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OPINION: WHERE ARE THE LEADERS?

Looking for a way forward 5 years after Marikana.

Five years ago last week, 34 people were killed in the deadliest post-apartheid wage strike South Africa has seen at Lonmin’s Marikana mine. The site is soon to become a memorial to the fallen, and yet, their justice is still pending. There have been no prosecutions, no trial, and no reparations for the families of the victims. Those responsible both for the massacre and the overdue damages – Lonmin and the South African Government – are yet to be held accountable. In tragedies like these, we should be able to look to our elected leaders for the answers we need: they are the ones given the power to act on our behalf and for the benefit of the people of South Africa. Up we look, but we are met with silence.

Whether the issue at hand is gender-based violence, oppression of the poorest or racism, a response of apathy, inaction and silence from people in power seems to have become the norm, here and abroad. The current discourse, especially in the U.S. and here at home, is too often geared towards personal gain or strengthening one’s political power; the idea appears to be: condemn someone else’s actions to draw the eye elsewhere. In South Africa, our leaders’ words are often void of value; from President Zuma’s excuses and avoidance when evidence of past and ongoing corruption is mentioned to Helen Zille’s half-apology for defending colonialism, words float empty. Oppressive legislation has become a common response too, mainly due to the rise in global leadership that favours and enables classism and racism (we’re looking at you, Trump).

Yet, if we can sometimes feel hopeless, we are not powerless.

No system is perfect, but democracy is designed to give us, the people, some power. Democracy’s principles make all of us the leaders we are looking for, driving change from where we stand with our actions, our voices and our votes. The idea of hearing honest, effective policy plans from political candidates and electing those you trust to do the most societal good has begun to feel like a fairytale, but informed participation in the process is still the most powerful position for an ordinary citizen.

Even in the face of corruption and apathy, it is in our hands to assemble and unify to instruct our leaders to make sure that what happened five years ago at Marikana never happens again. It is in our hands to hold them accountable and demand justice for the families waiting for it. The process is not swift or immediately satisfying, but with compassion and tenacity, we can apply it to effect real change for ourselves and others.

The Marikana massacre is a heartbreaking representation of the injustice that still shapes the experiences of so many. May it also serve as a call-to-action for all of us.

Want to make a difference? Here are some non-partisan organisations you could join and volunteer with:

The Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA) is committed to promoting the values, institutions and practices of an open, non-racial and non-sexist, democratic, civil society.

ACTIVATE! is a network of more than 2000 young leaders driving change for the public good across South Africa. Members of this network, Activators, are connected by their passion, skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges. They are actively initiating innovative and creative solutions that can reshape our society.

Led by a network of volunteer-organisers, InkuluFreeHeid aims to unite all South Africans, particularly young people, behind non-partisan efforts that help solve major economic challenges, deepen democracy and enhance social cohesion.