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#changethestory: The exploited must resist repression

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photographer: Ayanda Ndamane/African news agency/ANA

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photographer: Ayanda Ndamane/African news agency/ANA

Published Jul 14, 2020


South Africa is in the midst of a perfect storm. We have a devastating rise in virus infections and deaths. A rise in unemployment.

A devastated business sector, trying to rise from the ashes. A rise in gender-based violence. A rise in xenophobia. A rise in human-rights violations by the organs of state. A rise in poverty and hunger. And an ill-equipped public service to cope with these multiple challenges.

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On April 27, in celebration of our 26th year of democracy, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged the nation to use this crisis to build a new consciousness, a new economy, and a new society. Everything we have seen to date has revealed the alarming fragility of our democracy.

Our self-enriching politicians are an angering anomaly in the light of the hunger of our people. Our apartheid-style law enforcement services are out of touch with the pain of our people. Their six months of training is hopelessly inadequate to prepare them for the complex constitutional and human-rights mandates they are expected to carry out.

Our civil servants are caught in a vortex of uneasy compromise, as they are expected to carry out duties with loyalty while knowing some of those duties to be damaging to our people’s well-being. We face the risk that the political opportunists on multiple sides of the democratic project will use this moment of vulnerability to advance their positions, entrench their divisive narratives, and exploit the fears and vulnerabilities of our people. This is how elections are won, but democracies are lost.

The president’s call for a new economy, a new consciousness and a new society is at risk.

It is especially at risk from within his own party, as well as from that faction of our political establishment who want nothing more than for the democratic project to fail and for anarchy and apartheid to resurface on this tortured land.

With surging numbers among the unemployed, this is fertile ground for populists to appear as angels of light.

The threat that the president - and our nation’s premiers and mayors - faces is that certain ministers, MECs and councillors have equated protecting the country from Covid-19 as a platform to advance repression.

Civil-society groups have raised the alarm on how the disaster regulations are being used to extend oppressive practices.

In a few of these matters courts have ruled against these oppressive practices, but it appears that the agents of state double their efforts after that, with no regard for existing court rulings.

It is essential, in the light of these developments, that a robust civil-society movement arises to lead on the demands for a new economy, a new consciousness and a new society.

We, the people, must stand up against those who exploit people’s sufferings for their own divisive political agendas.

We must call out the rise in state oppression at municipal, provincial and national levels.

We must call out xenophobia, racism and gender-based violence.

Everything we see in South Africa at present is opposed to that new economy, new consciousness and new society emerging.

The president must surely know that his detractors want this current crisis to bring South Africa to its knees. Leaders from across the political-party spectrum, academia, business and civil-society activists must realise this danger to our democracy and rally together as a multi-sense-making leadership collective to work to make that new consciousness, new economy and new society a reality.

Perhaps on April 27 next year in our 27th year of democracy, we will have emerged from this new "Codesa dialogue" to ensure for our people the country of their dreams - premised on a new economy, new consciousness and new society.

A hungry, tired and exploited people must stand collectively to resist this rise in repression. It is the only weapon we have to build this new society. It has always been our only weapon.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest. 

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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