Members of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and other progressive and pro-poor civil society organisations held a placard demonstration outside Parliament before the swearing-in of members of Parliament earlier this year. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)
On October 13, 2017 the author Sandile Dikeni wrote a brilliant column in the Cape Times titled “Heyta DA, bring back fond memories”.

I remember meeting Sandile at Wits University in 1984 where he was already a prolific poet. “Heyta da” is how he always greeted us. His Karoo fusion oratory brilliance of Xhosa, Afrikaans and English made him a man we all enjoyed listening to.

Discussions in residence rooms about religion and politics and country shaped us all.

As I write here, I’m paging through my photo album of my days at Wits working with an NGO and looking at photographs I have of a giant who was once a student with a broad smile. He has, through all of life’s challenges - accidents and imprisonment - remained true: a broad-smiling student of life who’s a giant guardian of the soul of our democracy.

In his 2017 column he asked his readers to consider four ideas worth remembering:

1. “I am requesting we remain awake. It’s not the cruelties of the new state that I’m awakening our minds to, but the lazy docility of a complacent mind.”

2. “We must cultivate a society vigilant to the sleep syndrome of an artificial paradise.”

3. “There is in me a general suspicion that an over-celebration of this democracy might make us take a deep slumber in the deep couches of false consciousness.”

4. “We are aware that the many possibilities offered by the nebulous charms of sensitive living have a nastiness hidden beneath the glamorous cloth that covers it.”

His words bring to mind a quote I read a few years ago: the people who crave power are best suited to acquire and most unqualified to execute it. Nothing demonstrates this better than the daily televised disembowelling of our failure as a democracy.

One of the big differences between growing nations and stagnant states is in their citizens’ respective views of the state. In stagnant states, the state is the ultimate achievement. In growing democracies, the state is simply a conduit to ensure essential freedoms for future achievement.

We have allowed powerful people from all political walks to pull the strings and there are multitudes of people willing to be pulled. In most cases, the power of independent thought no longer exists. It’s been captured by money, access to political office, power and greed. Our democracy has on several occasions experienced the power of raw courage. In 1976 the brutality of the system matched against the deep convictions of a people. And such moments - guns against guts - is always when courage is most potent.

The bullet which killed Hector Pieterson was the same bullet which fuelled the collective and irrepressible march to a democratic ideal.

Today, such democratic ideals are again being fired upon. Truth is again being aimed at. But what is different from C76 is it’s free men and women who are firing the guns aimed at truth.

While the freedom which ’76 stood for is here today, the courage and truth that ’76 fought for is no longer here. It was killed by the same bullet that killed Hector Pieterson.

The vibrant freedom of a capable democracy can only survive when Truth and Courage are its two legs. It’s when brave men like Sandile Dikeni write to remind us we all either fire the bullets that destroy truth and kill courage, or we are the ones brave enough to stare down the guns threatening that freedom.

Daily we must choose to “cultivate a society vigilant to the sleep syndrome of an artificial paradise” or we risk “celebrating a democracy that might make us take a deep slumber in the deep couches of false consciousness”.

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

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

Cape Argus