/ 14 July 2021

This unrest speaks a language the ANC understands very well

Safrica Unrest Politics
A suspected looter wheels a trolley with goods on Queen Nandi Drive in a commercial hub of Durban on July 13, 2021. - Stores in two South African provinces were ransacked for a fifth consecutive day, hours after President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed troops in a bid to quell unrest that has claimed 45 lives. The premier of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, said 10 bodies were found late July 12, at a looted shopping centre in Soweto, on the city's outskirts. (Photo by AFP)

The turbulence that has happened this week is a language that the ANC understands only too well. It used to teach and speak this language too. 

This is the language of those who are at the bottom of the food chain, the tiny cogs in other people’s machines, the consumers who’ve been in survival mode and occupational servitude for generations. This is the language of the frustrated and voiceless poor.

Our dear leaders have been silent. I hope this means they are listening because their constituency has been “speaking”. The language was called, “Make the state ungovernable”, “Let the oppressor sit up and listen” or “Hit them where it hurts”.

When democracy came, the honeymoon was sweet but short and so the language changed to: “Scream loudest so the dear leadership will feed you first to shut you up”.

This time around, the language is different. It’s more like, “How could you do that?”

Memories of imprisoned leaders are too raw

The former regime wasted our leaders by making them rot in prison for decades. We pined for them until reason and wisdom prevailed through leaders such as FW de Klerk, Madiba, Roelf Meyer, Cyril Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma, among others. We understand infighting, impeachments, insults and forced resignations, but prison? No, that memory is still too raw.

In Zulu we say, okoniwa ngomlomo, kulungiswa ngomlomo: what goes wrong through wrong speech, can be put right through right speech. 

Solomonic leadership demands we fast-forward the tape, foresee outcomes and come up with unique solutions, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, power-sharing and other wise initiatives. It demands that we make command decisions to mete out censure while avoiding disaster such as we see today.

I used to understand the language the people are speaking. 

The Zuma matter was a trigger, but the people have understood that the struggle has continued. It never stopped. It just became economic and individual now; it’s not collective anymore. It’s everyone for themselves and God for us all, now. 

The people understand that the government took over a land where everyone was allowed to keep their loot from centuries past. They took over a land where the black family and black human capital had been systematically undermined and destroyed for decades. No matter, the people were grateful to be free to live — to try, to strive, to win, to lose in the land of their birth.

‘Live and let live’ comes from a place of comfort

For those of us who escaped the worst ravages of our past, those of us who have found or are finding our happy place, it is easy to say live and let live. Ensconced in our cosy homes in safer neighbourhoods, with our full-speed WiFi, full tummies, full wardrobes, full fridges, secure livelihoods and cars in our driveways, it’s easy to say let bygones be bygones.

But those whose efforts to rise have yet to bear fruit, aluta continua unabated. Smiling and suffering, they wonder, when will their story change? The promised land is all around them; it’s a short, crowded taxi ride away — from Delft to Century City, from Alexandra to Sandton City, from Soshanguve to Menlyn Park and from Ntuzuma to Gateway, Umhlanga.

Many put a brave face on their poverty while living on the fringes of a first-world economy they are ill-equipped to thrive in. They learn to live with fear in the townships and many rural areas; they put up with substandard and still unequal education for their children. Some struggle for a chance to participate in that first-world economy after years of tertiary education. 

Yet many others strive to make it any which way they can. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, so the Good Book says. Therefore, many with sick hearts stand at the buffet table of South Africa, unable to eat and only able to watch others eat.

When the heart is sick, bad things can happen. When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

In spite of sick hearts, the people were grateful to have arrived at the Union Buildings and parliament villages in Cape Town. Their hearts were warmed by the thought that it was their leaders, men and women who look like them, who sit at the helm of their beloved country; swivelling in those big chairs in big offices, running the show. Yes! It was our beloved Madiba not Jan van Riebeeck’s face on our currency and a black man’s signature, Tito Mboweni’s, on our money. Awesome!

Most importantly, the people understood that being in government is like owning a farm. You may start out being average at running the farm, but as long as you keep the farm in the family, you and your generations have a chance to keep improving and to excel in future. That is the reason the people were willing to make allowances; to accept basic amenities while striving for personal breakthrough. As long as it’s our leaders on those seats, there is a chance for improvement in future.

Occasional, even bitter fighting among brothers is understandable, but cruelty and treachery – who can bear that? 

I say again: wise leadership demands that one make command decisions, mete out censure as needed, while trying to avoid foreseeable disaster.

If the rule of law had been applied willy-nilly we would not have transitioned into democracy and survived until now as a rainbow nation. The rule of law was applied with wisdom and forgiveness and that is why we are still standing together till today.

The olive branch and hand of mercy that was extended to relatives can surely also be extended to a brother. Is what is good for the goose not also good for the gander anymore?