Few and faint voices must speak louder

September 10 2012
By Rorisang Tshabalala
Dear Mama Mamphela,
The message is heard, loud and clear – active citizenship is the way forward; dialogue is the catalyst, and safe dialogue spaces are the crucible in which true revolution and change can be forged.
Traditionally, political movements and political leadership served as the one-stop shop for all of those things; political leadership played the role of inspiring us and leading us forward; leaders provided and lived the inspiration and the values that tied us together behind a common purpose and led us forward towards a common vision.
Political movements used to be the arenas in which our activism as citizens found its meaning. They used to be the crucibles in which the gears of change were forged; meticulously crafted through robust yet mutually respectful dialogue centred on pluralism and diversity.
The sun has set on that era and darkness now prevails – the nation with cherished ideals of unity in diversity, non-racialism, non-sexism and equality is now besieged by a character of political leadership and political movements across the board that stand in opposition to the hard-won freedoms that were paid for with the blood of martyrs.
In spite of our optimism, in spite of our hope, recent events in Marikana, preceded by a slew of events in education, health and the justice system, have carved the writing firmly into the wall – “mene mene tekel upharsin”. The values and competencies of the current generation of political leadership and political movements have been weighed by the challenges of leadership in democracy and been found wanting: our fields lie fallow, our homes bleed sorrow, our legacy lies in tatters – with each new day we pay the painful, bitter price of hoisting myth-makers on our shoulders as heroes; accepting lazy thinkers into our company as comrades; of allowing cowards to determine the fate of warriors.
As orphans we stand ejected from the political sphere where our activism found its meaning – we have become alienated from those safe spaces of dialogue and active citizenship that we used to call home by the very myth-makers, lazy thinkers and cowards we let in.
Political leaders who were once ridiculed for obtaining poor grades in woodwork today have the nation stunned by their efficacy at drawing lines – lines between black and white, young and old, employers and employees, rich and poor. With those lines they sow division and in those divisions their myths foment, their power becomes entrenched and constructive dialogue is overshadowed by divisive rhetoric.
It is through these lines that we have been led to believe that the forces of intellect and of revolution cannot occupy the same space at the same time and work towards the same end – rhetoric that led us to believe, leading up to and post-Polokwane, that intellect and populism could not occupy the same space, at the same time, towards the same end.
It is with those lines that they divide us so that they might conquer us – presenting us with false alternatives, each of which has already been tested and each of which has been found wanting.
We are presented with the same product in different packaging and led to believe that they are alternatives. We are led to overlook the fact that what has failed is not an individual but an entire value system through which all of them, be they now on different sides, have risen to power and prominence.
It is all of them, in whatever faction or party they may be, who seek a second term of relevance, of influence, a second term to put the final nail in the coffin of the non-racist, non-sexist democratic legacy that we inherited from greater leaders.
So hypnotised are we by these false alternatives that we fail to see that a second term of a myth-maker is no better than the second coming of a lazy thinker and that the second coming of a lazy thinker is no worse than the first attempt of a coward.
So how, Mama, do we break the hypnotic spell of division and take up our active citizenship in this environment? Darkness exists only for as long as the light allows it to; scientists tell us that darkness does not exist in and of itself and that darkness is only the absence of light.
This must have been Haile Selassie’s observation when he said: “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”
If that is the case, then the darkness that prevails in our land cannot be said to have overpowered the light; what we see in politics, government, the private sector and civil society as a whole must be the result of light having allowed darkness the space to operate.
You are but one woman, I am one man – the various voices that have been raised up during this dialogue and in other dialogues are rays of light that occupy their own small corners of society.
When Reuel Khoza spoke up about the degenerating moral quotient of our political leadership, few and faint voices backed him up in public in the face of the loud voices of those who felt exposed. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu lamented what the political leadership were doing with the freedom that people were tortured and maimed for, few and faint voices backed him up in public against the loud voices of those who felt exposed.
When the Rev Frank Chikane spoke out against leaders in the governing party taking power for themselves as opposed to taking power to the people, few and faint voices backed him up in public in the face of the loud voices of those who felt exposed.
When you spoke up about the education system today being worse than the gutter education under apartheid, few and faint voices backed you up in public in the face of the loud voices of those who felt exposed.
Many other South Africans who find themselves in a similar position are surrounded by many more who are under the spell of division and apathy. How does the consciousness of a few lead to the emancipation of the many?
Indeed, in times gone by there were many more voices of your generation that spoke out loudly and courageously against corrupt systems of government that sought to divide and oppress; they were the lights that kept darkness at bay. Where have those voices gone to?
When future generations study the minute books in which a record of our times will be captured, will they find that the voices of the many who hoisted their fists outside Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990 alongside Mandela were absent without apology when decisions were made to sell out the education of our young people for shady tenders?
Will future generations note how the voices of the many who stood behind Mandela on May 10, 1994 at his inauguration were absent without apology when decisions were taken to undermine justice and allow political decisions to assist with evading prosecution from corruption?
Will “absent without apology” be next to the names of all those of us who are happy to sit back and watch as the few entrench anarchy in our social systems?
On the evening of April 10, 1993 Mandela reached out to the whole country with these words: “We must not let men who worship war, and who lust after blood, precipitate actions that will plunge our country into another Angola.”
This was after Chris Hani was murdered in cold blood. Marikana has taken us back to that period of grief and anger that tears us apart. Where are the voices that will speak as Mandela did on that fateful night? It is tempting and too easy for us to pat one another on the back and be impressed with our writings and speeches. It’s too easy to feel that we are being active citizens just because we write an article in the paper or call a radio station.
Yet our freedom was not won just because of what we said, it was won by what we chose to do. Those who threaten our freedom do so not just with their voices but with their actions.
Just as freedom fighters were known not just for what they said but for what they did, surely an active citizen is known for more than just what he or she says?
The hope we have in the future of this country, our optimism and drive to see it fulfilled, is tempered by the reality of the society fast crumbling around us. Many of us are ready and have started claiming our citizenship and exercising our activism, yet the efforts of scattered individuals, no matter how gallant, cannot face up to the overwhelming task of uprooting deeply embedded rot and darkness.
Political leadership and political movements have failed us; not only have they failed us, but in many instances they stand in opposition to cherished ideals handed down to us by the generation of Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo, among others.
How, then, shall we claim back our safe dialogue spaces?
How shall we exercise our active citizenship? How shall we take our nation back in the absence of political leaders and movements that can organise us and inspire us? How shall we reach out to one another from opposite sides of the lines that divide us? What shall we say is our organising construct and what shall be our manifesto?
How do we move from the theory of active citizenship to the practice of it?
Tshabalala is a business strategist
Source: Independent Online

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