Without leadership, hope and constructive non-violent engagement is more difficult
Apologies to my Sunday Standard readership. A tech breakdown stopped this article reaching the newsroom. The column resumes next week.
A week in South Africa with social justice activists ignited in me again the power of leadership and community action. Convened by the Social Change Initiative, we came from Cape Town, Gaborone, Dublin, Nairobi and New York and elsewhere to discuss how to deepen democracy, make policing safer and empower displaced populations. The discussions offer much for Kenya fresh out from the recent General Elections.
Any visitor to South Africa quickly feels the uncertainty of their impending General Elections in 2019. Later this month, President Jacob Zuma’s successor will probably be chosen in the 54th National Conference of the African National Congress. However, growing mass disillusionment with huge corruption scandals and nepotism around the Presidency and the Government’s inability to generate jobs and essential services present new openings for opposition parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters and Democratic Alliance. Drunk with power and unable to make a mid-course correction, the 105-year-old party of the late Nelson Mandela is more vulnerable than it has ever been. Smelling blood, the opposition circles in for the kill.
Like Kenya, the lungs of South African cities have always been its informal settlements. Khayelitsha (pronounced Kai-litsha) is the most famous in Cape Town. Its 400,000 residents earn just under Kshs 16,000 a month on average. Crime, gang warfare and gender-based violence are rife. Essential services like water and sanitation are inadequate. Desperate for a change, residents supported by the Social Justice Coalition have prosecuted the Police for not allocating enough resources to keeping the community safe. They argue more police resources can be found in the less populated and richer neighborhoods. Inequality is real and the ANC Government has not got it right yet.
The District 6 museum stands in the heart of Cape Town. Before it was declared a whites-only area in the sixties, District 6 was a relatively cosmopolitan neighborhood of Cape Malays, Xhosa, English and Afrikaans-speaking whites and Indians. By 1983, 60,000 men, women and children had been bull-dozed and forcibly evicted from District 6. Residents established a Museum and Foundation in 1994 and the Hands Off District 6 Committee mobilised to stop investment and re-development for whites only. In 2008, President Mandela handed keys to the first of the families to return to District 6. Collective action by community organisers and the state rectified a historical grievance.
Like South Africa, Kenya grapples with bad governance, corruption, inequalities and historical grievances. Our community leaders, like theirs, grow weary of a political economy that leaves millions excluded and deeply frustrated. As our youth become disillusioned with our public offices and insurrectionist, representative democracy matters less. Jay Naidoo’s recent observations that violent destruction has become a legitimate way of expressing grievance in South Africa applies equally to Kenya. Violence is seeping into both of our political cultures. In these circumstances, keeping hope alive and non-violent, constructive engagement becomes more difficult.
Reflecting on this and other challenges, Stephanie Leonard reminded me of Bayard Rustin. A gay civil rights activist, Rustin was Martin Luther King jr.’s mentor and strategist. It was Rustin’s strategic brilliance that crafted the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the famous march on Washington from where King Jr. would declare his famous “I have a dream” speech. He was known for simplifying complex civil rights issues into only three questions, what is the main problem, what change is needed and who has the power to make it happen?
Twenty-six years after he died, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded him America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rustin’s greatest example to us lies in the courage he took to be his authentic self when the world was not ready for his vision, values or choices. Today, he would probably argue, it is not our job to make those who discriminate, exclude or steal from the public comfortable. It is our responsibility to make them uncomfortable until the world we want, becomes a reality.
This month, your County Government seeks your guidance on how to spend your taxes. This moment only comes once every five years. The County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP) will frame your County Government’s investment in your family and community. Under investment and the denial of essential services leaves the communities of Khayelitsha with little dignity or rights. If you and your community do not speak up like District 6, how will the world you both want, show up? #ChoosePowerfully
December 3, 2017