By ‘Odidi Matai-Sigudla
Former British cabinet minister and anti-apartheid campaigner, Lord Peter Hain, says that ANC politicians have “looted and brought the country nearly to its knees”.
Speaking at the Neil Aggett commemorative lecture at Kingswood College on 7 March, Hain described this as a tragic betrayal of South Africans and of “the heroes of the liberation struggle, the leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and Lillian Ngoyi, who gave up the prime of their lives to serve harsh jail sentences”.
“Decent people across South Africa, people of all ages and skin colours, tell me how despairing they are for the future of the country under incompetent, thieving ministers and councillors” Hain said.
He urged South Africans to each do their little bit and rise up to demand change, reminding the audience that Neil Aggett who was a part of a very tiny minority of white anti-apartheid activists of his era, did exactly that.
Aggett, a former Kingswood college student and medical doctor and trade unionist, was murdered by the apartheid police in detention on 5 February 1982. He was a selfless fighter for others and lived according to Nelson Mandela’s guiding words: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others”.
Hain and his family were forced into exile from South Africa when he was a young boy.
He added that many South Africans from every walk of life feel helpless, as if they cannot do anything about the power cuts, water cuts, or about dysfunctional or non-existent local municipal services. Hain said citizens feel that politics doesn’t serve them anymore, that their vote is worthless – even though it took a momentous fight to get the vote for everyone.
He said the struggle against apartheid was difficult to win. “Many made sacrifices, some small, some big, some sacrificed their freedom, some their families, some their very lives. Some did a little, others did a lot – but they all did something” he said.
Hain urged everyone living in South Africa to bring about change. “Every one of you can do your bit. First by doing your very best, driven by the vision of an inclusive and united South Africa propagated by democracy’s founding mothers and fathers. Do your very best at school. Your very best at teaching. Your very best at whatever you do in future, tending to gardens or tending to the sick, running a business or running a trade union” he said.
It was vital for people to say no “to paying a bribe or a backhander for a contract, for a job, for a permit, for a licence, for starting a business, for building a home, ‘No!’ to a corrupt trade union if you are applying for a teaching job, ‘No!’ to the Home Affairs Department official who demands a payment to grant a visa to the Zimbabwean employee who keeps your small business going” he said.
“Until everyone unites to say ‘No!’, nothing will change”, Hain concluded, warning that South Africa was in danger of becoming a failed state unless everyone mobilised for change.