Last Wednesday after the Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, delivered his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in parliament, I reflected on the months that have made up 2020. Those that have come to pass and the few yet to come. On my mind was how the government of South Africa has continued to fail regardless of the hope and belief citizens continue to show for it. Life for a large majority of South Africans has never been easy, many have had to contend with adversity at every turn as socio-economic freedom alludes them. Those on the receiving end of this failure continue to be Black and poor.
I thought about how doomed Black and poor South Africans have been. And remembered how since the dawn of democracy the Black and poor have been the doormats of the political and capitalist elite in this country. How far we have missed the mark and digressed from the dream of prosperity for all. As Statistics South Africa has also noted, ‘in addition to inequality levels in south Africa being extremely high, inequality remains persistent, making it a salient feature of our society’.
You see, many people that occupy positions of power, including the country’s Billionaire President have admitted on numerous occasions that the gargantuan crisis of 2020, the Corona Virus, only exacerbated existing failures and made wider the cracks to expose the shameful failures of our democratic dispensation to bring about much needed socio-economic equality. In doing so proving day in and out to citizens on the receiving end of indignity, inhumanity, and disdain that perhaps the transition was peaceful at the expense of their lives. Because in any case they die of poverty, crime, homelessness, unemployment, and a myriad of other inhumane ways.
When I talk about life threatening indignity that the Black and poor endure in this country one does not have to recall a far or dated moment. We need only to remember the Black and poor citizens of the Western Cape, who were evicted from their homes in the dead of winter and covid-19 hard lockdown restrictions this year. We can talk about the residents of Cradock, Middelburg, and Komani in the Eastern Cape, who have not had sustainable and reliable access to clean running water and sanitation for years. You might also remember the working class, the elderly and municipalities of humble background who put entire savings at VBS bank only to find out they were funding the lives of the rich and politically connected. I could never forget the people of Free State who are dying of cancer caused by their asbestos roofed homes, how those who presided over the tender process to change the roofs and those who got it opted to use the money for their personal material gains of luxury cars and fund their conspicuous lifestyles, no regard whether those the money was meant for live or die. The examples are endless.
Surely, it is better to die fighting, than to die waiting for economic freedom and service delivery. Right?
One of my favourite movies is The Dark Knight Rises (Batman). In the film Batman has arguably the most intriguing but most misunderstood villains, Bane. You see Bane earns his place as Batman’s villain because he is labelled a ‘terrorist’. But is he?
We know that whoever stands and acts against the corrupt, capitalist, and liberal political economy gets labelled a communist at best and terrorist at worst. This is where I believe the disdain for Bane lies. He takes an any means necessary position against the corrupt capitalist political economy that only serves the few at the expense of the majority and calls to action those oppressed by the corrupt capitalist system.
There is a scene in the film where Bane calls on the oppressed people of Gotham, who like the Black and poor people of South Africa, have been living a life in the shadow of the corrupt, political and capitalist elite, to take a stand and change the status quo for themselves.
“We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you... the people. Gotham is yours. None shall interfere. Do as you please. Start by storming Black gate and freeing the oppressed!
Step forward those who would serve. For an army will be raised. The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure!
Courts will be convened. Spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be shed. The police will survive, as they learn to serve true justice. This great city... it will endure. Gotham will survive!”
Yes, these sound like the words of your favourite revolutionary. You can imagine these words coming out of the mouth of Che Guevara the Argentinian Marxist leader or Fidel Castro the Cuban communist leader. It is not impossible to imagine them say these words because they and their countrymen liberated themselves from the curse of liberal capitalism. And for their unwavering commitment to revolution in the face of oppression, their countries endured, and some would argue, continue to survive because of the legacy of their leadership.
These words could also have been those of the young Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Samora Machel of Mozambique. And we know there was every intention to turn some of these words into action, but political pressure, commitment, and sacrifice to the cause of bringing absolute freedom to the oppressed citizens alluded the corrupt political elite of these countries.
These words however certainly can never have been the words of Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Maybe as a pioneering youth leader he could have said something similar. But as a former prisoner and Stateman, no. I know this because South Africa was negotiated and not taken from the oppressor, the oppressed as I have demonstrated are still not free from inhumanity and poverty. Courts were never convened to punish the oppressor and as a result the oppressors still enjoy the comforts of their decadent nest, worst still the black political elite have been sliced a piece of these decadent nests. The police still shoot and kill the Black and poor with impunity but are afraid to hold to account those who nest in decadence. The only blood being shed, the only people whose lives are on the line on a daily are that of the Black and poor. Only the Black and poor are forced to endure, and it is becoming clear the country will not survive.
So yes, in my moments of despair. In the face of life-threatening poverty upon Black and poor citizens, while comrades steal and those who are known to have stolen from the poor are not facing the might of the law; In the face of an economic policy plan that fails to inspire and encourage; In the face of monopolies and big companies owned & run by whites and cleaned by the Black and poor; in the face of lives being lost to greed; and in the face of the difficult days ahead of us, I echo the words of Bane!
Let us take South Africa from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity and give it back to you... the people. South Africa is yours!
This might be our last chance to make South Africa truly belongs to all who live in it.
Written by Wandile Ngcaweni, a Junior Researcher at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) and Masters’ Student at the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies. He writes in his own personal capacity.