Neglect of our struggle heroes rankles

 

SEEING demonstrations by Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) veterans on TV does bring a tear to the eye. Added to this would be the lesser known Azanian National Liberation Army (Azanla). MK, Apla and Azanla were the armed wings of the then banned African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress and Black Consciousness Movement, respectively. Do these struggle heroes have to go on marches for us to hear their plight?
Some left in the 1960s when black political parties were banned, while others led the 1976 and post-1977 student demonstrations. All left in pursuit of a just SA. Brave they were. Oh yes. On one occasion photographer Moffat Zungu (now deceased) and I were interviewing Linda Mogale and Majakathatha Mokoena in our press car when the police appeared on the scene. The two youths slid out of the car and vanished into thin air. We then drove slowly on, waving to the police as we giggled mischievously.
When I was nabbed in 1980 I was in discussions with Khotso Seathlolo. He had left the country in 1978 and on this fateful October day, made an arrangement to meet Zwelakhe Sisulu, who then referred him to me as Sisulu was banned. This was the relationship black journalists had with these young freedom fighters.
Today we live in Africa’s leading democracy. Yes, ours is the best democracy in Africa, where you win a court case against the government and are not persecuted. One always listens spellbound as doomsayers decry the state of our democracy. Yes, we may be going through a rough time, but who said nation building was a walk in the park? Have we bothered to compare ourselves to Chile and other South American states on their experiences after they bid the colonialists goodbye?
Our nation is failing the veterans who sacrificed their youth and education to make SA a better place. Thousands live in unspeakable poverty and are starving to death. I recently met one and he smiled weakly as he reminded me of the lift we once gave him and how he dodged the security police. Thankfully, he was oblivious of the sense of shame flowing through me. After all, I recall that in the days of the liberation struggle, there used to be a slogan in white communities about “our boys at the border”. We would witness gushes of emotion as parents garnered support for these “boys at the border”, boys who were fighting to save SA from communism.
While the government provided the necessary legal support to these “boys at the border”, the white community did the rest. The business community guaranteed them their jobs on return after a call-up. Some were unilaterally given jobs over the heads of others when they were demobilised. After all, they had returned from the greatest calling ever — protecting their people. In fact, nations have hardly failed to honour their fallen soldiers. Some even have days of commemoration for these, when society at large is reminded about their contribution.
Unfortunately, this does not apply to our veterans. There are no emotional renditions on radio or TV about their plight, nor are there initiatives for their support. It appears we say they are a responsibility of the government. Yet, the government has done what is possible in terms of social benefits, and is still looking at other avenues. For example, the Department of Human Settlements is organising housing for some.
But civil society has not come to the party. Are we blind to their plight or saying it serves them right for sacrificing their education, even though it was on our behalf?
When will our collective conscience force us to address this human suffering unfolding in our midst? Heavens, we are the direct beneficiaries of their sacrifices.
• Mazwai is a former journalist and political activist

 
 
 

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