On April 27th, 2004, on the occasion of his second inauguration as president of South Africa – and coincidentally the day that we celebrate the birth of a new South Africa as South Africans – the distinguished statesman and intellectual, President Thabo Mbeki made this bleak observation about a South Africa of the past. He said: ‘For too long our country contained within it and represented much that is ugly and repulsive in human society. It was a place in which those who cried out for freedom were promised and rewarded with the gift of the cold and silent grave. To rebel for liberty was to invite torture, prison, banishment, exile and death.’
Premier, you are a man of letters, so there is no need to guess as to which demographic group of South Africans the former president was alluding to in the above statement. For a very long time black people’s existence has always been that of struggle and hardship. Unfortunately, this is the painful truth that you and I can never run away from, for it continues even today, twenty-five years after we supposedly attained our freedom. It makes you wonder.
However, in this letter, I wish to direct your attention to one of your constituencies, north west of the capital, Kimberley. I am of course referring to greater Kuruman – my beloved hometown – or the John Taolo Gaetsewe (JTG) District Municipality. Once again, Dr. Zamani, you would know very well that when local and international businesspeople speak of this part of the country, the oasis of Kgalagadi, they can hardly contain their excitement about its limitless wealth; be it its sunshine, minerals or its often less mentioned and yet tremendous natural beauty. To phrase it better in Setswana, ‘Ga ba kgale mathe ganong.’
But the devastating truth Premier, despite its enormous wealth, the economic fruits of Kuruman only benefit outsiders and a few here and there, while majority of the people of this town limp from one day to another with the humiliation of poverty. Multiple reasons are offered Premier, as to why the people of this fine district remain trapped in the brutal and humiliating prison of poverty, yet none of these reasons come close to the doors of logic and sense.
Despite our parents and siblings having sacrificed the little pennies they could save up, sending us some of us to colleges and universities across the country, to broaden our horizons and accumulate new knowledge so we could one day play a meaningful role in the economy of our country, we are told in not so many words that there is no space for us. Those of us who started businesses with the hope that they will not only bring us much needed financial respite, for we too deserve to live better as human beings, but help our society in solving current and future problems, are denied points of entry in the local economy – the economy of Kuruman that is.
Some of us have been blacklisted for daring to ask the question: What is the point of these mines if they cannot invest in the economic prosperity of our town? What is their use if they cannot help us prosper both as professionals and entrepreneurs? Premier, apparently we have sinned and our companies have subsequently been marked as ones belonging to troublemakers, thus ensuring that we will never get any opportunity in any of these mining companies that are operating here in greater Kuruman – our home.
Premier, your government needs to urgently intervene. We are at the mercy of ruthless big corporations who when questioned respond with legal threats and economic sanctions, an unbecoming behaviour typical of street thugs.
A cloud of fear envelopes this town. No one dares speak, for if they dare raise their voice and ask questions, they will be targeted and ostracised. No human being should have to live like this. It is as if we are back to a time that Mbeki speaks of when he says, ‘For too long our country contained within it and represented much that is ugly and repulsive in human society. It was a place in which those who cried out for freedom were promised and rewarded with the gift of the cold and silent grave. To rebel for liberty was to invite torture, prison, banishment, exile and death.’
However, Dr. Zamani, as premier and the first citizen of Northern Cape, the question remains: What is the point of these mines if they cannot invest in the economic prosperity of our town? This question can no longer be ignored. What is the point of these mining corporations operating here if the thousands who make up the native population of JTG District Municipality wake up each day only to be brutally confronted by the pain of hunger and the humiliation of poverty? Something ought to be done. Something must be done.
The progressive youth of JTG District Municipality – those who are treated like pariahs in their own home for merely asking questions, when all they seek is employment to provide for themselves and their families; when all they ask for is funding to innovate, discover the mysteries of nature and the wonders of the universe – have taken a resolute decision that if these mines are to benefit everyone but the people of this region, they might as well be shutdown. They are of no use to us anyway.
Premier, I know that those of us who speak out will be isolated, economically and otherwise, for having dared to say the words I have written above. There is no doubt that I will personally be hounded, for that is the way of cowards; instead of engaging the questions I raise with logic and reason they would rather scheme and plot in the shadows. That I know and fully understand. My words might even invite death and send me to a ‘cold and silent grave’. Whatever happens, I am prepared. For if I die, I die.
I believe it is the 18th century Irish philosopher and statesman, Edmund Burke, who is the originator of these words: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ Now, Premier, please hear me, I am not claiming nor do I purport to be a good man, but, to borrow from the late African-American poet, philosopher, musician and rapper, Tupac Shakur, ‘I would rather die like a man than live like a coward.’ Pula!