Monday, June 09, 2008

An Open Letter to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Requesting Intervention to Halt Violence Against Immigrants in South Africa

Dear Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

With everyone running around dropping off letters to each other — President Mbeki to President Bush, Morgan Tsvangirai to Mbeki and the chairman of Benoni Brothels Inc to the government, (Mrs Traps) I slipped out without paying, apparently — I figured: Why not send one to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela?

As the recipient of the most votes from the delegates at the ANC conference held in Polokwane and the one person who — regardless of what publicity regarding her is out there at any one time, good, bad or indifferent — remains the most popular leader of the masses of this country and the best person to address them on their very real fears and concerns?

Dear Ms Madikizela-Mandela

I am a criminal attorney, journalist and Derby County supporter (currently sitting shiva as a result of their relegation from the premiership). While you would probably never have heard of me, I am acutely aware of the enormous part that you played in the liberation of the people of this country as well as the courage that you displayed during the apartheid years. This courage is allied to a passion for the people of your country, which gave rise to a continuing and eternal popularity among the party faithful, evidenced at Polokwane, as well as the masses of our country.

While defending people indicted by the state, whose family and “friends” abandon them simply because they have been charged, I have learned never to judge people. In the first instance it is not my place and secondly, having chosen to support Derby County, I realise that I’m not a very good judge anyway. It has also taught me that when people are drowning in a merciless sea with waves of hatred crashing down on them — blinding and relentless — then only one thing can save them, guilty or innocent, that one man, without preconceived ideas of what is right and wrong in his fellow man, might place a firm hand on their shoulder and simply say: “It will be OK.”

In that moment, adrift at sea with storm clouds of accusations and resentment gathering all about them, their own self-doubt eclipsing even that of others in them, that expression of faith, changes everything — there is hope.

Of course while accepting that I would make a terrible judge, I have come to realise that my training as a lawyer has given me the ability to look at the evidence in the case of the Planet vs South Africa and see it for what is and hopefully offer some suggestions on one of the ways in which we might tackle it.

1. When the ANC came to power in 1994, there could be no doubting their intention to uplift the masses of this country and improve their plight. In light thereof, a considerable amount of transformation has been achieved, all the while conceding that there is still a massive mountain left to climb.

2. Polokwane in December 2007 confirmed that ANC president Jacob Zuma, like yourself, enjoys enormous support from grassroots right up to the NEC. He was duly elected with a mandate to, inter alia, speed up the pace of transformation and address poverty as a matter of urgency. The desire to address the grievances of our poorer communities was thus given clear expression.

3. Returning to 1994 and upon our becoming a multiracial democracy, due to the part played by the world community and particularly the African continent in ending apartheid, we flung our doors open to the planet. In my mind there is no doubt that, at that time, South Africa’s heart was in the right place — although, having said that, our accountant was definitely in the wrong place. Nobody was aware of (or properly factored in) what the cost of this exercise would be to our economy. Yet, like any country experiencing a major change in political direction, there was always going to be sharp swings of the pendulum: to the right and with strict controls on immigration, then sharply to the left and minimum controls before settling in the centre, with policies benign to both guests and South Africans.

4. This has occasioned disgruntled poorer communities, who, once again as they did under apartheid, are bearing the brunt of government policies as well as guests who are both angry and afraid as a result of conduct which is wholly unacceptable, no matter what the grievances are.

5. While reading through tonnes of material daily, I am left in no doubt that South African as a nation deeply regrets the events that have taken place over the past few weeks. We are inundated with stories of people pitching in to help and voicing their disappointment and alarm at this xenophobic conduct. As a criminal attorney I am also aware of the fact that too often, in situations like these, the criminal element and self-interest groups immediately try to take advantage. Just as I am keenly aware that the government, ANC, opposition parties, NGOs, trade unions and every other cog in the machinery that makes South Africa tick are working to try and put mechanisms in place to address the problems of both the poorer communities as well as the guests of our country.

6. The media, as I am sure you are aware, are highlighting both the good and the bad news, with unfortunately the latter presently predominating. Undoubtedly this along with crime and the world economic crisis is creating a mood of despair. People are afraid that they will starve, be attacked or face ruin as a result of the aggregate of the news that they are currently seeing or hearing about.

7. This fear, some of which is translating itself into aggression, will be far more manageable and even channel itself into positive energy if people are made more aware of the steps being taken to deal with their concerns. A message of hope relayed by someone who can tell them that right or wrong, guilty or not guilty, everything is going to be OK. A messenger, who, during the darkest hours of apartheid stood firm and promised them that some day, this will pass and a bright new future will dawn. A credible source who stood shoulder to shoulder with them rather than taking refuge and braved the might and fury of that government’s considerable force.

8. While we know the reasons for the fear and what has to be done to start addressing it, people are drowning in a sea of uncertainty. We have innumerable sources — both local and abroad — reporting and analysing the underlying causes of our distress and the tragic events unfolding as a result of it. What we don’t have is someone from the government and the ruling party trusted by the people, to bridge the gap between the two parties — the ANC and the masses. While there are comments being made almost daily by ministers as well as party leaders and their members visiting communities, what the people need right now is a Colossus to stand out and upon whom they can focus — the messenger of hope.

9. At present, people are receiving conflicting reports about cause and effect, news of people wanting to leave the country and a mixture of tales from local and foreign media. Worse, like every group of people the world over, there are gossips and rumour mongers who, more often than not, unwittingly, stir up hate and confusion. Amid this storm, what they don’t have is sight of a lighthouse — something to keep their eye on while they’re being guided towards a safe harbour. Yours is the light of communication, guiding and reassuring people, while the ruling party awaits the inauguration of Jacob Zuma as the next president of South Africa.

10. The prime example would be Churchill. As the British listened out for Churchill, their beacon of hope in World War II, so too do these South Africans need someone whom they can look out for whenever they need reassurance that things are under control. Churchill promised his people nothing more than blood, sweat and tears married to years of struggle but with a quiet self-assurance, which created the belief and thereby the hope, that theirs was a worthwhile cause and justice would triumph.

11. South Africa in 2008 needs woman of courage and grim determination to stand up and call the masses to order. It is only through order in their approach, which comes from knowing their direction, that they will achieve their goals. That, in the midst of all the rumours, the negativity and the upheaval that they need only focus on you for truth, reassurance and the direction that this is taking. If they just keep their eye on you and don’t look down, that they will get across that bridge between fear and feeling safe and secure once again.

South Africans right now need that Colossus, that lighthouse and that Churchill — quite frankly, Ms Madikizela-Mandela, your country needs you.

You are that woman, ma’am, and more besides.

Now if you would kindly excuse me I have to go and write another abusive letter to the chairman of Derby County.

Kind regards

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