The #FeesMustFall activists now in parliament have a responsibility of ushering in a completely new politics. They should carry themselves totally differently to those MPs who have held their seats for years. They ought to live the gospel they preach by putting their words into action.
Many South Africans are losing hope in politics. They view politics as an easy means to amass wealth for those who occupy public office. One reason for this is simply because politicians do not do as they say. A materialistic, driven individual with an uncontrollable appetite for wealth takes the podium claims to be representing the poor. That’s your typical South African politician.
This should no longer be the case and the only people we trust with curbing the aforementioned tendency of elitism are those we fought with side by side during the protest movement, the comrades of #FeesMustFall. These individuals have demonstrated a high level of revolutionary consciousness and commitment. They fought with everything at their disposal and stood against the state machinery without expecting any material gains in return. This should be the values they continue to embody, even as MPs.
Elitism is contagious and it one of the phenomena that all mainstream South African politicians suffer from. It is one of the reasons we have a high level of corruption as a country. Elitism is directly responsible for the ongoing scramble for resources by public representatives.
The nature of politics has changed from being about serving the people and has become about plundering the resources one has newly acquired access to. MPs are accustomed to a taste for finer things in life. They dress in expensive clothing labels such as Louis Vuitton and Hugo Boss. They drink the most expensive bottles and smoke the best cigars available in posh nightclubs like Cubana. You will not find them in government hospitals when ill, as they will opt for private ones. Directly after being treated, they will address ordinary people as though they understand the frustration of being subjected to long queues at public clinics and hospitals.
Their children attend private schools, yet when speaking to the masses, MPs portray themselves as people who understand best the manner to deal with children who attend government schools. They are driven in most luxurious vehicles, the German machines – Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs. They are constantly surrounded by bodyguards even when there is no security threat. They are always to be seen as the most important, above all other citizens, and must live as comfortably as possible. Theirs is a permanent state of aristocratic comfort and opulence.
It is not only right-wing politicians who are prone to this tendency, as one would expect. Even the far left-wing politicians subscribe to the same tendency of elitism.
Political deployment is not guaranteed. The life they live in public office is too expensive and difficult to maintain. This is what leads them to engage in corrupt dealings so as to sustain their unnecessary, flamboyant lifestyles.
We have learnt from journalist Claudia Wallin that politicians from Sweden are not granted any luxury or privileges by the state. Instead, Swedish ministers and MPs use public transport and travel without bodyguards. At a municipal level, Swedish councillors have no salary: they offer their services voluntarily.
Wallin argues that through such deeds Sweden has not only drastically reduced corruption but also ensured that those in positions of power are held accountable, even by ordinary citizens. The level of crime in Sweden is extremely low, making it one of the safest countries on earth. Its agricultural sector is booming. And Sweden is now classified as one of the wealthiest countries, the most socially just and a society where nobody is above anyone else. South African politicians ought to emulate such practices if they are serious about building the country we want.
It is the #FeesMustFall generation who should carry on the abandoned teachings of the former Burkinabe president Thomas Sankara. They should refuse to be driven in flamboyant vehicles. They should take their children to public schools. Equally, they should attend public hospitals and, in general, live in as ordinary a manner as possible. As correctly captured by Ryland Fisher: “Politicians are not celebrities. They are public servants. They must serve the public not prance around on red carpets.”
Our generation can also take lessons from the former president of Uruguay, José Mujica. He is a man who led his country with honesty and authenticity. Mujica donated 90% of his salary to charities, refused to be accommodated in a presidential house and drove a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
Our fight against corruption must begin with cleaning our political systems. Systems are run by individuals; therefore, we ought to first change ourselves if we are to successfully change systems. We must dare to invent the future.
Our generation has a responsibility to engage in what professor Patrick Lumumba describes as “political hygiene”. MPs ought to rid themselves of what can be characterised a pompous bureaucratic parasitic bourgeois tendency: a tendency of using public office not with the intention of serving the people but of amassing wealth for one’s own upwards social mobility. This tendency and elitism are intertwined: interwoven but mutually distinct. Together, they are fundamentally responsible for high levels of corruption.
Through eliminating these two tendencies, corruption will wither away. This is a call directed to #FeesMustFall generation deployed to parliament to do just that.
Bonginkosi Khanyile is a #FeesMustFall activist who was found guilty on charges of public violence, possession of a dangerous weapon and failing to comply with police instructions.