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An open letter

Democracy is about more than just voting. It’s about how we participate in our society, how we exercise our constitutional rights, including our right to protest and the freedom we have to express ourselves. It’s said by some that those who chose not to vote in elections lose their right to criticise. By the same token, people who bitch but don’t participate in collective efforts (like the march against corruption) to solve our social and political problems should have another drink and tone down.

As you read this I will hopefully be close to arriving home on the long flight back from New York City. I had been there providing company to my 76-year-old father who is bedridden with cancer. I’m coming home to march with thousands of others to the Union Buildings today to call for action against pandemic corruption. If I have to go back to the US a few days later so be it. Marching is my civic duty.

Although some have tried valiantly to invent hidden agendas and conspiracy theories for the marches, the reasons we are mobilising our society again against corruption is quite simple. Corruption is strangling us. It diverts billions of rands destined for the poor into the hands of ostentatious playboys and girls. It causes children like six-year-old Michael Komape to drown in a pit toilet at school. It gives tenders for teaching braille to companies that are braille illiterate. It murders. It causes unemployment and despair. It fuels the nyaope epidemic. It avoids paying taxes. It transfers money illegally out of our country, money that should be given to the South African Revenue Service. It’s being covered up by people at the pinnacle of our government, business community and police.

We started www.uniteagainstcorruption.co.za on June 16. We promised to march and march we will. There are now two possibilities about what might happen in a few hours time on the roads leading to the Union Buildings and National Assembly. There could be unprecedented marches with the diversity and common purpose we last found when we stood in long queues to vote on 27 April 1994. Then, all those who voted for the African National Congress (ANC) were united in our desire for a socially and politically just country. We could repeat that if today there could be hundreds of thousands of people united against corruption – people not used to marching, people in the process of becoming active citizens – we could see unity, empathy and solidarity between the poor, the unemployed, the exploited working classes and the middle classes.

That would be a game changer.

Or we could see a few thousand of the usual suspects, people who tirelessly stand up time and time again for social justice, dignity and equality.

Whether it’s the former or the latter really depends on you. But what we must appreciate is that democracy is about more than just voting. It’s about how we participate in our society, how we exercise our constitutional rights, including our right to protest and the freedom we have to express ourselves. It’s said by some that those who chose not to vote in elections lose their right to criticise. In our country they chose not to use a power won at great cost and pain to millions of people. By the same token, people who bitch but don’t participate in collective efforts to solve our social and political problems should have another drink and tone down.

You get what you deserve.

If the marches are smaller than we want the ‘I told you so’s’ will ‘I told you so’. Richard Poplak’s brand of morbid defeatism will have triumphed. The corrupters will smirk gleefully. The corruption defenders and corruption denialists in the ANC and the South African Communist Party leadership will rubbish the marches.

To some extent you will all be wrong. Don’t underestimate our commitment. Indeed, a great deal has already been achieved. In the last three months we have worked tirelessly, undeterred by skeptics and cynics, to rediscover unity around vision of a just South Africa. We have started to reassert that vision. Two trade unions federations and the collection of unions around the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa have supported the marches. Over 300 non-governmental organisations. Over 100 organisations of artists. The Christian and Muslim faiths have spoken out. People from all of these groups have begun to meet and plan and work together again. That is precious. Change doesn’t come in a big bang, flicked out of the end of a wand. It takes work.

We have raised awareness about corruption, turned it into a political issue, helped people see the connections between corruption, poverty and inequality. The Christian churches have taken a strong position, recognising: “Twenty-five years ago we mobilised across the board to take responsibility for our country, nowadays people have simply abandoned hope as they feel powerless to change anything. We believe ordinary citizens need to take responsibility again to make sure that corruption ends in every sphere of society.”

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), belatedly issued a press statement in which it acknowledges that “corruption poses a challenge to development and job creation and undermines good governance, ethical values and justice” and that “South Africa has lost approximately R700-billion to corruption and unfair business practices over the past 20 years”. In a significant development, it states that “a BLSA committee will be established to consider the actions of any member company that may credibly be alleged to be in conflict with the values set out in the code”. Civil society and labour should take full advantage of this committee to report corruption.

Today we will march and we hope you march with us.

We will hand over a carefully considered list of demands which, if carried out, would help end corruption. We will demand that the government, each political party and the organised private business sector respond publicly to each of these demands within 30 days. You will judge the will to fight corruption by their responses.

Ten years ago a united society mobilised to overcome AIDS denialism. People’s power won and 3-million people now benefit from access to antiretroviral treatment. Today we are trying to build a similar movement against corruption and for social justice.

For those who believe in our Constitution membership is free. Join it.

Mark Heywood

DM

The marches begin at 11am from Burger’s Park in Pretoria and Keizersgracht Street in Cape Town. Marches are also taking place in Polokwane, Bloemfontein, Durban and Grahamstown. A virtual march is taking place at http://www.togethersa.co.za/corruption-free-sa/ Follow us today on Twitter @UAC_Now

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