Liberty feels hollow when we are still economically incarcerated

Unbanned 25 years ago

February?2 2015 marks 25 years since the announcement by then-president FW de Klerk confirming a turning point in the political landscape of South Africa, which affected the continental and global political balance of forces.

The unbanning of liberation movements and political parties, followed by the release of Nelson Mandela nine days later, was an acknowledgement by De Klerk and his government that pressure presented by, among other factors, economic isolation, mass struggles and ungovernability was too much to resist change. It was only logical that the apartheid regime could not sustain political, social and economic suppression of the majority of the citizens of the country.

However, he still showed some signs of resistance when he thought he could continue his leadership by luring the liberation movements with a Trojan Horse by unbanning them while unleashing violence – as proven by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which found that some of the post-1990 violence was state-sponsored. But the wisdom of Mandela and his leadership collective prevailed and exposed De Klerk’s agenda.

The announcement by De Klerk came two years after the Transkei Military Council, which I presided over, unbanned political organisations in the then Transkei – creating an environment for free political activism and tolerance.

Citizens in the region were already expressing their political views and choice of association without fear of victimisation, harassment, torture and death. They wore their political party regalia and attended political and other social gatherings of their choice knowing that they were protected.

In the same period prior to 1990 we freed political prisoners and placed a moratorium on the death penalty in recognition of the basic right to life. We made the Transkei available as a safe haven for activists of all liberation movements and other political organisations. Through our “silent revolution” we made our contribution by ensuring that the unavoidable change in the country occurred with no violence.

We maintained regular contact with the liberation movements and assisted where we could. I remember when we accepted a request by the ANC to release instructors from the Transkei Defence Force to be part of the conventional military training of Umkhonto weSizwe soldiers in Uganda, preparing them for amalgamation with the South African Defence Force. We released no less than 50 instructors.

In 1994, the current ruling party took over the reins of power with massive approval from the citizens of the country. Indeed, many good and development-oriented policies and programmes were created and implemented. The Reconstruction and Development Plan was the epicentre of the work to be done. Government was transformed to represent all citizens – all of which now had equal rights.

Twenty-five years later, however, one can’t help but think that this historic political development could have been remembered better and under different socioeconomic conditions – had the ruling elite not abandoned the original purpose of the struggle and the people of the South Africa.

Selfishness and greed have become the order of the day. Crucial skills and experience from other liberation movements and citizens were left untapped during what was meant to be a building process. Patronage and loyalty rewards have become the order of the day.

We thought the economy would boom after the sanctions were lifted and a new government put in charge. But differences between members of the alliance about policy, coupled with an allowed disinvestment (delisting from the JSE) by companies such as Anglo American, have resulted in those who sustained apartheid continuing to benefit economically.

A quick look at the ownership of land in some of the former homelands and today’s reality shows that the branding of everything as an apartheid apparatus was one of the biggest blunders made by the ruling clique. This approach robbed the country of collective wisdom and knowledge, resulting in a loss of institutional memory and a collapse of public institutions.

With a large number of citizens trapped in extreme poverty and hunger, with no land and little hope of a better future, it is difficult to remember February?2 1990 today with the same feelings we had 25 years ago. South Africans are yearning for a day when they can all say: “Yes, we are free.”

As long the ruling clique finds itself in the back pockets of a greedy and brutal upper class, the meaning of February?2 1990 will not be what we held 25 years ago.

This begs the question whether all within the ruling clique were, and are, genuine about the strategic objectives of the struggle or are merely positioning themselves for self-enrichment. This question is important as we mark 25 years since the unbanning of the liberation movements, the release of Mandela and the 21st anniversary of our freedom.

Bantu Holomisa, MP, is president of the United Democratic Movement

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