Speech By Buti Manamela, MP During The Parliamentary Debate On Youth Month

2 June 2010

If you only give me a fair chance

This year, we are commemorating the 34th Anniversary of June 16, which saw the revolt of young people against the oppressive system of Apartheid.
As we commemorate this day today, I am reminded of what was said by a popular jazz artist, Wynton Marsalis, in his eulogy to Duke Ellington: "if you give me a fair chance, I will show you the true meaning of democracy".

These words were what inspired different generations of young people since colonisation, oppression, and exploitation.

From the youth rebellions led by Shaka, Ufasimba; to those led by Bambatha against the tax laws; to those who were forced to work underground in the mines for the gold and diamond they will never own, as they saw their land and cattle being disposed; to those who fought against the Land Act of 1913; they were pushed by these words: if you give me a fair chance, I will help you understand the true meaning of democracy.

From the youth who protested against the terrible working conditions in the economically booming Johannesburg, to those who felt the harsh and brute system of apartheid capitalism as they were forcibly removed from Sophiatown into Soweto; to those who formed the ANC Youth League, SASO and COSAS; to those who revolted on the cold morning of June 16 beginning their action in Morris Isaacson; they shared the sentiment: if you give me a fair chance, I will make you better understand the true meaning of democracy.

These words pushed into action those young people who skipped the country to train as soldiers of uMkhonto we Sizwe and Apla; to those who were incarcerated on Robben Island; to those who today are afforded an opportunity to vote, and yet, the brute of our capitalist system prevents them from truly enjoying the fruits of democracy, these words echo: if you give me a fair chance, I will help you understand the true meaning of democracy.

As a free, democratic country we have made significant strides towards a better life for all South African citizens, black or white. However, we constantly remind ourselves that much more needs to be done if we are to speak of a truly free, democratic and just society.

This is all that our youth of today are fighting for, a fair chance.

Of course they know that the blood of Kalushi Mahlangu did nourish the tree of democracy and freedom.

They know that had it not been of our democratic system ushered in 1994, they will still be required to carry pass laws; be forced to learn only in the language of their oppressor; see their parents being humiliated for opposing the system of apartheid; hear of their brothers and sisters being harassed and detained without trial; that they never to be allowed to vote for the government of their choice and see the ANC led Alliance being a majority party; or, having no hope and full of despair of the prospects of being black presidents of this country.

But yet they still say, nay, these are only the political gains from the sweat that Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Robert Sobukwe shed as they languished in gaol. What about the economy, they ask? What about the land, they ask? What about the ownership of the factories and the mines, they ask? What about the banks and the monopolies?

Were these not the same fair chances that Ruth First and Chris Hani died for?

These are the same institutions that formed part of the exploitation of our parents and our parents` parents. If we are given a fair chance in the ownership of these institutions, then we will help you understand the true meaning of democracy.

They come out in the streets, in true June 16 protest style and bemoan poor services by municipalities, but yet, the main protagonist of these protests remains unemployment.

They come out in the streets, in true June 16 style, and blame people from neighbouring countries for their economic miseries, and yet, the true protagonist of their unemployment is the continued skewed ownership patterns of our economy.

They come out of the streets, in true June 16 style and demand to be taken to Gauteng or Mpumalanga, and yet, the real protagonists of these actions are the demand for land and bread.

If you listen to them carefully, they ask; is this what Mandela fought for? Did he fight that only our government should be held accountable for our misery? Did he struggle that we should be pushing each other to be the first in the queues for social grants?

What about the accountability of the private sector? Are they not the ones who are looting our sweat and blood, and then reward themselves with huge bonuses? Are they not the ones who are pushing our government when it seeks to transform the ownership patterns of our economy?

Many in the private sector celebrate the fact that they have reached their 26% Black Economic Empowerment and 40% black management of their companies as per the Employment Equity Act. But is that a fair chance, especially when 74% of the economy is still in white hands? Look at the racial profile of the owner and managers of the companies listed in the stock exchange, is that a fair chance?

For them, and listen to them closely, true and total transformation, and a fair chance, means that ownership of wealth should be in the hands of the majority in pursuit of a humane society.

For the youth of our country, June 16 means that we should pursue the values of a caring, loving and secure society.

For them, June 16 should be about education and skills for those who are illiterate and unskilled so that they are able to get jobs or create jobs.

June 16 for the youth of our country means access to health care for those who are sick, it means housing for those who have no shelter, it means an end to exploitative practices especially in the private sector.

They are trapped in debt, and therefore trapped in poverty. They have to pay for their housing, water, transport, healthcare, education and bread from debt.

This is a huge challenge, and if June 16 is to mean anything for them, it is to be moved from this cycle of debt and poverty by making the financial sector accountable.

CEOs of banks are paid millions of rands on the basis of how much debt they are able to sell, where is accountability?

CEOs of bread companies are paid millions of rands on the basis of how much price fixing they have come up with, or how they have successfully protected their monopolies, where is accountability?

Former CEOs of mobile companies are paid millions of rands for staying at home, and yet, thousands of workers of this company earn below a living wage. Where is accountability?

Others will proclaim and say, but it is their constitutional right to accumulate as much as possible, and then the government should take care of the rest. You cannot take away our factories and our land, because they are protected by the constitution.

But is it not in the same constitution where the right to work, the right to decent life, the right to health are enshrined but these right are daily infringed by some in the private sector in their rush for flash and cash? Where is accountability?

When there is a discussion about changing the constitution in order to ensure that it meets the current demands, people who initiates these discussions are labelled as fools.

But in reality, those who HAVE, in this gravely unequal society, uses the constitution to defend themselves against those who do not have, and uses it for the continuation of their wealth accumulation and economic exploitation.

What about those who do not have? Where is their fair chance, so that they make you understand the true meaning of democracy?

Our government had to introduce a rescue package because of the greediness within the financial sector, for instance. In their pursuit for profits, they have ruined so many lives and so many families, and yet, they are not held accountable, hiding behind the constitution.

On a daily basis young people are retrenched from factories because of the global economic meltdown, and the political lackeys of the bosses, here in parliament, wants to hold only this government accountable, when will you hold your private sector accountable?

On a daily basis young workers` rights are abused through labour brokers, they are paid meagre wages by the owners of these labour brokers, and then we should not ask, why are they not being held accountable?

But if we are to hold the private sector accountable for our societal misery, equally, their political lackeys, some of them here in parliament, should also be held accountable as they daily justify the society of greed, inequality and greed.

I searched very hard in the Manifesto of the Democratic Alliance for values that will build a non-racist, non-sexist and democratic society. I must tell you that it was a fruitless search.

I also hoped to bump into a clause in that manifesto speaking to an `Open Toilets Society` for the residents of Gugulethu, and all I found was a clause on the so called open opportunities society.

Whatever opportunities there are in open toilets I can only leave to the imagination of the premier of the Western Cape and the Mayor of Cape Town. I wonder if their houses have the same toilets as in Gugulethu?

How ironic, that a struggle for better toilets has sparked the downwards spiral of the DA government, and in time, the people of this province and city will flush you out.

34 years after June 16, the objective of building a non-racist, non-sexist and democratic society still remains. The goal of liberating blacks and Africans from economic bondage still remains.

In doing this, we have to understand that there is growing anger and frustration amongst the black youth who are yet to collectively share the fruits of our democracy.

Equally, in doing so, we have to address the fears and suspicion by young white SA. These fears leads them into being defensive, desire to arm themselves and struggle for a Volkstaad.

But we equally have to ensure that a non racist society can only be attained if it is an equal society. We have to contribute equally into ensuring that white is not generally identified with wealth, whilst black identified with poverty. It is in the interest of all SA, especially us as the youth, that we pursue the goals of an equal, non-racist and democratic society based on social justice.

In the words of our legend and hero, Nelson Mandela, let there be bread and salt for all and in that way, there shall be freedom.

In closing, I am reminded of the legendary poet, Don Mattera, in his verses, Sea and Sand, and if I may quote him:

"Bless the angry mountains/And the smiling hills/Where the cool water spills/To heal the earth`s brow.

"Bless the children of South Africa/The white children/And the black children/But more the black children/Who lost the sea and sand/That they may not lose love/For white children/Whose fathers raped the land...

"But when/Oh when will I see that day/When love will walk the common way/To heal my wounded people/And break the shackles around their hearts?

I thank you