National Heritage Day 2012: Khulumani Looking Back and Drawing on its Activist Strengths to Contribute to Building a More Inclusive Future in South Africa

Khulumani members are proud survivor victims of the gross human rights violations associated with one of the greatest struggles for justice that the world has known – the struggle to end racial domination and oppression in South Africa. They are bearers of a glorious history of participation and contribution to a cause greater than themselves.

Each Khulumani member can tell a story of the humble contribution they made to the struggle for liberation in South Africa. Most shared Mandela’s vision of “the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities#”. It was an ideal for which many lived and died in South Africa, including many loved ones of Khulumani members. It is their sacrifice that Khulumani remembers with somberness and gratitude today.

The stands made in this freedom struggle came out of long traditions and practices of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. These practices had a powerful bearing on the nature of the negotiated transition in South Africa and this approach informed the construction of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that provided amnesty for full disclosure of political crimes with the accompanying promise of reparations for survivor victims. Survivor victims were a crucial element in this process, which remains incomplete at present as we failed to ensure a sound foundation for the post-apartheid state by honouring the commitments made to the survivor victims in setting up the TRC.

As Khulumani commemorates National Heritage Day with its focus this year on ‘Honouring the Veterans of our Liberation Struggle’, Khulumani calls on government to remember survivor victims of the freedom struggle and their continuing efforts to hold to the ideal expressed by Nelson Mandela in 1964 of a nation in which access to equal opportunities would be created for all the people. The current situation is a far cry from this ideal with the country continuing to rank very low on almost every social development index. South Africa in 2012 is the most unequal society in the world.

The state has continued to privilege “the iconic image of the revolutionary as an armed young black man, whose defining attributes are arguably self-sacrifice, discipline and adherence to a party line#” as the idealized “struggle veteran”. Much of the post-apartheid imaginary is informed by this understanding of who is the deserving struggle veteran. This has had very deleterious consequences for the thousands of active survivor victim veterans who continue to be overlooked as the state privileges the recognition of military combatant veterans in this year of the ANC’s Centenary.

Khulumani’s struggles for justice for survivor victims is informed by an understanding that rich resources of wisdom and lived experience reside within its membership of activists who continue to hold the vision for an inclusive and just society. They form the organizing focus of spaces where poor communities debate and discuss solutions to community struggles for justice and deserve recognition as ordinary citizens contributing to the deepening of democracy beyond the mere exercise of the vote.

Khulumani mourns the resort to an increasing reliance by the state on the use of punitive measures and violence to repress peoples’ expressions of dissatisfaction, as we so sadly witnessed in Marikana. We agree with Dr Suran Pillay’s assertion that “a reliance on violence and the punitive aspects of law, as the only way in which we transform social conduct, signals a failure of the imagination and of political thinking.”

For Khulumani, National Heritage Day 2012 is a day on which we remember and honour the contributions of thousands of ordinary citizens to the vision of a world that works for people; where people’s initiatives in taking responsibility to solve their local problems is valued and respected; and where the state becomes a meaningful partner in relationships of transparency and accountability.

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