Whose Voice Counts?
The second panel of the Daily Maverick’s The Gathering (Influencing Influencers) held at VODACOM World on 11 June 2015, was a panel of social justice activists with Ms Nomzamo Zondo heading the panel. Nomzamo’s presentation spoke directly to Khulumani’s experience when she stated, “When you hear the words ‘social justice’, whose voice do you hear?” Nomzamo continued to explain that:
- It is not the voice of the people who rent rooms in dilapidated inner-city buildings in central Johannesburg where they have no access to water or electricity.
- It is not the voice of the striking miners sitting quietly on the Wonderkop at Marikana pleading for a dialogue with the company for which they work only to be brutally shot down.
- It is not the voice of countless informal street traders fighting to help their families survive for another day, day after day having their goods confiscated by city officials whether they have a trading licence or not.
Amongst these victims of our city bureaucrats was the woman with her coldbox filled with piping hot, cooked Jungle Oats that she was providing to hungry school-goers on their way to school with empty tummies on Friday morning, 22 June 2015 outside Constitution Hill. When the press conference announcing the filing of the case to challenge the failure of the state to prosecute the security police responsible for the enforced disappearance of Nokuthula Simelane, had just concluded, Khulumani participants in the Press Conference observed Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) officials race their vehicle passed the venue with its back door flying open. The confiscated box of hot porridge fell out of the back of the van and spilt over the road in front of the Women’s Jail. When the Khulumani activists called the JMPD officials over, we discovered them to be ‘mere youths’, given uniforms and obviously instructed to carry out the orders of their superiors.
- It is not the voice of countless hundreds of people hounded out of their shacks when the Red Ants, usually mere youth recruited for the dirty work of officials, come to break down their shack dwellings.
Nomzamo then told the story of how the City of Johannesburg believed they had a problem with ‘bad buildings’ in the Johannesburg CBD. The city officials did not see the thousands of people who were occupying these building and paying landlords for each room they occupied. At one stage when the inner-city bad building rental occupants tried to come together in an organised formation, it was found that there were 85,000 people living in what the city officials had called “bad buildings”.Nomzamo used this reality to illustrate what she called the phenomenon of “poor people being invisible” to the officials whether they are politicians or public servants.
Nomzamo then shared her experience of being at the opening session of the Farlam Commission investigating the ‘tragic events that took place at Marikana in August 2012’. Nomzamo’s organisation, SERI represented the widows of the miners killed at Marikana. She explained that when Judge Farlam called out the names of the miners killed in police action at Marikana on 16 August 2012, and looked to see those directly affected by these killings, he looked across at ‘empty seats’ in the auditorium in Rustenburg. No-one, at this stage, had considered facilitating the involvement of the wives and family members of the dead miners in the proceedings of the Farlam Commission.
Nomzamo went on to clarify how the striking miners had been falsely characterised and stereotyped all as members of ‘AMCU’ in attempts to “other them”, without finding out the actual union affiliation of the striking miners who belonged to different unions. Instead of talking to the striking miners, the actions of the miners were attributed to ‘a third force’. When the state was forced to truly “see the miners”, they acted to remove them, not to engage them. This is because the authorities do not take poor people seriously in South Africa. They do not see them and they do not hear them. This, she asserts, is because the people in authority in this country do not see the dignity of the poor.
Khulumani members have been meeting for more than ten years with officials in the Department of Justice on the still unresolved issues of justice for victims and survivors of apartheid crimes. Every engagement with the TRC Unit within the Department of Justice has been an exercise in futility as the operations of this state institution tasked with dealing with the concerns of those most harmed in apartheid crimes, continue a practice of ignoring survivors organised as a collective to participate in working with them to resolve the Unfinished Business of the TRC.
Nomzamo concluded her presentation with the assertion that the state refuses to hear poor people. When poor people are finally heard, the response is brutal repression.