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Wasting the liberation dividend

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Picture: Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso / African News Agency (ANA) / Taken June 16, 2023 – The Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) hosts a jobs fair in Soweto and around the province in an effort to address unemployment in the province. Despite the government being by far the largest employer, the results are often poor, with “service providers” usually contracted, while our youth – ‘those under the age of 30 comprise +60 percent of our population’ – do not benefit from an opportunity to combat high unemployment, the writer says.

By Saths Cooper

This April will mark the 30th anniversary of our fragile democracy.

If we thought that last year was brutal, this year is going to be a roller-coaster of lofty promises made from high up, while we will mostly continue to experience the lows that have become commonplace. Worse, we have become used to this sorry state of affairs, expecting very little to change. We cry out for divine intervention, knowing that this is impossible. God seemingly helps those who help themselves, and mostly at our expense.

Steve Biko wrote in two of his key writings that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”, when apartheid was at its height in the early 1970s.

In the preface to one of these writings, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for True Humanity”, Biko states: “It is perhaps fitting to start off by examining the real reasons which make it necessary for us to think collectively about a problem we never created.

In doing so, I do not wish to appear to be unnecessarily concerning myself with the White people in this country, but I sincerely believe that in order to get to the right answer, we must ask the right questions; we have to find out what went wrong where and when; we have to find out whether our position is a deliberate creation by God or an artificial fabrication of the truth by power-hungry people whose motive is authority, security, wealth and comfort.

“In other words, the ‘Black Consciousness’ approach would be irrelevant in a colourless and non-exploitative egalitarian society. It is relevant here because we believe that the anomalous situation we find ourselves in is deliberately man-made for the reasons mentioned.”

These words are as relevant today as they were over 50 years ago. In the last 20 years, when things seriously began to go wrong in our country, we have constantly asked, “What went wrong, where and when?”.

The answer to that loaded, yet very relevant, question that often eludes us is that it is “an artificial fabrication of the truth by power-hungry people whose motive is authority, security, wealth and comfort”.

Blaming one another, this or the other faction or so-called “leader” who has been elevated from relative obscurity to be foisted on us with blue lights and an attendant claque of “Yes, chief” men and women, who we would not know existed if they didn’t occupy precious airtime on radio, television and social media, and who are paid hefty salaries and perks that most of us can only dream of.

Just as we cannot acknowledge when we’ve been conned into parting with our hard-earned money to tricksters who assure us that it will miraculously grow, it is difficult to bring ourselves to recognise that we have been conned into giving up our agency, our ability to think through the muck and emerge with clarity of what went wrong and who was – and perhaps still are – responsible for shattering our dreams of a “better life for all”.

The Freedom Charter, adopted on June 26, 1955, and relied upon by the majority of politicians and their supporters, proclaims in its preamble:

“The people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:

  • that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.
  • that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality.
  • that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities.
  • that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief.

Therefore we, the People of South Africa, black and white together – equals, countrymen and brothers – adopt this Freedom Charter. And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither courage nor strength, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.”

The Freedom Charter concludes with a stirring and solemn undertaking: “These freedoms we will fight for, side by side, throughout our lives, until we have won our liberty!”

Now, a few will claim that this is what they are still doing, although they have had, since April 1994, the legal and political power to have achieved much of these.

Many others are clearly motivated to retain that “authority, security, wealth and comfort” for themselves, which accounts for the scores of political parties and political killings to become a paid politician.

This new economic growth area – politics – has extended to getting a fairly well-paid government job, which has steadily degraded to fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

Despite the government being by far the largest employer, the results are often poor, with “service providers” usually contracted. This prevents our youth (those under the age of 30 comprise +60 percent of our population, and see little hope) from benefiting from this huge public opportunity, turning around just one of our country’s shames: having the highest unemployment and the lowest employment rates in the world.

Only fools would deny that there have not been strides made since the advent of democracy. Yet fools will “artificially fabricate the truth” that we should be grateful for their expensive and destructive lifestyles and dominance in our socio-economic-political life.

The power lies with us. Nobody – however powerful they may appear to be – can take that away from us! Only we can be the makers of that change that we seek, to restore the promise of democracy, security and peace in our country.

South Africa beckons fearless leaders who are among us. South Africa deserves better; more of us who can serve selflessly, than those who are self-serving!

Prof Saths Cooper is President of the Pan African Psychology Union, a former leader of the Black Consciousness Movement and a member of the 1970s group of activists.