We still have leaders whom we can look to with pride

We still have leaders whom we can look to with pride
The daily revelations of corruption, maladministration and poor service delivery are so overwhelming that one can easily lose sight of the many good people who are out there. The Neil Aggett inquest gives us hope.

The 2017 inquest into the death in detention of Ahmed Timol reminded us of the extent of anti-apartheid resistance, the inclusive character of our liberation movement and the brutality of the apartheid regime. The re-opening of the inquest into the death in detention in February 1982 of Neil Aggett, a 28 year old doctor, anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist, reassert those three aspects.

Being reminded that South Africans actively resisted apartheid; that the resistance was non-racial in character; and that not only were apartheid policies inhumane but that the regime that imposed them was brutal, is important given the emerging distortions of history. It provides context for those intellectuals who dissect and negatively opine about the history of resistance, based on theory only. It is an awakening to those of the younger generation, born post-apartheid, who aggressively lament about state oppression but have no clue what state oppression really is; for those for whom the concepts of militarisation and torture are completely incomprehensible; and those who are veering on narrow nationalism, both black and white.

The broadcasting of the inquest hearings exposes tangible manifestations of a buried past, evoking emotive recollections of the difficulties of our liberation struggle. We commend all those who testified, for reliving the trauma and pain could not have been easy.

The inquest hearings, however, also highlighted the reality that not all who contributed to our liberation struggle are corrupt. As a number of leaders came to the fore to speak of past apartheid atrocities, they represented a cohort of brave, committed, highly skilled people who have successfully spoken out against corruption and who remain committed to creating a united, non-racial, non-sexist, and prosperous country. They affirm that we still have leaders whom we can look to with pride; leaders whom we can aspire to emulate. Barbara Hogan and Frank Chikane are among them, but if we look beyond the courtroom, we can easily identify many more.

While few of the apartheid atrocities are being publicised, many who lived under apartheid can relate to the repression that accompanied resistance, for our resistance was broad-based and leaders were not at a national level only. Furthermore, resistance went beyond anti-apartheid activities; it included building alternative organs of people’s power and collective action to address social challenges. Civic associations were vibrant and street committees were real. There were advice offices, children’s groups, literacy classes, to name but a few. Local leadership, grassroots activism and societal responsibility, however, appear to have dissipated, with development and accountability for such development being relegated exclusively to government.

The inquests, while important for rectifying the records of history and gaining closure, serve a greater purpose, namely to evoke the communal spirit that prevailed in the anti-apartheid era; to inspire us to embed the values of our liberation heroes and struggle stalwarts; and to collectively work towards creating a country that makes them proud. The weight of change should not be carried by our leaders who testified only; all who fought apartheid in the past have an obligation to assist in building our country today.

Our greatest hope however resides in the born-frees. We require the innovation and energy of younger people to assist us to escape the economic and environmental distresses, and human insecurity that plague us, and to present an alternative to the globally imposed bourgeois developmentalism. While our struggle stalwarts will always be treasured, a new generation of leaders have to emerge more prominently. This compels that those who will take over the reins demonstrate higher levels of maturity and seriousness to govern. 

* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security. She currently resides in Damascus, Syria.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.