Since the tag, “apartheid is over”, people have been fearful of unpacking what 1994 really meant beyond the celebrated rainbowism and assumed equality. It is true that those who do are ostracized and labeled as resisting transformation… not getting with the program of our newfound unity. So we have seen a lot of policing and shaming – it has rendered some voices silent.
Of late, many unexpected voices have been risking their street cred and speaking out.
I was 14 in 1994 when people voted in, the new South Africa. My tiny town village was abuzz with excitement. People voted and went home to wait for change. Most are still waiting.
Why are they waiting? I asked myself. But I was young, my mind could not make sense of it all. I remember this because I also went home along with everyone else and waited for that magical moment of change. Nothing much changed. My mother’s struggles were as real and unrelenting as they had been before. The oppression of poverty choked most of our dreams. I started asking why we wait, again.
The opportunities were slim, but they were there. Sadly, hardly anyone would have access to them. This lack of access has created a lot of unhappiness, because we want our magical moment. We feel we were robbed, our moment of glory swindled. We thought the struggle was over, we could lay down our arms and get on with the business of living. In the trenches, we waited for a better life.
What have we done with our political power to create an environment conducive to the second phase of the revolution? Waking up to the realization that 1994 did not achieve all our goals has us in a tizz, because we over committed ourselves to the idea of rainbowism and neglected and negated the path to true equality. Now it is coming back to haunt us as poverty and helplessness runs amok in our communities.
Does the middle and upper class realize its role in the economic revolution that still must happen in South Africa? Could it be that it does not, because it believes that 1994 meant that we could all disengage from the struggle, and focus on our individual lives? Maybe we do not see that every opportunity is a struggle won for the collective until we all get free.
I do not think the middle and upper classes realize that the power the past 18 years has bestowed on them is not just for personal use. This power is a weapon for the revolution. They speak with frustrated powerlessness on issues they are equipped to change.
When people moan about the state of the country, I always ask, “so what will you do about it?” It throws them off without fail, and some feel patronized – because they feel it is not their place to do anything beyond charity. They work hard and pay their taxes so that someone can do something. Under normal circumstances this is understandable and it is how it should be. Except we are not a normal society. We are a society still in the throes of a revolution, we are just in denial about it. That is why our problems are so huge – and why we should apply a revolutionary mindset to the solutions we propose and implement.
This is a part of the 1994 legacy that is killing us. The belief that the few freedoms we have are the extent of what the revolution could deliver. The belief that the revolution is over – We hand our power to effect change over to governments.
If we could realize that, for every one of us that succeeded, thousands fell by the wayside of cheap labour, we would understand how political our lives are. The othering has us exploiting each other using oppressive systems that we fought against. The call for unity has to ring throughout the land. It is not time to disband yet. The task at hand is enormous and overwhelming. Where do we start? Easier to just build high walls and shut out the clamour of misery. Were we to understand we are in the middle of a revolution, our perspectives would change. The whole energy of the country would change. There would be a militancy to our actions and a sense of brotherhood.
Some of us thought 1994 was to build foot soldiers for the economic revolution. Some of us still hang on to this hope.
Article first published in Sowetan, 31 January 2013