Ruth First, a South African journalist, activist and former Witsie was assassinated 32 years ago, yesterday. Every year, Wits awards a fellowship in her name, to address the need for in-depth reporting on social issues. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to this year’s fellow and others about the impact of the fellowship on communities around the country.
NO MORE APATHY: Irvin Jim emphasisied the importance of meeting the demands of the freedom for equality and democracy. Photo: TJ Lemon
By Rofhiwa Madzena and Lameez Omarjee
The exploitation of the working class by “white monopolists” is the reason why South Africans will not fully enjoy the benefits of the Freedom Charter, said keynote speaker, Irvin Jim, at the Ruth First Memorial lecture in the Great Hall tonight.
He said: “We live in a safer, less threatened environment … For Ruth First, racial and gender oppression and national domination was not acceptable.”
Jim explained that the current socio-economic climate in South Africa contradicted the Freedom Charter which was developed in 1955 by the ANC ( African National Congress’). “… We are apathetic about the sufferings of millions of South Africans,” he said.
Jim said: “Ruth First was killed for our Freedom Charter. It is not irrelevant. She paid the highest price. We must feel her suffering, fear, the terror she faced throughout her adult life.”
Ebrahim Fakir, the 2014 Ruth First Fellow,also presented his research findings on political protest and political participation at the lecture.
He spoke about “democracy, delivery and discontent”. He said there are close to 300 protests a year in South Africa, which indicates the remaining inequalities in our democracy.
Fakir based his research on the conditions in the Bekkersdal municipality, South-West Gauteng. “Bekkersdal, is a microcosm of what is happening in townships across South Africa,” he said. “I found a disaster and dystopia in Bekkersdal”.
Academics, students from Ruth First’s former high school (Jeppe High School for Girls) and others came together in honour of Ruth First at the annuam lecture hosted by the Wits University Journalism Department at the Great Hall.
“Ruth First was assassinated for her belief in the struggle for just, democratic, socialist, non-racial SA.”
The maladministration of over a billion rands allocated to the Urban Renewal Project by former president Thabo Mbeki has contributed to the continued protests in communities like Bekkersdal.
This was one of the findings of the 2014 Ruth First fellow, Ebrahim Fakir, who presented his research at a colloquium at Wits University yesterday afternoon.
Fakir’s research focused on finding possible reasons for the increase in so-called ‘service delivery protests’ which now average about 300 per year.
Fakir focused on the area of Bekkersdal in Gauteng which has experienced protests since 2002 initially sparked by demarcation issues.
According to Fakir, the community of Bekkersdal questioned where the general development of the Urban Renewal project was because the communities still had no water, electricity and basic infrastructure.
In answering the question of why some protests turn violent, Fakir found that “protests are asking for an alternative form of policies away from neoliberalism”.
“The way in which police act don’t spark protest, but [they] help sustain the protests,” he said.
Prof Jane Duncan, one of the speakers on the panel commented that public protests were telling of the “subjective shift of politics”. She said people were feeling betrayed after being let down by their government.
Professor Noor Nieftegodien, also on the panel, gave a critical analysis of Fakir’s paper and said: “As good as the paper is, it’s very ‘business-as-usual’ in how it approaches protests.”
Nieftegodien felt that Fakir underestimated the extent of politics in those communities and recommended that Fakir should have given attention to the young people or older women of the community. He said it was difficult to differentiate between the people of the community.
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