July is always a full and challenging month for us, as Mandela Day and associated events stretch our capacity. As always it was heartwarming to experience the support of so many stakeholders, from government to business, from Madiba’s family to structures of civil society. As always it was sobering to be exposed to the extreme need of so many in our society. The poor and the weak. The wretched of the earth. We are grateful to all who continue to support the Mandela Day campaign. And we are determined to transform the campaign into one which meets immediate community needs at the same time as enabling us to address the underlying systemic challenges – through testing models, piloting projects and gathering data for our advocacy work at public policy level.
At month’s end we found ourselves caught in the sadness of loss. Saying goodbye to Ntate Johnny Clegg was not easy. He was a South African of extraordinary quality, a friend of the Foundation from its inception and someone who supported many of Madiba’s projects. We will miss his energy. We will miss him. Madiba had the greatest respect for him. The way he lived his life exemplified an embrace of “the other” and a generosity towards those one disagrees with. South Africa needs that energy and those attributes desperately today, when too often we find that colour matters more than character, affiliation more than principle, and reward more than service. We will always be grateful for his life and his work. Siyabonga kakhulu. Hamba kahle baba.
We also lost an actress of significance who helped shape the theatre and television world, Mama Nomhle Nkonyeni. She used her standing, her experience and her craft to help many up and coming artists. In her honour, may we continue to support the creative industry and grow it.
My month started with a week-long trip to Belgium and Germany, together with Gauteng MEC for Basic Education, Panyaza Lesufi. I valued the collaborative exploration of opportunities for North-South partnerships. But we were disturbed by what feels like a growing disaffection with South Africa in European countries. Potential funders are concerned about where the country finds itself today. “You are shooting yourselves in the foot,” we heard again and again. Populism is running strongly in South Africa, turning the public space into a brutal one characterised by threatening, bullying and even physical violence. Safe spaces are becoming more and more difficult to find. Parliament is no longer a sanctuary. Elders who have earned respect are treated with contempt. Notions of dignity and truthfulness are either ignored or played fast and loose with, forcing many to resort to the courts to deal with fake news and the spreading of baseless rumour. The Johnny Cleggs of this world are dismissed, along with Madiba, as “rainbowists”. And veterans of struggle are labelled as sell-outs or spies. All against the backdrop of a democracy which is failing to meet the basic needs of far too many South Africans. The month ended with the release of unemployment figures by Statistics South Africa which should sound alarm bells in everyone’s ears.
We have watched, with pain, anxiety and disappointment, former President Zuma at the Zondo Commission of Enquiry into state capture accusing people of having been apartheid-era spies of the regime. It reminds us of how in 1999 when ANC local leader Sifiso Nkabinde switched to the UDM, suddenly evidence was put in the public domain suggesting that he had been a police informer. It reminds us of how in 2003 when then-head of the NPA Bulelani Ngcuka was investigating President Zuma, suddenly evidence (subsequently shown to be spurious) emerged claiming Ngcuka to have been a spy. It reminds us of how many people during the struggle for our freedom were falsely accused of being impimpi and lost their lives in consequence. Even Ntate Chris Hani came close to falling foul of processes like this when he challenged things that were happening within the liberation movement.
In my small mining township of Khuma, people have lost lives and homes and and have been banished after allegations were spread of them being spies. The memories are painful for those involved. These kinds of allegation have huge implications for the accused and their families. Let us not forget. Let us be mindful of how little of the archival evidence which is essential to authentication processes has either survived or is available for public inspection. Let us be mindful that people accused in this way have almost no way of clearing their names; and mindful that access to surviving apartheid-era classified files is still governed by apartheid state secrecy legislation. Is it not time to develop more effective processes for dealing with our deeply painful apartheid pasts?
Too often the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) is turned into a tool to frustrate access to information. There was a time when even Madiba received unhelpful if not dishonest responses from government institutions to his PAIA requests for access to records about himself. It can’t be right that the family of Mme Dulcie September still waits to get access to records which will help them come to terms with her assassination. It can’t be right that the family of Ntate Onkgopotse Tiro is in the same position. In this last month the Tiro family have asked the Foundation to assist them in their quest. These are heroes of our struggle whose families continue to live with questions and the pain of loss.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did important work in securing, cataloguing and preparing for public access apartheid-era records which had survived the systematic destruction, removal and hiding perpetrated by the state, individuals and various formations. It is time to complete that work. It is time to open the books on the past in ways that are responsible and that prioritise the needs of people seeking healing. It can’t be right that in the 1990s we were able to help the Biko family secure access to records about Ntate Steve Bantu Biko but in the 2010s we are unable to help the Tiro family with their similar quest. It can’t be right that we are still held hostage by people who claim to have privileged access to information which cannot be subjected to the tests of verification and authentication. We need new legislation commensurate with the Constitution and a democracy which is transformative and liberatory. We need legal and related instruments which promote the ideal of an open democracy which was articulated in the 1990s under Madiba’s leadership. And we need what is called in other jurisdictions “government in the sunshine”. We cannot tolerate smoke and mirrors any longer.
The challenges are many in this terrain. But we remain confident that South Africans will join hands to find ways to heal the wounds of the past.