By Thamsanqa D Malinga
After 26 years of democracy, we still witness inequality and black South Africans struggling. Largely due to our colour and where we reside, we are suppressed in our ability to earn a decent living and penalised. To set the scene, we need to go back in time and contextualise these statements and, importantly, establish the underlying reasons.
In the late 1950s, one of the African National Congress (ANC) stalwarts, the late Msizi Dube, founded and led the Asinamali campaign against rent increases in Lamontville, outside Durban. This was to be the most powerful weapon the ruling party would use against black, apartheid-based municipalities. Growing up in Soweto in the ’80s, I remember how the campaign resurfaced and there were amajwigo (Struggle songs) composed and chanted by toyi-toying residents.
The call was the sound of people having no money. The draconian and racist act, the Payment of Wages of 1936, was in force. In fact, it was at a collective union conference, organised by the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), that it adopted the slogan “Asinamali-Sifun’ Imali” (We have no money – We want more money!). Part of the SACTU 1957 conference’s disputes centred on the fact that ”the majority of workers earn wages which were below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) and are ill and undernourished”.
Fast-forward almost three decades into a democratic dispensation led by a black government, the same one led by the party that popularised the Asinamali campaign, and we see that nothing much has changed.
I recently saw a social media post by journalist Ntebo Mokobo where he bemoaned the contentious issue of electricity in Soweto. In the post, Mokobo says: “There is no load shedding, at least according to Eskom, but every fourth day there is no electricity in some parts of Soweto. Residents say this, and Eskom’s load reduction, happens only in townships and not in suburbs.”
The residents’ assertion is correct. Every ”load reduction” notice I have seen released by the power utility targets townships. It started with those in Soweto, West Rand and the Vaal. The latest I saw targeted townships in the far east in Duduza, Tsakane and the surrounding areas.
The case of the forgotten ”non-beings” that I write about in my book, Blame Me on Apartheid, is clear in this case of selective ”load reduction”. There are townships in Soweto where they have gone without electricity for weeks on end. Residents even resort to clubbing money together to hire their own ”contractor”.
It gets worse, and Eskom then finds an opportunity to wash its hands of the mess that resulted from its strategy of forgetting and casting people in the periphery.
Many will argue residents need to pay for the services to enable the power utility to keep providing them. Others will point out the power utility’s capacity to cope with the demand. There are many stories we can all come up with to justify the state of ”non-being” those in the peripheral townships find themselves in. The reality, however, comes back to the ruling party. Every five years, there are freebies promised as part of electioneering.
Writing in the prologue to my book, Advocate Vuyani Ngalwana notes: “Sadly, since 1994 that most evil and enduring apartheid achievement seem to be perpetrated by successive governments of what used to be a liberation movement, sacrificing the cerebral development of the black child at the altar of political expediency. It is a fact that ruling over an ignorant population is less complicated than having to account to a population that thinks.
”They can therefore reason and make informed choices, especially when the ruling elite has nothing to offer except promises of ‘a better life for all’, which often translates to food parcels and poverty trap social grants.”
Besides the promise for every free thing under the sun as part of the ruling party’s electioneering, there is also the issue of record-high unemployment. This is further compounded by the fact that our democratic government of the people gazetted the Basic Minimum Wage below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL). This is such an irony, since workers have been complaining about it since 1957.
The townships continue to be the peripheral spaces for ”non-beings” envisaged by the colonial apartheid system that created them. The people in the townships will continue to be driven to ”social death” either through a deprivation of services or poverty, drugs, etc.
Blame me on Apartheid paints a picture of how townships are actually a colonial apartheid project created to sideline black people (including coloureds and Indians) to the outskirts as ’’non-beings’’ – a philosophical notion of being nothing.
The legacy of apartheid has been the elephant in the room for the past 26 years and South Africans need to start discussing the effects and possible solutions to the problems it has caused people of colour. Consequently, we need to arm ourselves with the knowledge of the past to move forward into the future.
* Malinga is a writer and author of Blame me on Apartheid
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL