Government under fire

Activist Zackie Achmat.

On a day that was meant to celebrate the country’s democracy, about a thousand Capetonians met at Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha on Thursday April 27 to discuss the state of the country and stand up against a government they claim has failed them.

Ordinary citizens, pupils and civil society organisations met under the #UniteBehind movement, including Equal Education, Ndifuna Ukwazi, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, SA First Forum, the Social Justice Coalition, Sonke Gender Justice and the Treatment Action Campaign.

As the celebration was about to start, sounds of freedom songs and others criticising the president reverberated through the packed hall.

Pupils, some in school uniforms, made their voices heard through song.

Delivering his speech, activist Zackie Achmat of Ndifuna Ukwazi said people can turn the corrupt government into a people’s government.

He called the movement a cadres’ forum and urged people not to turn their backs on the African National Congress (ANC).

Mr Achmat, who said he was once a member of the ANC but not anymore, urged former ANC members to rejoin the party and claim it back from corrupt leaders. “Today should be a day of celebration, but we are not celebrating. Today we are saying we are united for justice. It is our duty to organise for change. We are united behind our organisations. We are united to change the government. It is our duty to change the government. We are united to change our country”, he told a packed hall.

He said President Jacob Zuma, the Gupta family who are accused of capturing the state for their own gains, and other corrupt individuals in the ANC, stand in the way of that change.

He called on all the political parties to put their differences aside and unite to change our society. “Let’s put aside our T-shirts. It is our job irrespective of where we come from to change the society. We have done it before, we will do it again. We cannot give up the ANC to Jacob Zuma,” he said.

Tshepo Motsepe, Equal Education general secretary, said the current government is not serving the mandate of its people but interests of the few elite. He criticised the government for neglecting the poor.

“This is not the government that was led by Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. The promise of democracy was not to enrich a few individuals, but all. They have forgotten that the aim was to advance social justice. But they consistently tell us to vote for better lives, where is the better life?”

Ms Motsepe said the struggle was for a just and equal South Africa and a democracy in which people participated in decisions affecting their lives.

He said the government needed to be open, accountable and ethical. Those in government must put the needs of the people first. “Instead they drive in and out of our townships with fancy cars as if we are here to marvel their fancy cars. They have surrounded themselves with bodyguards.

Phumeza Mlungwana, general secretary of the Social Justice Coalition, highlighted the lack of significant structural change in South Africa.

She called on residents of Mitchell’s Plain, Delft, Kraaifontein, Athlone and many other townships to take up the fight.