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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Essays

“Enough is enough” - or is it?

Grace Kim - 2011-04-28

A male newsreader speaks about the recent service delivery strikes in Ficksburg as groups of people fill the TV screen. The camera zooms in on a banner with the words: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – WE WANT THE OFFICE KEYS NOW!!”. Seconds later, the camera moves to a shot of a bare-chested man surrounded by policemen in body shields and helmets. There’s a scuffle. As the camera pans out, it shows two, three, four, five, six, seven, perhaps more, police, surrounding him, striking him with their batons. As I watch, the man suddenly seems to bloom a watery red flower out of his chest. The next shot is a clip of someone on a stretcher, covered over by some material. I don’t connect the two. I have to watch it again before I see a cause and effect. He was shot. He died. 

Andries Tatane. A name to remember. A man, by all accounts, killed in a senseless act of police brutality while trying to stop the police from using water cannons on striking protesters. Someone whose last act of life exemplified his entire life – one of apparently caring deeply for his community and others around him. (A cynical voice whispers that perhaps if he hadn’t been a good man, the angles surrounding his death would’ve been different, and perhaps the rest of the country wouldn’t be so up in arms right now.) His death is haunting for all it reveals about the state of our nation, but even more so for the words on the banner that preceded the video footage: “Enough is enough.”

From the outset, a disclaimer: I am no political scientist. I cannot explain to you the political nuances of various incidents and events in South Africa, but, like any other politically conscious individual, I can tell you of the stories that are currently circulating. Just in the headlines in the past few days: Andries Tatane, Julius Malema’s trial, Sicelo Shiceka. Police brutality, hate speech, and a gross, crass example of leadership. What have we become? On April Fool’s day the following tweet made the rounds: “SA news - where you can't tell what's an April Fools' Day story”. Have we become a country where irony is king, and where it appears at times that Hayibo is hard-pressed to write stories that are more ridiculous than real-life events?

In many ways, it appears our people have had enough. What I have been hearing in stories from ordinary people is that they are tired of the false promises given to them by the leaders. What I am seeing is an increasing number of organisations and institutions undertaking hard work to make a difference where they can. What I’m reading is our thought leaders expressing an increasing concern and worry about where this country is headed. Chris Roper of the Mail & Guardian recently wrote a piece comparing Nazi Germany to South Africa. We might not be there yet, as his detractors vehemently suggest, but what kind of future do these individuals see our country heading into? Is a future of a broken service delivery system, a failing education system, unchecked, corrupt and power-hungry leaders any sort of happy alternative?

My plea to these kinds of blunt questions has long been one of looking backwards, of comparison to our apartheid past. But this changed when I heard Mamphela Ramphele speak for the first time two weeks ago at a conference. She was as articulate, passionate and thoughtful as everyone said she was, and her talk was devastatingly honest about the state of South Africa. She laid out the facts in a straightforward manner, moving through stats about the business and financial sector, education, the health systems, land reform, governance. It was not pleasant to hear. And I wasn’t the only one who thought so. One of the last people to stand up during question time was a much older woman who said to Ramphele not to forget how far South Africa has come since 1994. She told us that her village now has water and electricity where it never used to have any. She pleaded with the audience to keep in mind the successes and progress that South Africa had made, her passion for the country giving her a clear authority.

Ramphela addressed her immediately, kindly but firmly: “There is something fundamentally wrong about comparing a free democratic state to a system inherently flawed like apartheid.” At that moment I realised she was right, and that I’d long been an apologist, someone speaking softly about the country I love, trying to cover up its faults. I cannot hide behind this defence any more. The growing number of incidents in South African politics and civil society shows clearly what the pessimists have been saying all along: South Africa is not the promised rainbow land.

I am not old enough to remember the days under apartheid. But I am old enough to be cognisant of the way that it has restructured our social landscape in many nuanced/subtle and unsubtle/obvious ways: the streets we walk in are apartheid’s streets, the buildings we live in are apartheid’s buildings, and the social divides that exist are still apartheid’s social divides. I had a further epiphany while watching the Andries Tatane footage: I am also still young enough, if South Africa is allowed to carry on along path it is heading, to see an era come into place that we will be ashamed of and that future generations will mourn over.

It will be a long time before I forget that banner with the words: “Enough is enough”. But South Africans, I have to ask: Is it enough? When is enough really enough? Yes, there are pockets of hope everywhere, organisations and individuals doing what they can to stop our descent into darkness. But a disquieting voice whispers that we have not yet reached breaking point. I have a sinking feeling that this isn’t enough yet, that we will still lose many more lives, lives of many more good people. I have a feeling that this country still has a rocky path to walk, one where Andries Tatane’s death was in no way the first, nor will be the last.

Let me be wrong.

Link to original YouTube video