Dear old comrades, how much power and money is enough…

J he struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against oblivion. —Milan Kundera

I feel like I’m living in a Hollywood horror movie. The roll call of patriot activists murdered since 1994 is growing at a breakneck pace. Andries Tatane, killed by police after a service delivery protest exploded in Ficksburg, Free State; Anele Bhengu, a 22-year-old lesbian and LGBTQ+ activist stabbed, raped and disembowelled at KZN; Sikhosiphi Rhadebe, chairman of the Amadiba crisis committee fighting against mining in the pristine and biodiverse ecosystem of the wild coast of the Eastern Cape, murdered in Mbizana.

The list is lengthened increasingly. Dozens of whistleblowers and union, civic, political and environmental activists murdered.

It’s a remake of our worst apartheid nightmare.

This happens on our watch.

The chilling environment we fought against, which ridiculed and demonized our activism, and created the alchemy of circumstances that saw an explosion of assassinations, disappearances, bombings of offices and brutality of security force actions, is now reproduced in our post-apartheid dream.

It makes my blood boil when I hear from former union leaders whose vitriolic attacks on civil society reflect a growing populist authoritarianism that has used the Covid pandemic to push through decisions that defy democratic logic and represent the worst of the slanderous demonization of our apartheid past.

At the top of the list is former labor leader, now Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, who suspended Peter Becker, the civil society representative on the board of the National Nuclear Regulator because he raised community concerns about health and safety hazards at the aging Koeberg nuclear power plant. And this horrific decision came the day the regulator gave the green light to Eskom to replace the steam generators of unit 2 of the plant.

Not satisfied with this unconstitutional measure, Mantashe says there is a “foreign funded” campaign aimed at destabilizing the work of his department and souring his relationship with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The minister continued, “I can’t help but wonder if these objections are aimed at ensuring the maintenance of the status quo in Africa, in general, and in South Africa, in particular? That is, the status quo with respect to energy poverty, high unemployment, high debt-to-GDP ratio at the country level and economies that are not developing and, in some cases, economic growth without use. We regard the objections to these developments as apartheid and colonialism of a particular type, disguised as a strong interest in environmental protection.

No, minister.

Your cheeky gas attacks are misplaced. It is not the activists who sabotage development, create unemployment or are environmental pretenders. In fact, on the contrary: all fingers point to those in power, former liberators, whose shenanigans and gross corruption are most visible in State Capture, which is the wrecking ball of our democracy.

Adding to this toxic mix is ​​the case of former Sactwu General Secretary Johnny Copelyn, now a billionaire capitalist, in his role as a fief at Hosken Consolidated Investments, driving oil and gas drilling off the pristine Wild Coast. , decrying community and civil society opposition as “poppy”.

Comrade capitalist, how much is enough?

Haven’t you accumulated more wealth than you can use in a lifetime? I find your feigned concern for job creation, reducing South Africa’s dependence on oil imports and the slander of activists to be a sorry excuse for crass materialism that seeks to destroy one of the ecosystems of our country’s most sensitive biodiversity while overthrowing community opposition.

Or have people and the environment simply become collateral damage of crony capitalist exploitation?

I reflect on our past activism and ask what turns former militant leaders into the very people we fought against – famous liberators are now eating their own children.

Have we completely and conveniently forgotten the lessons of social movements like Cosatu, whose operating system was based on grassroots mandates, deep listening and genuine consultation?

Have we forgotten the environment of fear, ridicule and demonization we faced from the apartheid regime with its campaigns of dirty tricks that resulted in the detention, torture and elimination activists, the bombing of Cosatu House and the restrictions imposed on us responsible for the employers’ claims for damages, all of which were preceded by disinformation propaganda campaigns against our struggle?

Beware of failing memory against oblivion, comrades.

Communities have the right to meaningful consultation and to live in a safe environment that respects their spiritual and cultural traditions and the meaningful livelihoods they have had over generations. This is what we fought for. A right enshrined in our Constitution. We have the right to resist attempts to divide and rule us.

Mantashe’s stupid “anti-imperialist” rhetoric and Copeland’s derisory claims against communities are the childish rantings of vested interests.

As we look around former mining towns, all I see is billions of dollars mined for shareholders in the Global North and our own predatory elites and peanuts paid to millions of miners who enslaved the coal face . We must be indifferent, blind and deaf to the anguish of these communities who live a ghostly survivalist existence in overwhelming misery, unemployment, hunger and destroyed natural environments.

These communities wonder why should we believe Shell, Total or any of these fossil fuel behemoths?

How different are they from Bain & Co, McKinsey & Co, SAP, KPMG or the banks that were involved in the state capture that nearly torpedoed our economy and democracy itself?

All we see in Africa is the destructive impact of the “resource wars” that global multinationals are waging on our continent, displacing communities in northern Mozambique and many other countries across our continent.

South Africa’s civic movements are our last line of defence, alongside a small and courageous independent media and an ethical judiciary that defend our constitutional and human rights against rampant corruption, failing service delivery and an arrogant political class that drowns in its own propaganda, believing that they are the messiahs of the promised land”.

South Africa was not liberated by political parties or leaders. Change came when the people stood up and refused to collaborate in their oppression, and through mass struggles like the ones we see today, declared: “We are fed up with arbitrary decisions made in our name.

Since 1994, our greatest democratic victories have been led by people on the ground, challenging the unilateralism and arrogance of government and narrow private interests. Whether it’s the Treatment Action Campaign fighting for the right of those with HIV/AIDS to access antiretrovirals, or SECTION27 and other educational NGOs fighting for the right of children to textbooks, toilets and labs, or community movements like Abahlali baseMjondolo’s fight against illegal evictions, or the Amadiba crisis committee’s opposition to mining on the eco-sensitive wild coast.

Civil society organizations have strengthened the capacity of the South African state to deliver vital goods and services and to protect the constitutional rights of vulnerable communities. Evidence shows that NGOs such as Gift of the Givers and thousands of grassroots organizations have led critical interventions in our many humanitarian and service delivery crises. In fact, our own government should deepen its collaboration with civil society, given the large-scale inefficiency and corruption within its own ranks at the local level.

Perhaps it is time for my former comrades who rose to wealth and power through activism to read Milan Kundera’s classic and understand that our Constitution in its Bill of Rights enshrines the “right of all citizens to an environment that does not harm their health or well-being”. -to be; and to protect the environment, for the benefit of present and future generations”. DM

Jay Naidoo is the founding secretary general of Cosatu, a former minister in Nelson Mandela’s government, and a member of the board of directors of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

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