The following is transcript of the Imam Haron Memorial Lecture delivered by Trevor Manuel at CPUT in Bellville on Monday evening.
Saturday, 27 September marked 45 calendar years since the brutal murder of Imam Abdullah Haron during his detention at Maitland police station. September 1969 was actually also an important formative period for me personally – my father passed away on 12 September, Imam Haron on the 27th, the Western Cape was rocked by a huge earth tremor on the 29th, and on the 30th the National Party government stole an election of the Coloured Representative Council. In truth, September 1969, was truly when I said farewell to innocence.
In reflecting on the period and on the impact of the late, Imam Abdullah Haron, my perspectives are very secular. I know that inasmuch as he was a community leader and inspiration to many, he was an important spiritual leader. I have read Imam Rashied Omar’s Khutba in tribute to Imam Haron and I know that there are many in this hall and elsewhere whose theological reflections will put me to shame. So I consciously confine my observations to the secular realm.
When we can look back at the 45 years that have elapsed, it is important that we use the period to evaluate our country and ourselves, rather than to merely reminisce about times when prices were low, when we were poor, or when we were involved in struggle. This exercise is necessary because we must undertake an evaluation of our circumstances from time to time to evaluate who we are, where we are heading and what we ought to be better at. In truth, we owe ourselves a discussion about whether we, as a nation of South Africans, have a common purpose, and more importantly, a sense of such common purpose beyond the fact that we are 52.5 million people who occupy the same geographic space and must inevitably feel a sense of “Simunye”, or heaven forbid, that all we can celebrate of our national heritage is “Braai Day”.
We need a frame of reference for this evaluation. There is an author, a rather strange man actually, Edmund Burke, who gives us this useful reference of society being a partnership. He writes, “Society is a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” So, in the context, of the late Imam Haron, what stake does he retain in what we do, and how we conduct ourselves, and the same for what we owe our grandchildren not yet born.
To help in this assessment of continuity, I want to suggest that we bisect the past 45 years in time. A useful reference point is May 1992, neatly in the middle of the 45 year period, when we convened a conference with the title, “Ready to Govern”. We did it to convince the nation that after a long struggle for democracy, we were able to declare that we were indeed ready to govern. The 22-and-a-half years that preceded it since that fateful day on 27 September 1969 was a period of intense mass-based struggle and the 22 years that followed was largely a period where we have had the right to elect our own government.
The enduring memory of the struggle en route to democracy is certainly of its mass base and mass participation, because this was the overwhelming characteristic of the late 1980’s. In contrast, at the time of the death of Imam Haron in 1969, the conditions of activism were exceedingly lonely. After the banning of organisations, the imprisonment of a wave of activists and the departure of so many committed South Africans into exile, the dominant emotion among that nascent activist community was fear. Each new instance of repression such an arrest or a death in detention, drove activists further underground. The spirit of resistance returned with the birth of the Black Consciousness movement in the early seventies. And it soared up strongly again with the uprising in 1976. Whilst people will speak of the Soweto uprising, the Cape Flats responded positively – Langa, Bonteheuwel, Gugulethu, Elsies River, Retreat and the City centre all tasted the anger of young people on the march, demanding freedom. These struggles coalesced into organisations – small, isolated organisations in communities or within trade unions where from time to time the factory floor struggles were linked with those of communities. The school boycotts of 1980 followed and grew into a huge stream of activity. During this period, attempts to ban meetings and the detention of thousands of activists merely served as the energy for greater activism, drawing increasing layers of members of oppressed communities into some form of organisation with a voice.
The community newspaper Grassroots was established; civic organisations, community youth movements, women’s organisations were formed including new voices for religious communities such as the Call of Islam, the Council of Churches, and even Jews for Justice. Increasingly the opportunities arose to prompt the participation of many, and each occasion where people gathered, it became a site of struggle. Very little of this was accidental or the result of unintended actions. Frequently, as a result, the forces of the apartheid regime were baited into further action.
Pause and reflect on a series of events: By 1985 most of South Africa was burning; the Western Cape appeared almost unaffected; a State of Emergency was declared in many parts of the country on 22 July 1985. On 25 August, as the UDF leadership we called on people to march to Pollsmoor Prison on Monday 28th to demand the release Nelson Mandela from prison. By that afternoon, most of our comrades had been detained under Section 29 of the Terrorism Act. Those of us who escaped the net only did so because duty took us elsewhere and we were lucky, for a few days at least. By that Monday, tens of thousands of people young and old gathered to march – from Retreat, Salt River, Belgravia, Gugulethu, Elsies River, UCT and UWC. The police responded with the only weapon they knew – violence. In spite of this people gathered, determined to march to Pollsmoor. The struggle grew beyond the simple idea of the march to Pollsmoor – the fires were lit at the barricades daily. Meetings were banned, schools were shut and people from different organisations were detained but the movement of the people appeared unstoppable. On 26 October, the State of Emergency was extended to the Western Cape and many thousands of activists were detained. And still the uprising and the violence continued – we will remember the Trojan Horse Shooting, the murder of the Gugulethu Seven, and the response of people at every kind of gathering. Remember the siege of St Athan’s Road Mosque, the police stomping into Wynberg mosque in their boots, the many meetings and, sadly, the many funerals. Anger was met with violence, and yet the people regrouped. I could carry on with these memories but the reason for recalling is not to stimulate your nostalgia.
Rather, I want remind all of us that the Western Cape was largely unaffected by the uprising taking place elsewhere in the country until that call to march on Pollsmoor Prison was made – and the situation immediately changed. I can now admit that when we decided to make the call for the march, we did not for one instant believe that the police would escort us as safe passage to Pollsmoor nor that we would be allowed to enter the prison and help Nelson Mandela pack his bags. We actually had a clear sense that a clash would result. Of course, neither we nor the apartheid regime could have scripted the outcomes – but as activists we were exceedingly happy that 1985 ended very differently from the calm that obtained, even as late in the year as the 27 August.
I am very clear about the fact that the direction that events took created a sense of collective success and a very broad ownership of the outcomes.
As we know, these struggles continued apace – the one State of Emergency was lifted in December 1985 and the next declared on 12 June 1986 which then remained in force until 02 February 1990. Detentions, bannings, a move into exile and even the loss of life amongst our ranks only served to spur us on. When it seemed as though fear was taking root amongst our people, we organised fresh and novel campaigns to re-energise ourselves. The Defiance Campaign – first launched against bannings and restrictions in August 1989, was followed by a march to the whites only beaches of the Strand and Bloubergstrand. It was certainly a period of great innovativeness and tirelessness. And when there was fresh repression – the people of Cape Town responded with the largest march ever – led by leaders from the religious, academic, political and trade union sectors. The idea captured in the song – “Die mammas, die Pappas, die boeties, die sussies, die honde, die katte – is saam in die struggle”, was as real as it was hilarious.
The people through collective action unbanned their leaders and organisations. They rejoiced when political prisoners like Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni and Ahmed Kathrada were released in 1989 – seeing it as the fruits of their actions. The energy and militancy of the people was unstoppable. Even when then-President F W de Klerk announced the formal unbanning of people and organisations on 02 February 1990, we were right outside Parliament celebrating the people’s victory. The sense that we had defeated the apartheid regime that had been in power since 1948 was palpable, and our victory was incredibly sweet. All of these events were shaped by a sense of common purpose, to tear down the system of apartheid.
Yet, even after the tumultuous events of 1990 the struggle continued. In fact in KwaZulu-Natal and on the East Rand it gained a new and more violent intensity. There were pitched battles and there were massacres, such as Boipatong. Added to the loss of life of very ordinary people and activists, especially those deployed in Self Defence Units, there were assassinations, such as that of Chris Hani, that shook many of us at our foundations. But, in the face of this, there was a spirit of achievement that the desire for closure.
Negotiations got underway under the authority of the Transitional Executive Council in 1993, and in November of that year the Interim Constitution was signed into law, to provide the basis for free and fair elections, not convened by the remnants of the apartheid regime.
Do recall that in terms of the 45-year picture, we were then at a peak, having arrived there through the determined effort of hundreds of thousands of very ordinary people who made all of this possible. Remember also that the Interim Constitution became law some 18 months after we had declared ourselves “Ready to Govern” in May of 1992.
That entire period emphasised our achievements and the supremacy of the values that were developed and nurtured in struggle. This ethos was best captured by the newly inaugurated President Nelson Mandela in that famous speech when he said,
We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.
Let there be justice for all.
Let there be peace for all.
Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.
Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves.
These words so aptly capture that spirit of society being a partnership that Edmund Burke describes, “as a partnership not only between those who are living, but (also) between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born.” Madiba’s words capture the continuity from generation to generation that draws on past achievements and connects to the next generation through a set of clear commitments.
That same spirit is captured, for all time, in our Constitution that we adopted in May 1996. In the Preamble to our Constitution we created common purpose. We adopted the Constitution ‘so as to:
• Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
• Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
• Improve the quality of life of each citizen and free the potential of each person; and
• Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
This is our common purpose in democracy. It is no longer negotiable. The tone of our Constitution makes it very clear that it could not have been drafted by those who subjugated us under apartheid. The values and the very words are too strongly a reminder of the just cause of our struggle for democracy. The Constitution in a very distinct way is ours. It is unmistakably of us. We all must therefore be held accountable for the movement along the path to a society that spells out the continuity between generations by committing, for example, “to improve the quality of life of each citizen, and freeing the potential of each person.”
So, why are we not doing this? And why is nobody formally held accountable to explain the progress or impediments thereto, along this path? And bear in mind, it is not merely a physical measure – whether a person has a house, running water, a job, etc. It essentially includes in the words of President Nelson Mandela, “for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves.”
Our challenge is thus to explain to the living, in homage to those who are dead and in preparation for those who are yet to be born why it is that we were fully prepared to sacrifice all to demolish apartheid, but equally to explain why we have not been competent to build the society that our Constitution defines as our common purpose. Why has the latter part of the past 45 years been so different to that initial period?
Might it be that we can no longer see things that are wrong, or out of place? Might it be that we are now materially better off and that was actually what the struggle was about? Might it be that the very Constitution that empowers us makes us feel disempowered?
Or have we decided that the only way to resolve these matters is to outsource them to government and the state? If we have indeed adopted this attitude, we will not be living out the values of our Constitution. Or to put it more bluntly, we, the people, will have disowned our common purpose.
Those who are in government take a different view and are actually reaching out for the kinds of partnerships focused on problem solving. By way of example, on 18 September, President Zuma and Minister Pravin Gordhan convened an important summit on local government. The reason for convening the summit was to put all of local government on terms, because there is the realisation that so much is falling apart in that sphere of government. I have paid close attention to this summit because it is so vital – everyday we see, feel and touch the outputs of local government. When, as is currently the case in large parts of Johannesburg, there is no water for several days, the people must be entitled to express their indignation. At the Summit, Pravin Gordhan made a call for “Back to Basics.” This he described as:
1. Putting the people first – let’s listen and communicate;
2. Adequate and community-oriented service provision;
3. Good governance administration;
4. Sound financial management and accounting; and
5. Robust institutions and administration.
This is at the very essence of what local government is about. It is what the Constitution and a number of pieces of legislation require, but it is not observed. My message to you is that it is not observed – and this actually applies regardless of which party is in power in your municipality or who your ward councillor is – because we have stopped caring! Perhaps those with a voice in Johannesburg who have no water are wealthy enough to buy bottled water for drinking, cooking and ablutions. Or perhaps we have lost pride in who are. A people, who have freed themselves, as we have, surely cannot demonstrate such neglect.
Similarly, we should be concerned when we observe the situation that applies in schools in our communities. Some of the very schools that were great sources of pride in the struggle against apartheid, where education was top notch even in the face of bantu education, seem not to care as much any longer. We have to ask why. Might it be that parents who have the confidence to voice their opinions no longer send their own children to schools in the community and thus no longer feel a sense of affinity and ownership?
I have checked on what might occasion such vast differences in the learning and teaching environment between schools “in the suburbs and those in the townships”. The first, and I thought obvious, place to look is at salaries. I would like to confirm that all teachers employed by the state whether they work in the most upmarket ‘former Model C’ school or the most rundown township school are remunerated at the same rate – given subjects and experience. So, one can discount the financial incentive.
The only other place that we can look is at the management of the schools – the oversight by the principal, the amount of teaching by and the subject knowledge of the teachers, and whether the school is accountable to the community it serves. All of these can and should be corrected in double-quick time – provided we have citizens who are active and sufficiently caring, albeit that their own children do not attend these schools.
In respect of healthcare, exactly the same norms and standards apply. It is unforgivable that our public healthcare facilities are as poorly managed as they frequently are. It cannot be tolerable that a day-hospital not twenty kilometres from the centre cannot even maintain an essential medicines list in their dispensary and nobody appears interested in the basic standards of hygiene. Again, this can and should be changed by citizens who are active and engaged, and who demonstrate by their actions that, even if they use private healthcare, they have an interest in ensuring that the quality gaps between public and private health provision is closed – in practice and not merely in expensive theory.
And what of policing? Why can open-eyed members of the community identify drug-dens in the area, but the police either cannot or repeatedly dispute the facts? The law requires active and dynamic community police forums – so why do these exist so rarely, or have had their vocal chords removed from tie to time, and why do active citizens not insist on behavioural change in the police service?
I can, of course, extend this list to a range of other services. Suffice to say, that we – especially those of us who were involved in breaking down apartheid – have a responsibility to build a caring democracy. This responsibility does not vest only with elected or employed officials – in fact it is up to the unelected and ordinary citizens to construct the quality of democracy that they desire. I fervently believe that our struggle is continuous and the State has an enormous responsibility to level delivery between those who can afford private services and those who cannot. In fact, ours is a struggle to have public services of a much higher standard. If we stop believing this and if we stop agitating for this we must declare all sacrifices in our past struggles to have been in vain.
In the context of this partnership in society – between those living, those dead and those yet to be born – we must ask the tough questions about the quality of democracy that we experience. Does our democracy provide what the Constitution requires of it? Is government based on the will of the people? Is every citizen equally protected by law? Is the quality of life of each citizen continually improving? And has the potential of each person freed? If the answers to these questions are not a resolute and unequivocal ‘yes’, then we have to question our commitment to this democracy.
It cannot be sufficient to have fought for this democracy and to not care about the outcomes any longer. We surely would not treat any other aspect of our lives – whether this be physical or spiritual – with the same disdain. There is none among us who would adopt the view that all we require to be alive is to be able to breathe and that the quality of that life is immaterial. There is none among us who would accept that we may have been born with a level of intelligence, we don’t need to read or study to improve our knowledge. Why, then, do we not mind if our democracy falls short of the ideal we envisaged during those years of struggle?
I was persuaded by President Michele Bachelet (of Chile) who delivered the Nelson Mandela Lecture on 09 August this year when she said,
“I would say that representative democracy is no longer enough for citizens; not with the civility of our institution, not with regards to a set of rights we have already achieved. Today, on top of demands for democracy, an equal distribution of opportunities, goods and services, the demand for participation is essential.”
So, in the same vein, we cannot be satisfied that all democracy requires of us as good citizens is to vote very five years. If indeed that is our approach, we would not understand the heroism of a martyr’s past, we will not appreciate the value of our achievements in establishing democracy, and the only relationship we will have with our children and their children, including those unborn, will be the material possessions that we might have to leave in the will – which for most will be nothing!
History demands our continued active engagement in all we see and experience.