Phillip Dexter
Phillip Dexter

Freedom Day and Andries Tatane: Four countries, a killing and a wedding

As Andries Tatane was laid to rest by his Cope and other comrades, his neighbours, friends and family, the ruling party sent the MEC whose poor track record Tatane was demonstrating against, to speak at his funeral. This thoughtless act was a sign of our times. Symbols, whether relayed in the former of pictures, icons or ritual events, are an important feature of the life of any polity, be it a nation, a city or a global village.

There are symbols of good things, such as those in our heroic freedom struggle — Nelson Mandela, the April 27 1994 and the famous Thabo Mbeki “I am an African” speech at the adoption of the Constitution in 1996. There are equally bad ones of the apartheid system — the Sharpeville massacre, Hector Pietersen and the lifeless body of Chris Hani. It is hard to think of any enduring positive symbol of the period of President Zuma’s office thus far. One of the most negative — but most powerful — has been that of the killing of Andries Tatane.

The power of a symbol is that it conveys a message and has a meaning to those who observe it that is condensed into a picture or a moment. This potency is what realises the effect in those engaging with it. Tatane’s killing seems to have revealed the truth that is slowly dawning on the people of our country, namely that things are not quite what we were led to believe. An assorted crew of rightly-so agitated youth, cardboard communists, trade unionists lost in the wilderness, women whose sense of gender solidarity defies all logic, ex-MK veterans who seem to have gotten younger as each day passes, business people of all hues and party functionaries whose ineptitude borders on the criminal, elected Zuma to office in the ANC and then carried him to the highest office in the land.

Now this “project” is failing. Zuma and those around him promised reforms and change that would bring about more freedom, greater democracy, wealth redistribution and a partnership of government with the people. They criticised the government that came before them (that they were mostly all part of) for abusing state resources and agencies. Step up to the stage one General Richard Mdluli and his confidant, one Dr Blade Nzimande. Were they doing party or government work when they wrote the latest “intelligence” report doing the rounds? Instead of changing things for the better, Zuma’s government has sought to curtail press and media freedom, has promoted a culture of fear and suspicion of citizens in the intelligence and security community, has seen more and more excess in BEE and business generally, has made an art of bad governance and now finally has resulted in the state openly killing one of its citizens. We hear that there are many more who have died this way.

Nowhere more stark was the symbolism of the times we live in captured by the events of this Easter holiday period. After failing to brand the Tatane funeral as a party funeral for the ANC, the ANC acted with a churlishness that was palpable. As with so many South African funerals, Andries was laid to rest with no frills or fanciness, just sadness at a life lost and with anger at a government that has ceased to care for its people.

Most of the government and political elite were in the Eastern Cape at a wedding of the president’s daughter, who, no doubt funded by the new Shaiks (the Guptas), dressed in an outfit (Made in Paris! So much for the Proudly South African campaign …) that cost more than the annual income of most families and who paraded millions of rands worth of jewelry. Lambourgini’s worth more than what most South Africans will earn in their lifetime whined up to the venue and the rich, famous and powerful all poured out and paraded their wealth while showing allegiance to the son of Nkandla, who now seems increasingly isolated in his country and his party.

Our society is divided into four South Africa’s and not two as President Mbeki once said. There is the South Africa of the wealthy, capitalist elite, who live a globalised lifestyle, and are ready to beat a hasty retreat when the inevitable uprising comes. Their off-shore bank accounts are primed for that moment. There is the South Africa of the governing political elite who squander resources and time in a wannabe version of the wealthy elite existence, eating state dinners and driving around in the most expensive vehicles (paid for by us) because we the citizens let them. They are preparing the security services to beat us all into submission when the moment comes.

There is the middle class South Africa — one of paranoia, fear and anxiety, made increasingly tenuous by the encounters with the poor and who realise the threat of competition for resources is now real. They are no longer protected by an unholy pact with the elite South Africa as existed under apartheid. They may not be running but many are quietly exiting — black and white — and are taking their skills and energy with them. Then there is the South Africa of Andries Tatane — a country of no or poor services — bucket latrines, buckets for water and buckets of blood, sweat and tears. It is a rural, peri-urban or urban existence of squalor, disease and powerlessness. They have nowhere to go, so they are starting to rise up and say, enough.

This divided nation is not the vision of the forefathers and mothers of our nation. This is not the South Africa envisioned in the Freedom Charter. On Freedom Day, freedom is under threat. Our democracy is in danger. There has not been the economic growth and development needed to create work for all our people. The wealthy are wealthier than ever before. Governance is getting worse and not better. Corruption and looting are now common practice at all levels of government.

Our Constitution calls on us to do better than this. We can all point fingers at each other, or be honest and admit that the vision of our founding mothers and fathers has faltered so soon into democracy and we are all responsible. It is time for real change. The memory of our heroes and heroines of our liberation struggle deserve it. Andries Tatane’s widow and children deserve it, the millions of poor, marginalised South Africans deserve it. Our children all deserve a better future than this. We should be ashamed, all of us, that it takes these types of symbols, in fact spectacles such as Andries’ death, to move most of us to cry out for something better.

The president of Cope Mosiuoa Lekota, speaking at Andries Tatane’s funeral, quoted an awesomely powerful Sotho saying about the vultures who prey on the young men fallen in battle. Let us not slip into complacency again. We dare not, for the vultures are a plenty and there are more coming.