What if an MP had been elected from Marikana? - Lindiwe Mazibuko
What if an MP had been elected from Marikana?
Note to editors: This is an extract of the speech that was delivered by DA Parliamentary Leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko MP, today, while addressing Sheba.
I am honored to be here to share a few thoughts about my leadership role. Thank you for inviting me. We gather at a difficult time for our country, and we must first pay tribute to those who fell in last week's Marikana tragedy.
Our hearts are torn apart for the loved ones of those who perished. I think we will be especially mindful of the wives and children who have been left alone.
Mining has always been one of the most dangerous occupations. It was once said: "the men who mine coal and fire furnaces - all serve as profitably as the statesman (or woman today), who draft treaties or the legislators who enact laws".
Few of us can comprehend the daily heart-stopping fear for the wives of miners who worry about an accident deep under the earth. How terrible it was then that these miners were slain above ground in a labour dispute.
On Tuesday, we debated in parliament what should happen next. It was a difficult day for government and opposition. We all sought to strike the balance between commemorating the lost, and fulfilling our responsibility to establish the facts of the matter, and ensure that a tragedy of this magnitude is never visited on our country again.
Unless we act now, we are doomed to repeat the horrors of last week.
After the enquiries have been completed, I hope that each one of us will know better in our ‘heart and marrow' the deep-seated sense of injustice and anger which afflicts this country. There is a pervasive sense among the many that they are treated differently from the few - people like you and me.
The television images juxtaposing platinum mines with desperate shacks close by captured the incendiary tensions in South African society; one in which the inequality of opportunity is greater than at the end of apartheid. The loved ones of those who perished have sung this week ‘what have we done to deserve this?' It is not an easy question to answer, and we cannot ignore it.
The precious mineral and metals under our earth, if properly managed, will propel South Africa's economic growth. It is through growth, in the end, that every South African, especially miners and their families, will gain the opportunity to live a life they value.
The dark and harrowing events of the last week have reminded me why I stood for political leadership. Last week when we heard the terrible news, I knew that I had a heavy responsibility to ask questions about how we arrived at this point.
The DA immediately requested that the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, hold a debate of public importance on the Marikana Massacre. The request, of course, could have appeared jarring, even disrespectful. But we knew the nation demanded it. As the people's representatives, we had an obligation to express the Marikana community's pain.
Yet there is a question which has been nagging me over the last week: could Marikana have been averted if we had a properly accountable electoral system to support Parliament's work?
I cannot be sure for certain. Yet I do know that the issue would have seized our attention long ago if there was an elected constituency MP for that region. This tragedy was 8 months in the making. How many of us had heard of Marikana the week before last? A directly elected MP would have brought this crisis to the heart of Parliament.
Why should parliament wait to see television pictures of violence and tragedy before considering issues to be of public importance? Very few, if any, members of parliament have become well-known for taking up the specific cause of a community or people.
So, my friends, we all let down the miners, policemen and their families last week.
Over the last year, these are the events, hopeful and tragic, which have shaped the lines of my leadership. With this in mind, you might be quietly asking what inspired me to have the audacity to stand in what has been traditionally a man's game?
When my colleagues elected me as their leader on October 27 last year, I had contested the election on a specific platform. I had made a promise to work to restore parliament to the center-stage of our nation's life. We had, I said, to make parliament accountable and responsive to the people who put us there. This is an easy argument to frame, and much harder to enact.
I had only been a Member of Parliament for a couple of years, and, yet, I could clearly see that it had become ‘solidified' - free debate frozen. For a number of years - since Nelson Mandela's era - power had become increasingly concentrated outside of Parliament. There was the indefinable, yet real sense, that a lack of initiative had taken hold.
I stood for office because I believed that I possessed the sense of purpose necessary to lead the Official Opposition in parliament, as the party increased in size and representation. In the face of a declining ANC, I have worked to honour this sense of purpose by doggedly standing up for the right of parliament to hold the government to account.
The parliamentary debate on Marikana followed what was an already tumultuous two weeks, when the Democratic Alliance (DA) had succeeded in having the game-changing National Development Plan (NDP) tabled and debated in parliament. We had also secured a hugely important debate on the Youth Wage Subsidy policy proposal - an issue which speaks to the heart of what is probably South Africa's biggest crisis: youth unemployment. Both were far from easy or without controversy. But both demonstrated the ability of Parliament, as an institution representing the citizens of our country, to put the issues closest to their hearts at the front and centre of its programme of action.
The internal democracy of the DA - always lively and contested - stands in stark contrast to the disarray and heavy-handed clamping down on internal debate in the ANC. This will get even harder, as the government sinks in the quick-sands of failed delivery and broken promises.
Is my sense of purpose shaken some days? Of course it is. Do I sometimes fear we are not going to honour the hopes of the millions of South Africans who put their trust in us? Yes, on a few days. On more days though, I know that we can and must prevail.
We must do so to ensure that there will never be a repeat of last week's events, and to offer hope. The quality of my - and our leadership - will be judged by whether every South African, whoever they are, no matter where they come from, receives a fair chance to live a life they value.
The first step to honour the fallen in Marikana is to acknowledge that the leaders of our country failed them. They did not receive a fair chance. The second is for us to ensure accountability so that the people of our country never again have to endure injustice on a scale as massive as this one. The power to see to this is in all of our hands.
I thank you.
Issued by the DA, August 24 2012
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