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How long must we suffer like this?

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In this file pic, a man pulls his son on a makeshift cart. The writer talks of suffering, and misery that was inherited from social, racial, political and economic oppression Picture Leon Lestrade, African News Agency/ANA.

By Dr Wallance Mgoqi

There are people, men and women who are born either in humble environments or in palaces, but their lives become a book to read for later generations. One such a person, with the benefit of hindsight, was the late Gibson Kente, who died on November 7, 2004.

Born in the black township of Duncan Village, on July 23, 1932, Kente grew up in the Eastern Cape, at some stage went through Healdtown High School, Nelson Rolihlahla’s alma mater, and later became a social worker, but his real passion in drama took him away, because that was his destiny. He produced plays like Manana, the Prophet and his portrait became brighter with musicals like How Long.

In this musical play, How long, in particular, the lyrics are, “How long, O, Lord, shall we suffer like this ? How long this misery each day? Why must we suffer like this? How long? Why kick us when we are down and hopeless, why the misery?”

Community members in the uMmgeni Local Municipality in KZN collect water in buckets from a central water pump following floods in the province. Picture: Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)

The suffering, and misery and pain he was referring to came from social, racial, political and economic oppression, which manifested in denial of basic human rights, restriction of movement of black people, forced removals, denial of land rights and landlessness. This treatment which was declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations in 1966. The Apartheid Convention of 1973 made it a crime in its entirety.

Whereas today, we have a different form of suffering, such as the perennial black-outs by Eskom, resulting in loss of jobs for thousands of people; the collapse of government services as a result of State Capture and pervasive, rampant and endemic corruption; the state’s failure of its people in service delivery, as well as the deepening of poverty, inequality and unemployment. High rates of crime as a result of the failure of the government to govern benevolently.

At the time in the early nineteen seventies, still far away from the nineteen ninety four, when we received our freedom, it is as if he was prophetic of what we are going through right now. Whereas up until now, he had tried to be apolitical in his messages , but by now, with the intensity of oppression , he had no choice but to be political in his productions. Sadly, at the time he knew and we all knew that our enemy was Apartheid and that it was unjust and untenable system that could not last forever. We knew , intuitively , that as the late Archbishop Desmond said at Steve Biko’s funeral in 1977 in Kingwilliamstown , that :

“ Apartheid was a lie, and no lie could last forever “

This resonated with what we felt in our hearts. It also gave us hope that there was going to be an end to our suffering and this is one of the things that endeared the “ Arch” to his followers, the country and the world .

He kept us hoping for a better and brighter future.

Until recently, I was also not aware that one of Kente’s musical plays, Sekunjalo, was also prophetic of what he warned then that the black elite should watch against – the perpetuation of the oppression of the masses, under a different system. How prophetic is that when we take into account, when we reflect on what has taken place, since 1994, when our hopes were so high that we believed that at last, we had arrived at the rendezvous of victory, experienced temporary euphoria and excitement.

But then our hopes and dreams were shattered by a small band of men from the black elite who allowed the looting of state resources on a colossal scale, used by a foreign private family, that spearheaded such vile acts and trampled on the the interests and rights of the citizens of this country.

We can even pin it down to specific period when the wheels started coming off – 2007 to 2017, euphemistically referred to as the “Zuma Years”.

But what about the future, prophecies and all ?

To end our suffering at that time, we combined our resolve to bring down those responsible for our oppression and, guided by the Constitution, sought to protect our rights in a democratic state that has entrenched our basic human rights. It would seem that history is repeating itself. We are faced with the same historic task we had to execute previously in defence of our democracy and our rights – that is to remove from power those who have betrayed our trust to govern us with honesty, integrity and efficacy.

The American Declaration of July 4 , 1776, is explicit in this regard: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Can something clean come from an unclean vessel? I ask rhetorically, it is like pouring new wine on an old wineskin. The old must go, sentiments or no sentiments, and the new must take its place. After all as Biko said: “No one has a monopoly of the truth, and no one group of people can claim to have a monopoly of truth.”

Life gives men and women one chance only, and it is incumbent upon them to make good of the opportunity, otherwise they lose it permanently, as in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus talks to Cassius saying: “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood leads to fortune. Omitted all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

Quite frankly, we have been more than tolerant of the ruling party for about twenty eight years, the lifetime of a young man or woman ready to start a new family of his or her own. Now we cannot risk another time. We have allowed them too long a time to gamble with our lives, the way an abuser oppresses and exploits their victim.

The perpetrator continues as long as he is allowed to do so.

We remain grateful for all the positive things they did in the past, pre-eminently for producing a wide array of leaders, men and women, who distinguished themselves with the divergent gifts , talents and skills they displayed and of which we are beneficiaries. Their contribution will never go unnoticed, but the levers of power must now be in different hands.

The Declaration quoted above continues: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them (the People ) under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, ( the People) to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

We are exactly at that point in time now. Now it is no longer whether or why we should throw down the gauntlet, but when we must do so. Now is our time as the People to act or perish under the yoke of our suffering, in the hands of those who have been professing to have our interests at heart, when it was all a lie. Now that the lie has been exposed – what are we waiting for ?

How long must we suffer this way, how long must we suffer the misery every day like this? How long the tears?

Mgoqi is the chairperson of Ayo Technology Solutions. He writes in his personal capacity

This article is original to The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.