Hope is what we can’t surrender, writes Lindiwe Sisulu
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The past two weeks have found us on the road, doing the pre-election door to door in the Eastern Cape. Usually, campaigning is an exciting exercise, spending more time on the ground with our people than normal, listening and learning, taking a welcome break from the never-ending, technical pressure of ministerial business that always takes up more hours of the day than one would like.
It is also a reality check. It forces one to see those lofty policies and fulsome promises so brilliant on paper through the eyes of those whom politics so often takes for granted.
So, I walked the dusty streets with the people, go where they asked me to go, to gain experience and see the conditions that define life for them. We make our way past dumps of refuse not removed for weeks behind the houses and the shacks, and one sees the raw sewage coagulating by the side of the street.
I talked to fathers and mothers who are wretched because they have no jobs, cannot feed or properly clothe their children. I talked to young people who are angry because they have neither jobs nor prospects. We do have some of the best policies anyone can think of. However, they mean absolutely nothing if they are not purposefully, vigorously, and consistently implemented to make a real difference in the lives of those left farthest behind.
In these places, one can see that the widespread belief that the coronavirus is "the great equaliser" is truly a myth and a cruel one at that. The consequences of our horrifically unequal society, and hence unequal access to basics of health care, education, jobs, and opportunities, are mercilessly revealed and exacerbated by the virus, and the devastations here are clearly for all to see. We are truly not all "on the same boat."
The few are on luxury yachts, and the rest are on leaky little dinghies. The studies done over the past year about Covid-19 make for unsettling reading, and I, for one, take them very seriously indeed. The faces I see around me are the naked faces of generational impoverishment, generational neglect, and apartheid rampant and unconquered.
When we talk, the seriousness of their situation is not glossed over. They demand accountability. Doing this cannot be a public relations stunt, in which smiles at the camera capture us as caring. They demand responsive, decisive and responsible leadership, saturated in care. Yet, despite all this, they welcome me with open arms. They sing and dance as we walk. They make me feel at home and loved. Why though? Because they tell me, my presence gives them hope.
We, politicians, have to be careful how and when we use the word hope. Far too easily, we use it as a sop to people who are in really hopeless situations. We think hope lies in glib talk and in promises we make without meaning any of it and no intention to fulfil them. Or we confuse hope with a kind of mindless, blind optimism, which we exchange for vision and resolve. It leaves people misguided, misled, and disempowered.
It also breeds a deep mistrust, not just in politicians, but in politics, as a vessel for building a truly open, democratic, inclusive society. It engenders mistrust in our very democratic institutions that encourage people to withdraw from the democratic process altogether.
That is the kind of politics that reflects ANC traditions. I listened closely when someone reminded me of the way African Church Father St Augustine spoke of hope. Hope, St Augustine said, is a mother with two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage. Anger because of the way things are, and we have allowed them to become, and having the courage to do everything in one's power to change them, to create a better, more just society. That is the kind of hope I believe in. The anger about injustices and inequalities that wreck the lives of our people and the anger channelled through my responsibilities and abilities to do the things that really matter and bring real change to people's lives.
It is also the kind of hope I saw in these past weeks, there in the dusty streets of our townships and informal settlements of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. There was a smell of decay in the air because of unremoved refuse, stinking sewage, and undrinkable water. But remarkably, there was no smell of decaying hope.
And one has to be there, among the people, walking where they walk as well as walking their walk of hope and undefeated longings for justice to understand this. Despite the dust and the difficulties, our people exhibited a nobility that no one, and nothing, over all these many decades and centuries, have been able to take away from them.
We, South Africans, are ancient people who come from the first dawn of humankind. We were overrun by European imperialist powers mightier than we; assaulted and disempowered by the forces of colonialism and white supremacy, we were left, bereft of our land, stripped of our rights, denuded of our freedom, but not of our dignity, our longings for justice and freedom, our determination to fight for our liberation.
For decades, the African National Congress was the embodiment of that nobility that so marked our people, their struggles, their resilience, their fortitude, and their victories against such tremendous odds. It is superbly reflected in the words of the Freedom Charter.
Not only is every word of the Freedom Charter a devastating critique of all the suppositions of apartheid, but it is also an amazing encapsulation of the highest ideals for legitimate, representative government in a non-racial, responsive and inclusive democracy where the government and the governed are accountable to, and responsible for each other and the welfare of the whole community. It is a most credible example of what it means when power placed in the hands of the people makes of them the bearers of dignity in the struggle to shape their own destiny.
Despite the ways in which, let's be honest, the ANC has recently strayed from this path indicated by its own history, the ANC nonetheless remains the only political formation that is historically so firmly rooted in these indispensable principles. That those principles are resolutely clung to and remain the determination of ordinary members of the ANC can be seen in the conference resolutions of the past few years.
Those resolutions were warmly embraced by the people who love and support the organisation. That a defocused leadership undermined those resolutions or refused to carry them out cannot be the fault of the millions who love this organisation and who have time and time again trusted it with their vote. Those resolutions reflect the will of our people. I, for one, am determined to see to it that that is followed through and every single one of those resolutions are implemented. We owe that to our people and to the country as a whole.
We cannot be an organisation for whom the whims of a few override the will of the people and the interests of the country as a whole. For too many, inside and outside the ANC, winning elections means only that they gain the power to rule. For a growing number of us within the organisation, it is clear that winning elections means the power to authenticate the power of the people who have given us the opportunity to bring genuine and lasting transformation in society and to their lives.
For us, having power means setting priorities that respect the people's sacrifices, hopes and dreams, and honouring the significance of their agency. Those of us in the ANC who think this way far outnumber those who have captured our organisation from within and are bending to the desires of interests of forces who do not share our history, nor our suffering to get where we are today, nor our hopes for the future.
But talking about hope means nothing if that hope cannot be translated into policies and those policies into tangible ways of transforming people's lives. Hope is standing up and being counted when it matters. Hope is recognising the historic moment for what it is and the opportunities it offers. This election is such a moment.
Hope is an African woman with two daughters named Anger and Courage. Hope is taking those two by the hand and restoring our organisation to the heart of the people who have always loved it and pride and dignity to the country we all love so much.
The people's hope then inspires us to rise to confront the challenges that keep terrorising South Africa 27 years later. Challenges of crippling unemployment, devastating inequality and abject poverty. Hope, therefore, compels us to do something tangible and real, to identify the true shackles of enslavement, to in sobered sense reflect on how we should restructure this economy and make the policy of localisation in a measurable and monitored sense count.
To rethink our current limitations of and disconnect in education and what the economy needs in Mhlontlo, Nkangala, Rietbron, Ezibeleni, Phoenix and Khayelitsha. To underscore entrepreneurship, enterprise development and the skilling of the masses in innovative tools includes Sada, Kwanyamazane, Lusikisiki, Vryburg and Lenyenye. Ours must be to craft new models of funding entrepreneurs and to build new business with an African ethic, sensitive to posterity that reverberates in Phutaditjhaba, Tembisa, Thokoza, Mogwase, Msinga and Garsfontein, Paarl and Mamelodi.
Hope to make our people's dreams count. Hope to raise sustainable vegetable gardens, develop farmers, and unlock new local and inter-Africa and global markets. To allow our youth in both urban and peri-urban settings to explore what beneficiation of SA's mineral deposits really should mean. Hope that sees schools turned into learning centres and curricula restructured aligned to the challenges a South African economy faces.
Hope then necessitates action, and that action is understood in more than a demand for change in what we have come to know as business as usual. Hope therefore dispels any fear, for their welcoming eyes and singing warrants an unequivocal response that confirms we take them serious and serious enough to ensure our readiness to answer the call.
We are resilient people. Our nobility does not lie in the fallacies of race and the illusions of skin colour, but in our ability to, despite the onslaughts, despite genocide and decimation, despite land theft and ecological destruction shattering our intimate, symbiotic relationship with Mother Earth and creation all around us, rise again, resist, reassert our humanity, reclaim our sense of belonging; rekindle our hopes and our future.
It is in this that our nobility lies: in our reservoirs of audacious hope, in our capacity to reclaim, time and time again, despite atrocity after atrocity, our humanity; in our willingness to share our humanity with others, in our intuitive desire to give, as Steve Biko said, the world a human face.
Mine is to humble myself and plead to all South Africans, especially those who know where we come from, not to forsake the ANC.
Lindiwe Sisulu is an ANC NEC, NWC Member, she writes in her personal capacity.