As was the case was with the mining sector’s fatalities in Marikana, the farming industry’s painful loss of life in De Doorns can be viewed as a rude awakening to all and sundry that two decades into a new democratic dispensation in South Africa, the road to access to life’s basic amenities for millions of people was still steep, painful and daunting.
These tragedies, separate but related, hopefully awakened us to the reality that the journey to the summit – that of addressing the socio-economic imbalances of the past – called for all hands on deck in passionate pursuit of that idealistic payday, that of an equal, non racial, non sexist, prosperous and democratic South Africa.
And, hopefully these emphasise the reality that all stakeholders should be sensitive to the ever-changing political and socio-economic environment of our time, and must be pro-active when dealing with issues around transformation, affirmative action and empowerment of previously disadvantaged groups.
These events, tragic and still unfolding as they are, require government and all stakeholders to be in constant contact and dialogue with the people on the ground and ensure effective and efficient intelligence processes to detect simmering volcanoes in order to provide lasting remedies, before matters explode with drastic consequences.
The latter aspect seems to command the biggest weight in a country steering itself into a new all inclusive dispensation away from one that was exclusionary and discriminatory in its very nature.
But, it must be understood that these are serious issues, with under-currents some of which are as old as the sun. All stakeholders must view De Doorns and Marikana as just the spark that caused an explosion in a small, poorly ventilated room fill with hydrogen.
In the context of South Africa some of the underlying issues are over 300 years old. These really are deeply structural issues which may take generations to resolve and to a great extent, will certainly involve a re-shaping of attitudes, unlearning of stereotypes and re-alignment of cultural mindsets.
This is as true for the generation currently forming the white community, who historically owned the farms and means of production, as it is for the previously disadvantaged communities. It is a painful fact that the socialisation process of the former contingent depicted the previously disadvantaged peoples as nothing more than providers of labour whose role is to ensure productivity.
That all these ‘peasants’ needed a wage structure to ensure they are sustained enough to wake up the next morning to provide their labour – in a generational vicious cycle.
Conversely, for many generations those classified as black were left to eke out a living in squalor, conditions of serious indignity and strife which stifled their personal development and that of their children.
“De Doorns and Marikana the spark that caused an explosion in a small, poorly ventilated room filled with hydrogen. In the context of South Africa some of the underlying issues are over 300 years old.”
In all cases, the master-servant relationship was entrenched and passed down from generation to generation, ensuring that the farm owners realise maximum profits by investing the barest minimum on the farm workers.
Clearly, such a mindset could not be sustained into the future and something had to give. There had to be concrete interventions to transform the socio-economic realities of the country.
It is also true for the generation forming the majority previously disadvantaged communities, to understand that they deserve better and that millions of their forefathers died in the trenches to ensure that their future is better than their past.
However, it is more important to ensure that everyone understands that transformation is a process and that it is a matter of give and take. That, there is a new dispensation does not mean that things will change overnight or that people can now rest on their laurels and expect things to come to them like ‘manna from heaven’.
It does not entail a leap from a productivity mode to a welfare state of mind. In fact, some people have argued that people should not conveniently forget that the farm owners are the ones who take the greatest risk in terms of capital, operational equipment and systems, markets and processes to ensure viability of the business concern – thus are entitled to a larger piece of the cake.
However, on the flipside, some argue that the workers are the ones who take the greatest risk – at times paying with their lives – going into the trenches to extract the wealth. They are exposed to the elements as they play their part to ensure the viability of the business and that they give up on all or most opportunities of personal advancement or those of their families to be in the frontline.
Admittedly, all these arguments hold water. They all point to the undisputable fact that each needs the other and that none can survive without the other. Each has a crucial role to play and an all important contribution to make – notwithstanding the cutting edge technological advancements the world has experienced in this, the 21st century.
That is the gist of transformation which should be pursued in this, our rainbow nation. From former President Nelson Mandela to President Jacob Zuma, that is what the leadership should pursue to correct the injustices of the past, elevate the previously disadvantaged communities to a level where they will have the capacity, skills, opportunities, support and recognition to be on equal footing with their counterparts forming the white community.
For several years, the general white community has been given, or exposed exclusively to opportunities that were denied to the majority that were classified as black.
It is for the government to strike the balance, manage the attendant fears about reverse apartheid or reverse domination. To ignore such could hinder progress and throw us back several millenia. To a large extent, government is already well on its way in this process. President Zuma has stressed over and over again that one of the vehicles to achieve this is through Broad-Based Economic Empowerment initiatives, which he insists are necessary to bring about meaningful changes in the structure of the local economy.
“We need black economic empowerment to address the monopoly domination of our economy, which remains an obstacle to the goals of economic transformation, growth and development”, has said. Whether this has worked and what the challenges are will be a subject for another day.
But, it should be acknowledged that from Mandela to Zuma the country has been occupied with various facets and issues relating to transformation within the private and public sectors, civic society and communities in an attempt to address the economic imbalances of the past.
And the duty of the people, both black and white, is to move towards a collective consciousness, hold the leadership accountable to ensure policy changes and ascertain that the two-decades of South Africa’s democracy truly provide an enabling environment for self-determination and growth for all people, or all shades, gender, colour or creed.
Written by: Musa Ndlangamandla – Transform SA Ad Sales/Editorial Executive.
Musa is a senior journalist from Swaziland and until January 2012 he was Chief Editor of The Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers. He is a former advisor and speech writer to King Mswati III. Musa studied Law and holds a number of certificates from leading schools of Journalism. He has travelled to over 35 countries on assignment. He also writes as a freelancer for various leading publications.