A hard-hitting message about white privilege as a form of corruption in society was well received by a mostly white crowd of about 10 000 people during the Unite Against Corruption protest gathering in Cape Town today. Speakers told protesters that it was their right to protest corruption in government and that the President should take responsibility for the high levels of graft, but that all South Africans should take responsibility to root out corruption, including their own.
The gathering was held in the Company Gardens and organised by Unite Against Corruption, a broad coalition of more than 300 civil society groups representing unions, the faith and NGO sectors. The theme of the protest was No Reconciliation with Corruption, but it also embraced the #zumamustfall hashtag.
One of the organisers Miles Giljam, said it was enlightening to see so many people having the courage to speak out and hold the president accountable for corruption in government.
“All South Africans have the right to protest when they feel things in the nation are going awry. It was hugely significant that so many people who are not normally politically active made the effort to be heard. But I was also very happy that the crowd responded well when challenged to tackle their own privilege and complicity in corruption.
“The right to protest comes with the responsibility to work towards solutions. It also means that we can’t just be angry about issues that face us personally but also fight for justice on the broader causes of systemic poverty in the nation. ”
Spirit of apartheid alive and well
Craig Stewart, CEO of Cape Town based NGO The Warehouse Trust, told the crowd that the spirit of apartheid has proved to be much harder to put to death than the laws of apartheid.
“We cannot be naïve and fooled into thinking or acting as if President Zuma is the catalyst for all our economic crises in South Africa. He is not.
“We, especially those in this crowd who are white, must not and cannot ignore the fact that our economy’s foundations are the maintenance of white domination and of black oppression and pain. The structures and systems built by apartheid and colonialism remain and it is their role that must fall.”
Stewart encouraged white protesters to be active citizens, not because corruption threatens their livelihoods, but “because we are tired of living lives where our comfort comes at the expense of black people.”
He said whites cheered when the Economic Freedom Fighters demanded that the President pay back the money for his Nkandla home.
“But we used our position and power to build ourselves swimming pools too and it is going to take courage and strength to work out how we are going to pay back the money.”
Ordinary citizens taking responsibility
Rev Mpho Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond and Leah Tutu, said that South Africans were audacious people who, during apartheid, believed they could approach the God of heaven with their requests.
“We prayed and apartheid crumbled. We pray now and we put our shoulders to the wheel to end the corruption that is now our country.”
She encouraged ordinary South Africans to use their agency as citizens to work against corruption in every sphere.