By Kay-Dee Mashile, Activate! Change Drivers
"There comes a time in the life of every person when you either succumb or you fight."
While many young activists can resonate with this quote, it is not often that one stands up against a system that works for them. As an Activator and an activist in different contexts, I have often heard and attested to the fact that those with privilege should find it necessary to stand up and fight for those who are oppressed by it. George Bizos, for me, signifies this. Not only did he fight, he also left us a manual with which we can continue to multiply his and his colleagues’ legacies. In a South Africa where politics are synonymous with corruption and greed, I imagine that the conviction of young activists is going to play a huge role in sustaining the legacy of the struggle heroes on whose shoulders we stand.
Around the time when Nelson Mandela was ill and at a ripe old age, speculations were made that a civil war may erupt upon his death. While many reasons were given, I often wondered whether the foundation that he and his comrades had laid was deemed to be solely dependent on his lifetime. This too, is one of the major differences that I have noticed between our movements today and that of the veterans. While we have a lot of resources and media attention, we often fail to build sustainable solutions that will outlive us. Perhaps I judge myself and colleagues too harshly as only time can tell. When asked 2 years ago if he thought that the progress made was significant enough based on the time and effort he and his comrades had put into building the new South Africa its constitution, George Bizos noted that the progress was satisfactory as we cannot fix in 20 some years what slavery, colonialism and apartheid had built over a hundreds of years (I paraphrase).
While consistency may not yield quick results, this legend’s life teaches us that it builds legacies. Even though he was of Greek decent, George Bizos was consistent in his fight for equity in South Africa. Even beyond the drafting of the constitution, Bizos continued to educate young and old people on the importance of the constitution and often spoke on the kind of leadership South Africa needs in order to thrive. On the latter, Bizos noted that it is more important to stand for truth and the greater good than to affiliate oneself with a certain political party. On various interviews, he often joked about asking Nelson Mandela during one of their initial communications if he would be required to join the ANC in order to support the liberation movement. The answer was, of course, no. While this has no specific implication on the said party, it inspires young activists to be mindful that victory often comes when diverse people unite for a common cause, as our national coat of arms reads: “! ke e: /xarra //ke”.
As an Activator who has had the privilege of working with many young activists across the country, I can attest to the fact that the legacies of the veterans are our fuel to keep choosing to fight, in George Bizos’ words, “If need be”. We have inherited many systems that no longer work, therefore some of the decisions the veterans made do not resonate with us. But whether directly or indirectly, the work of our struggle heroes has impacted our lives for the better. We are because they were. Perhaps ours is to take the good and make lessons of their areas of improvement that we identify along the way. If anything, the uncertainties and anxieties that we’re currently experiencing under the COVI-19 pandemic should make us more empathetic for decisions made in a life-threatening environments. And if all else fails, we have a constitution to guide us in making better and more informed decisions. So that, if need be, we too can choose to fight and never succumb, regardless of our privilege.