Professor Saths Cooper
As we leave behind a tense March with two holidays – Monday 20th largely proclaimed by the EFF, and Tuesday 21st when the historic 1960 Sharpeville Massacre was commemorated, uniquely celebrated by our democracy as Human Rights Day – we enter a major holiday period.
Besides the holiest Christian Easter weekend, we have the long Freedom to Workers Days weekend special. The holiest Muslim Ramadaan is under way, and this month will witness the Jewish Passover, and various Indian language New Year days being observed. This is a period for reflection, when we should try to make sense of the social uncertainty and economic insecurity that engulfs us, often seeming to be almost insurmountable.
If we agree with Napoleon that “History is a set of lies agreed upon” then we may wish to ponder his observation that “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich” as we commune with and invoke the blessings of whichever maker we beseech to save us from another bleak autumn. The realisation that we have strayed far away from being our brothers and sisters keepers, let alone denying our children in so many ways, will hopefully stir our dimming consciences into acting beyond any ISM – I, Self, Me – and doing for the common good, away from the nauseating preoccupation with oneself.
The one certainty we know as we end 28 years of democracy is that the political drums of empty promises will again pound into our very being, assailing our minds and dulling our senses. The names of our struggle icons will continue to be abused, without the abusers recognising that the liberation dividend – which is conveniently trotted out like another mindless slogan – has been severely diluted.
Many young people – the growing majority in South Africa – simply shy away from any mention of a yesteryear of struggle that seems not to have benefited them, with which they are alarmingly become more alienated from. Little historic connection is made in the classroom for progress in our society, which is certainly not apparent outside the classroom, where we are becoming used to degradation, dysfunction and discontent. Indeed, some even view the liberation era as part of the problem, which can only be solved by cancelling out this important period of our painful history.
Yes, perhaps thousands sacrificed with their lives! So what? When mine is a grinding existence of constant want, need and dependency, with little expectation of my lot changing, save for paltry handouts, which shame my integrity, pride and dignity. They may have died, they may have suffered, they may have sacrificed, but they have left me homeless, in dire poverty, hopelessly uneducated and dependent in the land of my birth. All the while, talk of land, bread, jobs have become an ever-present refrain, without any melody that always seems to accompany the rich and those close to them, but escape me.
When will it be about us, with us and for all of us? That was what the liberation struggle was about, wasn’t it? The liberation struggle was not about me, and those of my choosing only. It was about all of us, black and white, rural and urban, those with means and especially those without means. Together, taking all of us forward, not leaving behind the mass of our people to fend for themselves while merely the few benefit, and lord it over the rest of us. As a personal right, replacing the narrow white entitlement of apartheid with what appears to be a national licence to do what one pleases, with little worry about the consequences. The very laws are seen not to apply to all, with those patently guilty breaking every rule to defy accountability.
The liberation dividend has been squandered, rendering service and selflessness as swear words, to be avoided at all costs. These costs are suffered by the majority in their isolation and exclusion.
Yet, amidst the doom and gloom, young people are again raising their voices and hands to be counted in pursuit of redeeming what a few of us have recklessly frittered away. A new sense of claiming agency, refusing to be mere voting sheep, is what many youthful and forward-looking groups in our fractured society are committed to reclaim. They understand that in our muddled and conflicted politics at local, provincial and national levels, it is frighteningly the mediocre, the mind-numbing, the underwhelming, the instantly-forgettable (save when a few utter a one-liner that means so many different things to so many people) who stay the course.
Our political system – created to facilitate democracy – has now become an encumbrance that needs to be drastically overhauled to meet the needs of primarily young people in a digital/technological era in the third decade of the 21st century. That the imprisoning politics where a few continue to control the vast majority and rich abundance of the country – not for the betterment of the greater majority but for self-serving personal aggrandisement – has to be rejuvenated and reimagined for all our sakes.
As they did on 21 March 1960, and as they did on 16 June 1976, our youth are girding for their rightful role in saving us from ourselves. For country and future, not recreating the nightmares of our past. In this quest to reclaim our common humanity, our youth deserve our support.
** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.