by Ayanda Kota, founder of the Unemployed People’s Movement
Elections should be the season of hope. Steve Biko declared that our fight was for an open society, a society where the color of a person’s skin will not be a point of reference or departure, a society in which each person has one vote.
We have the vote – but the political parties do not represent the aspirations of the people. Millions of Black people remain poor and oppressed. When we organize outside of the ANC, we are violently repressed.
This election is not the season of hope. [On May 7, South Africans will elect a new National Assembly as well as new provincial legislatures in each province. – ed.] It is the season of deception, slander, gutter politics and lies. There are campaigns to encourage our people and, in particular, young people to vote.
We are being told every day that voting is the way to express our hopes and to build a better society. Politicians are leaving the comfort of their fortresses and frequenting our townships. They all say that they are disgusted that we are still living below the poverty line in squalid conditions, with no water and electricity. They all say that voting is the way to restore the dignity of our people.
Those who claim to be so disgusted with how the people are living include the same ones that have been stealing from the people. There is the Nkandla chief, who has made his own family rich while the rest of us remain poor. There is also Malema, who dismantled a house of R4m ($375,000) to build a mansion of R16m ($1.5 million).
Another feature of our politics is that it has become about messiahs. John Block tells us that walking with Zuma is like walking next to God. According to Andile Mngxitama, Julius Malema has become Maolema. Helen Zille has been given the name Nobantu (people’s person).
In the Black Consciousness Movement, we read a lot. Some of us started as teenagers. At a young age we read Frantz Fanon’s warning about leaders who send the oppressed to their caves and tell them to leave politics to the professionals or the messiahs. We understood clearly that a radical politics is a democratic politics and that a democratic politics is a politics in which the oppressed control their own organizations and participate in all decision making.
The media also reduce us to spectators of politics rather than participants in politics. We are reduced to those who must clap hands and cheer for our “leaders.” At times the noise is so high that you hardly hear your leader.
We are in the struggle to kill the idea that one kind of person is superior to another kind of person. We want to abolish racism. But we also want to abolish the idea that politics is about choosing between Zuma, Zille and Malema.
Radical politics is a democratic politics and that a democratic politics is a politics in which the oppressed control their own organizations and participate in all decision making.
The formation of the Black Consciousness Movement in this country was a realization by Black people that we could no longer stand and be spectators of the game we are supposed to be playing. This election season continues to demonstrate the relevance of Biko’s teachings. We are expected to cheer the politicians as they play the game. We are expected to cheer the BEE (Black Economic Empowerment program) millionaires as they play the game. If we want to play the game ourselves, we end up like Andries Tatane, the Marikana martyrs or Nkululeko Gwala and Nqobile Nzuza.
Today our generation has to encourage people not to accept the hardships that they are facing. We have to find a way, even in the environments we are forced to live in, to have hope for ourselves and our country and to organize to confront oppression. That is what Black consciousness is all about. It is not about supporting one corrupt messiah against another corrupt one. It is about taking a side with the people.
After the murders of Tatane, the Marikana miners, Gwala and Nzuza, it is immoral to vote for Zuma. After Nkandla, it is immoral to vote for Zuma. After Blikkiesdorp and Hangberg, it is immoral to vote for Zille. After Malema forced his way into the leadership of the ANC Youth League and he and his friends plundered the organization, as well as Limpopo government and the National Youth Development Agency, it is immoral to vote for him too.
Zuma must go on trial for Marikana and Nkandla. Zille must go on trial for Hangberg. Malema must go on trial for his plunder and unpaid taxes.
That is what Black consciousness is all about. It is not about supporting one corrupt messiah against another corrupt one. It is about taking a side with the people.
But corruption and repression are not our only problems. There is no doubt that the ANC is rotten, but it is a grave mistake to divorce corruption from the rotten form of crony capitalism that we have in South Africa. Both the ANC and the DA (Democratic Alliance) are proponents of the kind of capitalism that always makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. They are both proponents of the Youth Wage Subsidy, which is a false solution to unemployment. We need a subsidy for the people, not for capital.
The EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) say that they will nationalize the mines and run them for the people. But no one in their right mind can trust Malema to run the mines for the people.
We have to ask ourselves why it is that we now have the vote but there is no one to vote for. Maybe the reason is that the political parties are all funded by elites and so they all work for elites. We need to change the system in which the parties are funded. All parties should receive the same funding from the state and there should be no secret and private funding.
Elections should be an opportunity for the people to choose their representatives from amongst themselves. What we have today is a system whereby we can only choose which group of rich people, working for the big capitalists, we want to rule us.
We have to ask ourselves why it is that we now have the vote but there is no one to vote for. Maybe the reason is that the political parties are all funded by elites and so they all work for elites.
Ayanda Kota, chairperson of the Unemployed People’s Movement based in Grahamstown, South Africa, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 078 825 6462. This story first appeared on GroundUp.org.