#changethestory: Justice for all – not comfort for some

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Homeless people sleep on the streets outside the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town’s CBD. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA Pictures

South Africa recently emerged from an intensely contested election period.

Our beautiful country is built on the hard work of millions of citizens in diverse industries – from underground mining to factory floors to board rooms – who labour to keep our country going and to hopefully result in a growing economy.

Looking back over the last 25 years we recognise that building a sustainable democratic state will continue to require such hard work.

When we stop doing the hard work and opt to embrace excessive lifestyles with no regard for others – especially the poor – we must understand from history that such behaviours have caused the fall of empires, including the Roman Empire and the Mughal Empire.

The Mughal Empire ruled Afghanistan and most of the Indian subcontinent between 1526 and 1857. It is said of it: “Becoming complacent in their military superiority, the Mughal emperors grew less interested in good governance and more interested in maintaining their lavish lifestyles and expensive court.”

Does this not sound warning bells for our great country as well?

It’s clear from many other examples throughout history that by carelessly embracing these obsessions with wealth and status we betray a bigger mandate – one which calls on us to serve and to uphold our systems of governance and the institutions of democracy that serve people towards realising sustainable and prosperous livelihoods and progressive good governance.

Voters should be less concerned about a candidate’s religion or ethnicity and much more concerned about visible evidence that the candidate or party has shown towards a visible justice-oriented interest in their lives as citizens, as workers and as providers for their families.

They should be more concerned about whether this candidate has demonstrated visible justice by being able to say: “I’ve set up meetings with the company down the road to discuss how we can improve the growth of this company, increase jobs and pay better wages to the people in this community.”

Or: “I’ve worked on legislation to improve the lives of children in South Africa.”

Or: “I’ve ensured that all small traders in this community will have access to being part of a supply chain network for a bigger company.”

But sadly, that seldom happens.

During elections, politicians rush to our homes to visit us. They even open our fridges with well-rehearsed shock when they see these are empty. They call us all the time on our cellphones to ask us how we’re doing and whether we’ll be voting.

They ride on trains with us, and they get photographed handing out their free blue, green, yellow, orange and red T-shirts to poor people who could rather benefit from full fridges, decent housing and school toilets.

Once they’re elected and in office, we can’t call them on their cellphones. We can’t access their offices. We can’t walk with them or talk with them because they’re too busy. They don’t visit us anymore.

Then when our communities flare up because of poor sanitation or broken schools, these politicians appear to be totally shocked.

We’ve been gifted a beautiful country with beautiful people. We have enough resources to ensure that everyone can live a decent and promising life here.

But like the Mughal Empire’s leaders, we’ve seen massive levels of corruption and lavish self-indulgence by politicians from all parties.

Let’s keep the lessons learnt from the Mughal emperors’ front of mind.

We dare not allow our politicians to grow less interested in good governance and visible justice, and more interested in maintaining lavish lifestyles with expensive places of both residence and work, with hordes of staff to attend to their every whim.

We owe South Africa – especially its children – a story that lauds our democratic courage.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest. 

Cape Argus

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