its cover-up was the point at which we first lost the freedom to know and it has got worse.
The secrecy Bill is the ultimate manifestation of the elected deciding what the people they are supposed to serve will be allowed to know. Politicians want to be kings and queens, not servants of the people. Just look at their blue-light cavalcades. This is not democracy.
It is becoming more and more clear that the government of the ANC is starting to do to us what the government of the National Party did to us. It is repressing our struggles, forcing us into transit camps at gunpoint, leaving us to shit in buckets in shacks, denying most of us the right to decent education and denying millions of us the right to work or to have a decent housing.
At the same time, these ANC leaders are undermining the Constitutional Court and media freedom. And they are corrupt beyond repair. They are millionaires and billionaires through tenderpreneurship. They have privatised our struggle and they rule our country as if it is their private property. They are indulging in the politics of who has the right to plunder our resources.
We are supposed to accept that politics is a choice between Julius Malema (and his faction) or Jacob Zuma (and his faction). We are supposed to think that politics is a choice between Malema destroying a R4-million house in Sandton and building a R16-million house on the property or Zuma building a homestead in Nkandla at a cost of hundreds of millions of public money. This lavish homestead is surrounded by falling-down mud houses and people who go to bed hungry.
Our movements have won some important victories in the Constitutional Court. Although we must defend it from attack by the predatory elite, the fact is that it cannot protect us forever and it cannot, on its own, give us what we need. The court is already being undermined by the Zuma government and the ANC has made it clear it intends to subordinate it to the party.
Civil society has won some victories too. But NGOs do not represent the people and have no real power to stand up to an increasingly ruthless, predatory elite.
The answer to the betrayal of our struggle can be seen in Tahrir Square. When the people of Egypt took to the streets, united and determined in their actions, their former president looked to the head of the army to defend him. The response of the general was: ‘It is time to go.” Yes, it was time to go, because the people united can never be defeated. Now the people are demanding that the generals must go. If they stand together and stand strong in their numbers, the generals will go too.
It is only mass action by the masses of the people that can protect the people from an oppressive government and advance their interests. Our people are already on the streets. The rebellion of the poor has been raging for years now. It has produced some powerful movements in some places.
It is time for us to come together and sustain mass action in a united front against those who have captured and privatised the people’s struggle for a free, democratic and equal country. It is time for us to stop pretending that the Constitution and civil society will save us. Only the people, organised and united in struggle, can save us.
The ANC is doing to us what the National Party government did to us. It is time for them to go! We must embark on the second wave of revolution. We must draw our inspiration from the revolutions that started in Tunisia and have moved across the Arab world and fed into the mass protests in Greece, Spain and now the United States.
The ANC has served its historic mission. Its time has passed. It must go now. The time has come to start building real alternatives from the ground up.
Ayanda Kota is the chairperson of the Unemployed People’s Movement, Grahamstown
The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.