Picture: ANA Files – Gary Lineker, whose simple act of speaking out for vulnerable refugees brought severe disruptions to the BBC sports coverage, upon which he was suspended from last Saturday’s programme. The fall of Apartheid is attributed to many forces, both local and international. At the heart of the force that defeated the Apartheid evils, however, was the strength and courage of ordinary people who took a stand, often at a huge personal sacrifice, the writer says.
By Isobel Frye
Over the last few weekends in a far-off land, British football legend Gary Lineker’s simple act of speaking out for vulnerable refugees brought severe disruptions to the BBC sports coverage. In a personal tweet, Lineker criticised the Tory government’s Illegal Migration Bill to Nazi Germany.
A follow-up tweet of his read: ‘This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s, and I’m out of order?
Lineker is a free-lance host of immensely popular BBC Match-of-the-Day, a Saturday night feature for millions of viewers in the UK. The BBC handed down a suspension to Lineker for last Saturday’s programme. According to the BBC, as a person contracted to the national broadcaster, Lineker should have remained impartial even in his personal capacity and refrained from criticising the government’s actions. The suspension cost him his fee for the programme, a not insubstantial amount.
In solidarity, sports commentator colleagues at the BBC downed tools and refused to work. This resulted in most matches being broadcast in silent protest. Ordinary men and women who risked censure and penalties to support Lineker’s right to take a stand to protest what he saw as a moral outrage being committed by his government.
March 21, 2023 will mark 63 years since the horror of the Sharpeville massacre in which 69 civilians were massacred by the Apartheid police in South Africa. These 63 years have been extremely significant from a human rights perspective in South Africa. The brutal regime of Botha and his predecessors has been vanquished. Political prisoners and detainees were freed, and exiles returned to the land of their birth.
A democracy was born built on a foundation of human rights. The nation cried, ‘Never again’. The cry for the dead of the Holocaust and other genocides provided a fitting epigraph to an evil epoch that shamed and shaped and warped this beautiful land. Never again would people be stripped of their dignity and their freedoms. Never again would we live with unequal rights of citizenship, never again.
The fall of Apartheid is attributed to many forces, both local and international. At the heart of the force that defeated the Apartheid evils, however, was the strength and courage of ordinary people who took a stand, often at a huge personal sacrifice. The personal became political. Individuals began to stand together, building a shield at first and that shield became a spear.
The deaths of those who fell on March 21, 1963 and in subsequent killings elevated the Apartheid atrocities internationally with immediate consequence. As we reflect on their contribution this weekend, we also need to reflect on the state of the human condition of freedom and equality and dignity in South Africa today.
We reflect on the short life of five-year-old Lumka Mketwa who drowned in a pit latrine at her school in Bizana on March 7, undiscovered for a day and we struggle to accept the tragedy, yet another one, that happens in the land of our freedom.
It is understandable to want to dismiss the statistics of unemployment and poverty as being too overwhelming to do anything about. It is easier to ignore the continued shame of living in the most unequal country in the world, saying it is not of our making. It is easier to point to global cost-of-living increases than to wonder how many loaves of bread a R350 grant can buy a compatriot in a month. Or to wonder where this daily bread will come from when the grant ends next year because as the government says, we can’t afford to keep paying the grant going for risk of open fiscal exposure.
But we should also take some time on this holiday to ask ourselves if this is really a country that honours the sacrifices of the fallen. Is this the promised land we want for our children? And if the answer is no, what will we do about it?
That is a personal decision for each of us, whether we continue to build walls, look to greener pastures, or decide to take a stand in our own spaces, however uncomfortable that might be. To argue for a living wage rather than a minimum wage, to take a stand against petty corruption even if it means paying the fine for your broken tail light or the failed breathalyser. And to voice your support for ideas that will bring a hard break from the current poverty and hunger and inequality in South Africa, like a universal basic income (UBI).
Those who support a decent UBI do so for many different reasons. One policy cannot transform a warped economy and labour market. It would, however, first and foremost send a message of solidarity to people who do not know where tomorrow’s bread will come from. It says: we see you. Sanibonani. It says that while we are also struggling, we want to have a better sharing of the nation’s wealth, and it says: let’s start with this while we dismantle the architecture of a failing economy that is still premised on the extraction of surplus labour for the profits of a few.
Recently a group of social justice activists issued a Call to Action to come together and say, ‘Enough is Enough’. The Social Justice Assembly is encouraging people to see the 2024 elections as a time to stand firm and demand policies that support equality and to reject the ongoing rules of racial capitalism where lives count less than profits. It calls on all good people to take a stand, and to stand together.
Edmund Burke’s famous words resonate in times like this. For evil to triumph, he said, all it needs is for good (wo)men to do nothing. Whether you are someone who joins movements, or someone who calls in to radio stations to voice your support for a call for change, all it takes, as we acknowledge the sacrifices of those who lived their lives for change, is for each one of us to do something.
Gary Lineker was not able to speak to the media over the weekend, but his son said to a UK daily newspaper: “Dad is a good man, a good human, and I’m proud of him for standing by his word. That’s why he was pulled off the show – because he wouldn’t apologise. But he will always speak up for people who don’t have a voice.
That was one person’s stand that led to a national protest. Lineker’s actions may not stop the immigration bill, but it has sent a message globally that goodness and decency still exist and can prevail. As we enjoy the public holiday on Human Rights Day, take a moment to think, and say: “To help be the change that I want to see, what will I do?”
Isobel Frye is Executive Director of the Social Policy Initiative