DEMOCRACY DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY SOLVE PROBLEMS
By: Bongani Gema
In Rehad Desai’s film, Miners Shot Down, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) President, Joseph Mathunjwa, defies the perception that men don’t cry.
The tears he wept did not indicate weakness or defeat, but signalled rather, the death of hope. As Greg Nicolson writes, “You cry because of what these mineworkers represent – black South Africans who deserved better after 1994, who hoped the struggle would bring equality.
Who hoped racism would end. Who hoped they could put bread on the table and give their children the opportunity they didn’t have. But those hopes have been sacrificed to apartheid’s legacy.”
The Marikana massacre was more than blood-shed. It was a reflection of the downtrodden, dispossessed black working class that is forever willing to pay the ultimate price for that modern-world’s most basic necessity – money.
In their 2013 research, the SA Institute of Race Relations highlighted the, ‘glaring racial inequalities,’ between the earnings of black and white workers. This report based on the performance of black people (African, coloured and Indian) since 1994 found that the average individual earnings of white people was four times higher than that of black people. The report also showed that the level of relative poverty for black-Africans sits at 42 percent, while for whites, it is just one percent.
This serves as a damning indictment to a government with a national development plan that reads: “No political democracy can survive and flourish if the mass of our people remain in poverty without land and without tangible prospects of a better life.”
Conversely, there are those who argue that the 20 years of democracy transition hasn’t been long enough a time to settle these glaring disparities. Some believe that in this junior democratic South Africa much has been accomplished. Even citing, amongst many, the thousands of houses built for the impoverished. But as Brad Cibane writes on Africasacountry.com, “These workers are concerned with their own interests – the politics of bread.”
Moneuoa Letlatsa of the Black Management Forum, which he describes as a movement in pursuit of socio-economic justice, believes that, “While ANC policies have been good for business and for addressing the historic imbalances of our society, much needs to be done and all pillars of society need to be pro-active. Unfortunately, there are constitutional barriers hindering social and economic revolution.”
“Numerous factors remain outstanding, such as land redistribution and white corporate monopoly which exists at a scale larger than we are aware of, and there simply isn’t sufficient political will to tackle it hands on,” said Letlatsa.
Letlatsa also blames the crisis in South Africa on leadership.
“The crisis in South Africa can be traced back to the lack of good leadership we are faced with. But that speaks of the kind of democracy we have in our country. While a more direct elective democracy places more responsibility on the citizens to hold leaders accountable and is less prone to political manipulation, one can argue that the greatest threat to our current system is not the elected leaders as such, but the people who elect them,” said Letlatsa.
Letlatsa’s sentiments are echoed by many. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate wrote, “Democracy does not automatically solve problems”. However, without it the ability for people to solve problems and alleviate poverty is impossible.