Remembering Nokutela Dube: time to implement the Freedom Charter
By Ntombi Magwaza-Mtembu
Today, January 25, 2021, marks 104 years since the departure from the land of the living of Ms Nokutelela Dube (neé Mdima). She lies buried and forgotten at Brixton Cemetery in her sprawling adopted city, Johannesburg – built on the carcass of black African cheap labour.
Her resting place, an unmarked grave for decades, had no headstone – just a reference number, CK9753 – the CK standing for "Christian K***r" (a racist term for a black person, widely used at the time). Some of the prominent figures that attended her funeral service over a century ago, were ANC’s founding secretary-general, Pixley ka-Isaka Seme, a leading public figure and revered intellectual. Her story, just like many other prominent women that played a role in the attainment of our negotiated settlement and ‘94 democratic breakthrough, is a painful one. She nary receives national recognition nor public sites named in her honour.
Ms Dube was a face and symbol of our struggle for national liberation and people’s power during her days. And she played an immeasurable role in the formation and building of the SA Native National Congress (SANNC), today’s African National Congress (ANC). She is the rightful bearer of the respectful title of “Mother of the Nation”.
In 2017, South Africa’s than president Jacob Zuma posthumously awarded her the Order of Baobab to mark the centenary of her death.
Dube is credited for founding uHlange Institute in Inanda, outside Durban. For over a century now, uHlange has produced a number of luminaries, now playing key roles in various sphere of our society and country at large, notable figures such as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; Baleka Mbete and countless others. Those who are ardent readers of history will recall that uHlange is where our first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela cast his vote in 1994. His voting at this memorable place invoked some forgotten faces and voices in our protracted journey to our new order, such as Dube.
Even president Mandela only used the occasion to recognise president Dube, since it was also a golden opportunity to pay homage to this colossal heroine of our Struggle, Ms Dube. This would have gone down in history as a befitting tribute to South Africa’s women, both departed and living, who played a role as architects of our nascent democracy.
As we remember our “Mother of the Nation”, Ms Dube, it’s important to reflect on the deep-seated and persisting challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment facing the majority of our people, especially women and youth, who are at the receding end. This is evidenced by the growing decline of the ANC’s electoral support in major urban areas of our country, and with former bantustan or homelands areas, being areas carrying the biggest chunk of voter turnout for the governing party.
Some of the leading analysts or public intellectuals correctly attribute the ANC’s electoral fortunes in rural areas, especially in provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga to those associated with social grants that have become a source of survival given the startling reality of these areas being non-economic drivers and distressed, thus making the ANC, a rural party, far detached from its historical character, as a multi-class formation.
As a country we are ranked amongst the most unequal societies in the world, alongside Brazil and other countries. Undeniably, we are the most advanced and industrialised economy on our continent – Africa – and we suffer from extremely high levels of unemployment, trapping millions in poverty and contributing to stark inequalities that persist more than two decades after the end of apartheid in 1994. This is partly due to the wrong policy choices we have been championing as dictated by neoliberal embedded rating agencies; the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
It is within this context that the ANC correctly understands the urgency and need to fundamentally alter the economy in the interest of the black African majority as a deliberate programme to build a truly non-racial, democratic and prosperous South Africa. It is by not accident that in 1969 it made the following affirmation to the people of South Africa: “We do not understand the complexities which will face a people's government during the transformation period nor the enormity of the problems of meeting economic needs of the mass of the oppressed people. But one thing is certain – in our land this cannot be effectively tackled unless the basic wealth and the basic resources are at the disposal of the people as a whole and are not manipulated by sections or individuals be they white or black.”
Since our ascendency to power in 1994, and successive electoral mandates from the overwhelming majority of South Africans, it is becoming apparent that our people, especially working class women and youth, have lost patience. These two social groupings are the most affected by poverty and unemployment. The unemployment figures and poverty statistics paint a scary picture. And as such it requires the ANC to look deeper on its policies and political programme it has championed over the years. The face of poverty in South Africa largely remains black, whilst economic power remains white. This is in tandem with president Thabo Mbeki’s Two Nation Thesis he spoke about in 2003. The opulent Sandton’s wretched backyard, Alexandra township, is a classics point of reference.
The growing voices from below for the radical and full implementation of the Freedom Charter are daily gaining credence amongst ordinary South Africans. It is precisely the conditions our people find themselves in 26 years into our democracy which require not only a change of heart amongst our elected leaders, but a decisive policy shift as a way of addressing the persisting challenges of underdevelopment, racialised poverty; inequality and an escalating high unemployment rate. If one looks carefully, the economic demands of the Freedom Charter have not been implemented to restore dignity to the previously oppressed and excluded black majority.
In honour and memory of Ms Dube, it is key for the ANC to embrace these growing voices and act in their interest in order to fully realise the aspirations of our people, consistent with our overall strategic goals of building a “Better Life for All”. The full implementation of the Freedom Charter is the best way of honouring successive generations that played an important role in the Struggle.
For our people, especially women and youth, who are consigned to the bottom margins of our economy, true freedom and democracy will only be meaningful if they are fully empowered economically and otherwise!
* Ntombi Magwaza-Mtembu is a Harry Gwala Foundation Board member and social activist.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL