At the first anniversary of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1984, Albertina Sisulu said that “the patience of the people has been exhausted now”.
Sisulu, a veteran leader, also stated that the UDF had given her hope about several things, one of which was the possibility of a “just South Africa for everybody”.
Thirty-three years later, civil society organisations will be gathering at Rhema Church in Johannesburg on July 18 to voice the same sentiments. This time, though, the aspirations for a better future, and the expression of anger, will not be communicated to an apartheid regime, but to the state that has been captured.
The Conference for the Future of SA aims to galvanise civil society formations from various parts of the country to build a united front against state capture. The initiative is driven by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and Save SA and is supported by a range of other civil society organisations.
The gathering is expected to be one of the most representative of organisations from various sectors in post-apartheid South African society. Religious groups, activists, forums, businesses, labour formations, youth groups, women’s organisations, representatives from the disability sector, environmentalists, community forums and media groups are expected to attend. The conference aims to be as inclusive as possible so that local clubs can sit alongside national organisations, sharing ideas about how to tackle a state capture – the roots of which dig deep into the pockets of ordinary South Africans.
Members of Parliament have also been invited, but as observers to hear the call for clean governance and effective parliamentary oversight of the executive and state-owned entities. Importantly, parliamentarians will be urged to heed the call of a vast cross-section of civil society organisations to support the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma. MPs will be called on to insist on a secret ballot.
The date of the conference was carefully selected – it falls on Mandela Day, when people from across the globe are encouraged to dedicate 67 minutes of their time to doing something good. This year, we are calling on South Africans to give more than just 67 minutes. We are asking ordinary people to honour Madiba’s legacy by pledging to tackle the abuse of state power. We are also asking South Africans to pool together their collective efforts in building a state with integrity and holding public representatives to account through wielding the stick known as “people’s power”.
The conference will brainstorm how society can be mobilised, how public servants can be encouraged to take a stand against state capture by refusing to process any projects tainted with corrupt practices, and how legal and constitutional work can be strengthened to – as Sisulu once said – ensure a just South Africa for everybody.
A number of those organising and participating in this conference were anti-apartheid struggle activists. In secret houses, prison cells, organisational meetings and public gatherings, these activists would have envisioned a South Africa free of apartheid, racism, corruption, cronyism, inequality, poverty, patriarchy, tribal and ethnic divisions, greed and illegality. We envisioned a South Africa that would be a living embodiment of the Constitution.
And while some of what we had envisioned and advocated has materialised, too much hasn’t. State capture, as we have seen evidenced in various reports that have been made publicly available over the course of the past few months, has attempted to break an already vulnerable society. Like the scavenger vulture, it has waited to feast off scarce resources that were in fact meant for hospitals, schools and universities, water and sanitation and job creation.
Those benefiting from state capture seek to masquerade as empowering black people who have been historically excluded from wealth creation. Devious communications mechanisms are put in place to further this narrative. But as reports such that of the SA Council of Churches have shown, there is nothing further from the truth. These are individuals who are corrupted to the core, and who have lost all moral credibility.
The Conference for the Future of SA recognises that we’re watching a desperately flailing state raising its arms above the water. What this conference also recognises is that it can no longer be left to government structures to address the problem. To save the state from being engulfed in corruption at all levels, the collective will and action of all South Africans is required. It is up to the people to “recapture” what rightfully belongs to them.
When Albertina Sisulu said that people were exhausted, she meant it. People were tired enough to be part of the tumultuous mass campaigns of the 1980s that paved the way to democracy.
Today, we reiterate Ma Sisulu’s words – people are tired of scandal after scandal around certain scavenging politicians and their families, and corrupt business people, that has marred our democracy and compromised the integrity of the state. We are tired enough to mobilise for that “just” future that we have been envisioning for so many years.