by Ayanda Kota, Mail & Guardian
On April 27 1994 the people of this country
stood in long queues for many hours, waiting to cast their vote for the
first time. In some parts of the country the weather was hostile,
freezing cold, while in other parts it was scorching hot.
Our people were voting for the first time, voting for an end to racism
and for democracy and a better life -- for jobs, free education and
decent housing. Over and above their vote for their material needs to be
met, they were voting for their freedom. Or so they were made to
The rays of that sunrise were breaking through the dark storm clouds.
The first beams of the new sun were making their way through the clouds
into the new blue sky. After centuries of oppression, hope was
rekindled; a new nation, a rainbow nation, was born. Or so we were made
I remember watching the proceedings on television. I saw Archbishop
Desmond Tutu casting his vote. The great man jumped for joy and said:
"Free at last! Free at last!" Freedom is the ability of the people not
to be oppressed and to be able to determine their own future
collectively and by their own wills. Freedom is the realisation of the
will of the people. When there is freedom, the government is for the
people and by the people, because the people govern themselves. Freedom
is the ability of the people to determine their own destiny. Freedom is
When there is freedom the people do not have to beg the government to
recognise them as important. When there is freedom, people are free from
hunger, poverty, disease, homelessness and the inability to meet basic
needs. Justice, peace, dignity and access to the country's wealth are
central to freedom.
Freedom means that people must come first. It means people before
profit. It means people before the big transnational corporations. It
means that the people's sovereignty and rights have been restored.
Freedom does not mean that the people vote for a few politicians to take
their friends and relatives and join the old white capitalists as they
feast off the devastation of the people behind high walls. Freedom does
not mean police officers who shoot and kill us. Freedom does not mean
that our so-called leaders become managers of capital, running the
country and disciplining the people on behalf of capital.
Freedom does not mean that politicians become little gods. Freedom is
not the rule of experts in civil society. Freedom is not the rule of the
police. In a free country it is the voice of the citizens that matters
the most. If South Africa were free, the voice of every South African
and of every community would matter equally. Until everyone's voice
counts equally, we cannot say that we are free.
Against the nightmare
After 17 years of democracy, our townships are broken. All you see are
drunk men and women walking aimlessly like zombies, their bloodstreams
flowing with cheap alcohol. This is how we drug ourselves against the
nightmare of a democracy that is really neo-apartheid and not
post-apartheid. This is how we drug ourselves against a society that has
no respect for us, no place for us and no future for us.
In the Eastern Cape they drink umtshovalale. In KwaZulu-Natal they drink isiqatha. In Gauteng they drink gavani.
In the Western Cape they drink spirits. This alcohol has a hazardous
effect. My people, young and old, have been silently taken to their
graves because of the effects of alcohol. We are poisoning ourselves to
drug ourselves against the horror of our lives. Throughout South Africa,
young people smoke antiretroviral drugs. It is a well-known thing. We
live below the poverty line and we have completely lost hope.
South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. The gap between
the rich and the poor is vast -- and it is growing. The unemployment
rate is high, above 40%. Poverty rates are skyrocketing. In a place such
as Alice in the Eastern Cape, residents drink unsafe water. At times
there is no water at all. In Grahamstown we continue to use the bucket
system to shit.
All around South Africa there are crumbling RDP houses and
municipalities are falling under the strain of corruption, while Jacob
Zuma's family -- his wives, children and relatives -- are becoming
billionaires. Sicelo Shiceka spent R640 000 in one year on rooms for
himself and his staff at the One&Only hotel in Cape Town, flew to
Switzerland first-class to visit an ex-girlfriend in jail and hired a
limousine to drive him to the prison.
What kind of politician lives like this while the people are suffering
as we are? What kind of politician lives like this while South Africa
has become "the protest capital of the world", with one of the highest
rates of public protest in the world?
Shiceka is a predator and not a liberator. He is not the only one. In
2010 Eskom announced its decision to increase electricity tariffs by
35%, assaulting the unemployed and the poor while the ANC company,
Chancellor House, rips the profit from the shaking hands of the people.
Very soon the coffers of this country will run dry and we will be asked
to give even more to the ANC, to Chancellor House and the Zuma family.
The way they are looting our resources is beyond imagination. The way
that they have privatised the struggle of the people is incredible.
We are a bleeding nation. All the power that belongs to us has been
centralised in the control of the ruling elite. We are not consulted on
the model of the RDP house that must be built. They decide for us. The
Integrated Development Plan (IDP) meetings are a platform to manage us.
There is no veracity. They choose those who must represent us in local
chambers and then parade them as our leaders. When we ask to speak to
these leaders, they call the police. We have no power. We have no voice.
We have no freedom to celebrate. We live in a radically unjust society.
We are oppressed.
The ANC tries to control the people with its police, social grants and
rallies with celebrities and musicians. The ANC tries to drug us against
their betrayal by keeping us drunk on memories of the struggle -- the
same struggle that they have betrayed. But everywhere the ANC is losing
control. Protest is spreading everywhere. Everywhere people are
boycotting elections and running independent candidates. Everywhere
people are organising themselves into their own autonomous groups and
As Mostafa Omara wrote about the Egyptian revolution: "People in Egypt
will tell you: 'Gone are the days when we felt helpless and little; gone
are the days when the police could humiliate us and torture us; gone
are the times when the rich and the businessmen thought they could run
the country as if it were their own private company.'"
In South Africa we long for the same feeling. But revolutions do not
spring from nothing. Revolutions come through the united action of men
and women, rural and urban -- action that springs from their needs.
Revolutions happen when ordinary men and women begin to take action to
seize control of their own lives.
The rebellion of the poor in this country is growing. More and more
organisations are emerging. More and more people have become
radicalised. More and more communities have lost their illusions after
experiencing the violence of the predator state. More and more people
are starting and joining discussions about the way forward for the
struggle to take the country back.
We need to move forward with more determination, working all the time to
build and to unite our struggles. As we connect our struggles, from
Ficksburg to Grahamstown, from Cape Town to Johannesburg and Durban, we
are, slowly but steadily, building a new mass movement. We are building a
network of struggles in living solidarity with one another.