The Hector Pieterson of his generation
Note to editors: This is an extract of a speech prepared for delivery at a public meeting in Namahadi which is part of the Mafube municipality in the northern Free State. Helen Zille's visit to the Free State comes days after a service delivery protestor, Andries Tatane, was shot and beaten to death by police in Ficksburg
Fellow South Africans,
The tragic events of the last week, not far from here in Ficksburg, will one day be seen as a watershed in our history.
The image of Andries Tatane being beaten and shot by the police is seared into our consciences. He committed no crime. All he did was protest against the collapse of service delivery in his town. The right to peaceful protest is protected by the constitution, so the police should have been protecting his rights, not following their "shoot-to-kill" orders. The fact that Mr Tatane was a COPE candidate standing for the May 18 election, adds a further sinister dimension to this tragedy.
At a time like this, we must recall Nelson Mandela's vision of a "rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world". We also remember his promise that "never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another."
We have to ask ourselves: Why has it come to this? And what does it mean for the future?
We have got to this point because the party in power has become disconnected from the people it is supposed to serve. The party is no longer of the people, by the people and for the people. It is for itself. The people just get in the way.
This is why people go without basic services for years and years. It is why, when people complain, their councillor doesn't listen. But it doesn't have to be this way. We can take a different path.
Andries Tatane's death does not have to be in vain. It should shock us all into making a different choice for our future. This is no time for political point scoring. It is a time for serious reflection across our nation of the implications of the images we saw this week. The tragedy of Andries Tatane's death is a warning we must heed.
And we must heed it in time. If we learn the right lessons from his tragic death, we can still stop our country sliding backwards towards the power abuse and police brutality of the past.
Unless the ruling party learns this lesson fast, the picture of Andries Tatane dying in the arms of his friend, Molefe Nonyane, will mark a point of no return for ANC rule, just as the picture of Hector Pieterson cradled in the arms of Mbuyisa Makhubo marked the turning point against apartheid rule.
The big difference between June 16 1976, when Hector Pieterson died, and 13 April 2011 when Andries Tatane died, is that South Africa is a constitutional democracy today. This means that each adult person has the power of their vote to call the government to account.
It is up to the people of South Africa to use that power to send the clearest possible signal that we will defend President Mandela's promise, and ensure that history does not repeat itself.
Issued by the Democratic Alliance, April 17 2011
Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter