It is hard not to be impressed watching on television and now reading the speech of Dr Mamphela Ramphele at Agang’s launch.
How much weight to we place on a speech?
At the same time, one cannot build one’s hopes on speeches. Many of us remember ‘yes we can!’ in the Obama inaugural and feel very disappointed in his sanctioning or condoning Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, murders through high technology, in such numbers that the killers do not even know who their targets are, and in fact we know that a lot of these are children and other civilians.
So a speech is not everything. I think Govan Mbeki once said that a speech blows away with the wind. In this case, however, we have it on the Internet and can read it. But what is true is that a speech has to be translated into meaningful actions and organisation.
Destroying the dream
But the Ramphele speech has a lot of content that shakes one up in the sense that critical as many of us have been, upset as many of us have been about the hijacking of what was dreamt for in the liberation struggle. We have not always articulated the full dimensions of what has happened, in the way that this speech achieves.
Clearly there was not one dream nor was there one vision, but insofar as we may take the constitution as embodying some consensus over what was hoped for, we can assess the extent to which it has been undermined and its cherished freedoms spat on
Ramphele speaks of a journey and I like the notion that we are involved in a process, a process that has got stalled in the mire of corruption and violence. That journey has to be resumed and it is a journey to reignite the hopes that were cherished 20 years ago. It may be that 2014 is only a minor part of that journey and that if many of us do decide to vote for Agang, it will still only make a small dent in the electoral landscape. But a journey is not restricted to voting for elections, if it is to be part of a movement for change, a movement to draw on what was honourable and what filled us with pride in the past to empower us, in breaking the stranglehold of present-day corruption and building the future.
We may not be able to immediately break the hold on power and wealth that the current clique who rule in our name now have at this time, but we need to be clear that what has been done and what has not been done, has ruined the life prospects of very, very many of our citizens. I therefore agree with Ramphele that we should ‘honour the sacrifices of the struggle and take inspiration from the achievements of the past.’ But since the founding values of the democratic SA have been undermined it is necessary ‘to restore integrity to public life and pride to public service. To restore the trust between citizens and their leaders.’
Restoring power to the people is complex
Agang, Ramphele says, believes in restoring power to the people’ and a government that ‘listens to the people and is accountable to the people.’ I agree with that, though I believe that the modalities for restoring power to the people and listening to the people require discussion that may go beyond what is involved in constitutional mechanisms and that, as she knows from her own efforts in community work, may also involve self-empowerment outside of constitutional structures, albeit in no way conflicting with the law and the constitution.
An honourable struggle past, followed by 20 years of shame.
While honouring the past, where very many made sacrifices to create a democratic SA possible, we need to move away from the past 20 years of shame and in Ramphele’s words ‘vote for the future, not the past.’ We have come nowhere near reaching what was possible. People have been waiting and waiting. Ramphele says
‘There are others who may say be patient. Change is coming. The full promise of our nation is just around the corner. But in our hearts, a voice says, no. After nearly 20 years the country’s leaders have failed to deliver on the promise of freedom that so many of my generation fought and died for.’
‘20 years is too long to wait for jobs, quality education, health care and safe and secure places to live. 20 years is too long to still have millions living in poverty.’
We are at a crossroads
We are at a crossroads. How much worse will it be if there is not a change of course?
‘Imagine 5 more years of corruption.
‘Imagine 5 more years of young people being lost from the education system and the economy.
‘5 more years of people entering the workforce but not having jobs.
‘5 more years of non-functioning hospitals and clinics
‘Imagine 5 more years of living in fear of crime.’
The ills of South Africa are the results of human beings in leadership
The message that is all too often forgotten is that most of these ills are not a result of laws of history but made by the actions or inaction of human beings, currently ruling our country.
‘Corruption is at the heart of the problems of our country Corruption and a culture of impunity have spread throughout government and society stealing textbooks from classrooms, stealing drugs from those living with HIV and stealing thousands of jobs and billions of rands of investment….
Corruption and waste is costing billions. The Auditor General’s report identifies R33billion that was misspent or wasted in the 2011/2012 year.
‘Imagine how many thousands of teachers and police officers that would pay for? Government officials are stealing millions of rands for themselves and their families, paid for by you and I and yet there is no accountability. It is staggering that those found guilty of corruption are allowed to take another job in government. People know a thief when they see one. They know when they are being abused.’
Current leaders think they are beyond the law
What type of leadership do we have and what is required? ‘The leaders of this current government … seem to think they are beyond the reach of the law. They abuse the trust of the citizens who elected them. One by one they have systematically attacked the very foundations of our constitutional democracy: the judicial system, the freedom of the press, accountability of government and the human rights of all citizens.
‘The arrogance is breathtaking: to steal, to act with such brazen impunity and to abuse the resources of the state for the enrichment of a party, themselves and their friends. The Arms Deal, Nkandla, the Guptas, the list of these abuses goes on and on.
‘These are not the leaders our country deserves. Who steal from their own in broad daylight. Who wound our country’s spirit with the language of hate, of fear and of anger.
‘Who threaten to take away grants and RDP houses if you don’t vote for them. But there are even more serious charges.’
‘At least 1 in 4 citizens is unemployed and more than half of young people are out of work. We have one of the highest rates of crime anywhere in the world and the poorest communities are affected the worst. We have created lost generations who left their education without the skills to find work. And we have mothers and children dying in childbirth at an unforgivable rate. This is a scandal given our country’s level of development.
We are not dealing with bumps in the road or inevitable delays
Ramphele returns to the notion that we are dealing with obstacles that face all states in transition. ‘Let us be clear. These are not just bumps on the road to a better future. This government is destroying our economy and our society. These are not inevitable pains of a transitional period. They are a betrayal of the founding principles of our democracy. A betrayal of what our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers fought and died for.
‘Millions of our fellow citizens are still living like forgotten people and yet this government seems blind to their suffering and despair.’
This government, Ramphele says, has run its course. ‘It is time to bring down the curtain on this shameful period of our history.’
Constituency based elections
The Agang emphasis on constituency based elections is then advanced, though in my view, history has not shown that this is a reliable way of ensuring accessibility and accountability of politicians to the people who elect them. But that is a minor element of the programme advanced and variants on that system of elections need to be discussed. Referring to accountability Ramphele says
Accountability starts with President
‘Accountability begins with the President. We deserve to have a President who knows that it is wrong to steal money for RDP houses to build himself a R 206 million palace.
‘Increasing accountability must go hand in hand with a war on corruption and waste. Good governance and accountability can tackle corruption. We have a right to know what kind of business is being done between officials, their families and the government.
‘8000 public servants in the Eastern Cape have been doing business with the Department of Health and rendering it bankrupt and putting the lives of those who live with HIV and diabetes at risk.
‘None of these officials have been arrested yet. How can they be arrested when the President himself says there is nothing wrong with government employees doing business with the government?
‘We must have a government with zero tolerance for corrupt, unethical officials who abuse the trust of the public. We will ban government officials and their families from doing business with the state. And we will protect whistleblowers and train officials in the proud traditions of professional public service.’
Referring to education specifically, Ramphele says Agang would ‘raise the pass mark to 50%, training talented teachers and create thousands more teaching posts, attracting unemployed graduates.’
This is clearly not utopian and all those who want a better life for all need to consider whether Agang alone or together with others can contribute to realising such urgent tasks.
Professional public service
Referring to the police and healthcare, Ramphele stressed professionalism and values of the constitution. Ramphele emphasised a ‘professional police service that has zero tolerance for brutality and one that inspires pride amongst its ranks.’ We also need to ‘restore dedicated ethical professionalism to our health care system so it can serve the public effectively and efficiently
Change is possible
There is no doubt that change is possible, but it may take a lot of time and effort, well beyond the 2014 elections. Certainly, the launch of Agang may well make an important contribution to rekindling some of the hopes that were cherished 20 years ago.