OPINION – The management of the spread of Covid-19 has once again highlighted the huge disparities that exist in South Africa.
The commemoration of the assassination of Martin Thembisile Hani (nom de guerre Chris), ANC National Executive Committee member and General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, in Boksburg on April 10, 1993 assists to contextualise why these disparities remain, after 25 years of democratic governance.
The annual commemoration highlights the pivotal events in our history; contributes to preserving the values and ideals that our liberation icons lived and died for, but also enables us to recall the conditions that informed their actions.
Apartheid was a system that deepened the colonial legacy of expropriation, disenfranchisement and impoverishment of indigenous communities.
It deliberately enabled the subjugation of one group of people by another, based on the colour of their skin through ruthlessly imposed discriminatory legislation and economic practices, resulting in huge inequalities.
By 1970, the richest twenty per cent of the population in South Africa, which was white, owned seventy-five per cent of the wealth.
South Africa’s gini-coefficient value in 1978 was 0.66, setting the base for the current, untransformed racially skewed economic inequality and gini-coefficient of 0.62.
By 1980, fifty per cent of South Africans lived on a household income of less than R189.00 per month and more than eighty per cent of households in the then bantustans were living in dire poverty.
Despite the abundance of food, South Africa at the time was characterised by widespread hunger and malnutrition; with diseases associated with malnutrition leading to a high number of deaths, particularly amongst children.
While apartheid South Africa produced sixty per cent of the electricity of the entire continent, almost two-thirds of its population, approximately eighty per cent of which were African, did not have access to electricity and remained dependent on fire wood as a primary source of fuel, and on paraffin and candles.
The majority of South Africans were also deprived of access to clean drinking water, forced to be dependent on fountains and rivers.
Basic sanitation services were absent.
Education and job reservation were designed to ensure that black people remained a reservoir of cheap labour.
The consequence of a system that directed disenfranchisement, dispossession and severely restricted movement; minimum access to ownership of productive resources and participation in economic opportunities; and harsh inequalities, was resistance.
And the resistance was met with brutal repression.
The March 21, 1960 Sharpeville massacre that resulted in the death of 69 and injury of 180 persons is just one example of the excessive force that was unleashed upon those who dared to challenge the system.
The Timol and Aggett inquests provided some insight into the severe torture that was inflicted on anti-apartheid activists. There were no limits to the cruelty that accompanied apartheid.
It was these conditions of widespread, dehumanising racism; pervasive poverty and hunger; barbaric repression; and a highly unjust legal system, which compelled people like Chris Hani to join the ANC Youth League at the tender age of 15.
His exposure to the literature of scholars such as Marx, Engels and Lenin assisted him to understand that the system of apartheid was broader than race. Conscious of the close link between racism and economic exploitation and believing that the harsh working conditions with low wages were immoral and criminal, he joined the SACP in 1961, which by then was banned and had gone underground.
Accepting that conditions for the peaceful advocacy of a politically, socially and economically just South Africa no longer existed, Chris Hani, while doing his articles to become a lawyer, in 1962 was recruited into the ANC and SACP’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe and following his arrest shortly thereafter, was compelled to go into exile in 1963. After a brief stay in Tanzania, he underwent military training in the Soviet Union.
Driven by a determination to contribute to the creation of a better life for all South Africans, he participated in the Wankie Campaign, as part of the Luthuli Detachment, with the objective of setting up bases inside Zimbabwe that could be used as stepping stones for infiltration into South Africa.
As Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, he appreciated the importance of continued mobilisation of international solidarity, while building underground cells inside the country and mass mobilisation to end apartheid.
Sanctions and international solidarity, the defeat of the South African Defence Force at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, and the 1989 Defiance Campaign inside the country, were some of the factors that compelled the National Party to unban organisations like the ANC and SACP, to free political prisoners and to allow those in exile to return home, thirty years ago.
While the conditions for negotiations were met, the state of severe repression continued well after 1990 and remained legislatively imposed for at least another six years.
Sadly, Chris Hani was assassinated before South Africa could hold its first democratic election.
Having been elected General Secretary at the SACP at its 8th National Conference in 1991, he however managed to introduce a campaign aimed at addressing the hunger, housing and health challenges in the country.
The “Triple H” campaign is prophetic in that, had the ANC-led government prioritised particularly those three aspects, some of the current challenges in managing the spread of Covid-19, might have been averted.
Despite substantive interventions over the past twenty-five years, the legacy of apartheid prevails.
Informal settlements with little or no energy, water and sanitation services; densely populated, overcrowded townships; and myriads of homeless remain common features of a democratic South Africa. Poverty is still rampant.
Government’s swift action to protect the vulnerable and facilitate food security during the pandemic-induced lockdown is commendable.
More sustainable solutions must however be considered.
The crisis presents us with an opportunity to de-densify our townships by rolling-out serviced sites with basic shelter and enough space for future food gardens, en-masse.
It also provides an opportunity for the notion of a universal basic income to be tested. Overcoming the psychological, social and economic remnants of apartheid will take time. In addressing the Covid-19 pandemic we can at least attempt to achieve on of Chris Hani’s dreams by ensuring that the “Triple H” campaign is realised.
* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security. She currently resides in Syria.
By Reneva Fourie