“Biko sacrificed his life for the nation… Robert Sobukwe sacrificed his life for the nation … Jacob Zuma sacrificed the nation for his life!”
This comment by Khayelitsha resident and Right2Know supporter Sibusiso Xabangela was met by an outburst of agreement from around 400 people packed into the Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square, Thursday evening. It was a moment which seemed to capture the collective disillusionment which the speakers and their audience had shared over the course of an hour and a half of discussion.
The event condemned the ANC’s and the state’s actions in parliament last week during the State of the Nation Address (SONA). The jamming of cellphone signals in the chamber prior to Zuma’s address and the violent removal of Economic Freedom Fighters’ MPs by police officers was the main focus. The ANC were bemoaned for rolling back on Constitutional freedoms and democratic principles in a number of ways.
Playwright and activist Mike van Graan took the government’s and the ANC’s intimidation of artists like Brett Murray, creator of The Spear, as a tactic which fosters self-censorship in the arts.
“The freedom fought for and enshrined in our Constitution is contradicted by the very people who remind us that it was they who fought for our freedom. They practice a [Mugabe-ist doctrine] in reminding us that they can also take [our freedom] away,” he said.
The people of South Africa don’t want police in Parliament, declared Phumeza Mlungwana, Social Justice Coalition general secretary. “We want them in the streets of Khayelitsha and Manenberg to ensure that we are safe!”
With reference to a recent advertisement by KwaZulu Natal Department of Human Settlements seeking a private contractor to monitor and prevent “land invasions”, the United Front’s Mazibuko Jara compared the ANC-run state to the apartheid state.
“It is the department’s duty to provide housing, not to monitor the poor’s struggle for land. But, the needs of poor people for land has been turned into a question of security, much like the struggle for freedom was turned into a security issue by the apartheid state.”
Jane Duncan, academic and author of the recent book The Rise of the Securocrats, sketched how the work of an increasingly centralised, secretive and powerful security cluster was being geared away from protecting citizens, towards “protecting the president from the people”.
“The State Security Agency has developed warped priorities. What does it do about the assassinations of political activists in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal? Yet, it has time enough to install cell phone jammers in Parliament,” she said, before turning her scrutiny on herself and the South African public at large.
“[The turning of the security cluster against the people] has happened because we have allowed it to happen.”
The overwhelming theme on Thursday night was not the public’s failure to hold an elite to account, but the will to “take parliament back” as a space created by the struggle for freedom of ordinary citizens against apartheid — a “people’s parliament”.
Missing in person, but not in spirit, was the late South African author, R2K supporter and “advocate of truth and transparency” André Brink. Shireen Mukadam paid tribute to him by quoting a passage from one of his seminal works, A Dry White Season. It reminded the gathered activists of one of Brink’s enduring lessons to South Africans, that there are two dangers in life, the assumption that we can do everything and, the assumption that we can do nothing.
Juliet Plaatjies, a Social Justice Coalition member from Khayelitsha, joins in singing struggle songs at the Right2Know campaign’s mass meeting in the CBD. Picture by Daneel Knoetze.