As we scramble to understand and “articulate” the true nature of our political crisis

As we scramble to understand and “articulate” the true nature of our political crisis, unpacking strategies and the “political programme”, how to position ourselves and what positioning this or that way means for where you are perceived to be sitting in the political ideological spectrum (i.e are you woke or not/ radical or liberal/ coconut or sellout…).

I am reminded of the lonely days of struggle as an activist in the Treatment Action Campaign. I was a young person full of the beautiful dreams of liberation. Coming from a working-class family, watching other young, working class people like me die whilst the powerful ones used their power to let them die. This wasn’t Apartheid South Africa. Leaders of our ruling party and democratic government and Tripartite Alliance partners were labelling us agents of drug companies and all manner of descriptors to delegitimise our struggle. There is a particular NEC/alliance meeting we were once “invited” to after we launched our civil disobedience campaign, where I watched the big men of the then ANC Top 6 and alliance partners (Lekotas, Blades, etc were there), perform power in the grossest, most nauseating way. Having been summoned, we were made to sit for hours waiting for them to deliberate important things, then we were given a few minutes to be interrogated, then sent off with nothing. We warned them we would not back down and left. That meeting shuttered all my hopes, it showed the depth of callousness of our leaders, how self-obsessed they have always been…!

Then, as now, the “clever” ones debated, analysed, researched, “articulated” whilst young working class black people, many of them young women, in villages, townships, servants’ quarters in white middle class suburbs, were dying like flies. The clever ones criticized our campaign for not being “systemic”, because we were not speaking in clever phrases about how “neoliberalism must fall”. Mandela’s ANC had chosen GEAR, that meant that public goods like lifesaving medical treatment would remain for-profit commodities, to be traded at the highest margins for shareholders, and government had to toe the line of those who control the rules of international trade, that Government wouldn’t defy WTO rules in defence of their people…

Organizing was all complex then, as now. But then, as now, government had a choice, power to make that choice in favor of justice, accountability for a just future for all, particularly the poor. It was black working class people who were dying, who’d been left to own devices, those with money were dying because of denial and fear of stigma not inability to afford medical care. It was black working class people who showed up, filled the picket lines and fought for their lives and won. Many of the black-like-me’s with education who could interpret medical science to help people understand how to save their lives, who could have given their education privilege to contribute, many did not. As Edwin Cameron said, being “white, privileged and middle class meant he could access lifesaving drugs” at a time when one month’s treatment cost more than a year’s wages of a black working class family. It is unforgivable what our leaders did, the silence and hubris of the middle class illustrated how as the middle class we’re fickle, trapped in our parochial class lens and interests, and are not to be trusted, even when we spew revolutionary rhetoric. The issues were raced and classed and gendered then as they are now. The betrayals from soapbox podiums often dominated by men happened then as they are now.

So then, let’s organize, and march to end racialised, gendered inequality. Let’s organize to end white supremacy, for land, for neoliberalism to fall, for the black young women set up for infection and who still die to live with dignity. For mine-workers to get their fair share of the wealth they dig. For domestic workers not to live in servants’ quarters not even dogs live in and be sent off into the wilderness with nothing when their old legs and hands can no longer hold the weight of the labour needed to prop up white and elite black capital. For men who rape to not be rewarded with more power. For corrupt, captured politicians and their parties to be ejected from power. For women to not live their lives like we’re in a war zone, under brutal patriarchal rule. For an intersectional struggle against corrupt power, in all its manifestations. A society that sustains life and dignity for all. And then, all of us middle class, black white and whatever shade, to have an honest interrogation of our own complicity in the mess. Our cronyism and rent seeking and what it has made of us, and life for many who’re on the wrong side of the game Board. So, I will join the action for intersectional justice Bethuna. And no I don’t mean who’s twittering about it? Who’s organizing it? And no, I have no interest in going to Saxonworld!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Council on Foreign Relations/Reuters/Mike Hutchings) (Photo Credit 2: South Africa News Today)

About Siphokazi Mthathi

Siphokazi Mthathi is a leading women's rights and human rights activist and organizer.