A magical moment.
This is what Johnny Clegg called it.
This evening Wits University held a memorial Ruth First lecture, where a moment of silence was observed for the 35 slain Mine workers at the Marikana Massacre. A young girl from Jeppe girls high then took the stage and read out their names.
In that crowd, sat two miners that had been shot on that day.
Trevor Manuel spoke ever so eloquently, about things that made no sense to me. He spoke of many pillars and said a few things about inequality, and something else about living in “Leafy suburbs”. Which raised a pang of guilt in my heart, because I knew that “we” were the leafy suburb dwellers And in the back of the very same hall, there was “Them”.
A group of miners that had come to the memorial in the hope of speaking to Trevor Manuel.
Earlier that evening, I noticed a man that was hobbling up the great hall stairs on crutches. Later, I found out, that this man had been shot at the massacre.
“I was shot on that day, I just want to know when they are going to make things right” . What struck me most about this man was his complacent nature, he was not angry at the world, he was just a man that was hoping to get answers.
At the end of the Lecture a “Little big voice” shouted “when will we get to speak to Trevor manuel” and then another, “yes we are the workers”.
A little red Beret popped up, Tokelo Nhlapho Deputy President of the SRC. He nodded his head vehemently, he agreed with the workers and then he left, but not with the workers. (But this is a blog for another time)
After a few minutes of frenzy, the voices quietened down as they were escorted out of the great hall.
I followed the Miners out of the hall, and when the man I met on the stairs saw me, he shook his head, laughed and said “See, I told you”.
I did see.
I saw a group of people, that were sitting in the very same room (by invitation) as Trevor Manuel denied the opportunity, to speak to him.
What kind of a democracy is this, where the people cannot speak freely to their leaders?
What is this democracy, that Trevor Manuel to sit in the great Hall and not say a word, when he is called upon by the people?.
Later Adam Habib told me that, we needed to understand that Ruth first memorial lecture has happened for eleven years and in that time it has never been a platform for debate.
In that time, Mr Habib, there was no Marikana Massacre.
When the miners left, they congregated outside the humanities faculty, singing “Tell us Dali Mpofu. What is happening”.
I wanted to know too.
I caught Dali Mpofu just as he was about to leave the lecture.
Dali told me that the workers should have been given the opportunity to speak to Trevor, it would have been an opportunity to reconcile what the cabinet had recently decided with the workers. He also said in light of the incident, the Ruth First memorial, had not been “Capable of opening up the debate between what obviously are clashing clashes”He said, “there were workers here and those who belong to the elite should be confronting the issues of inequality”
So I don’t understand what Johhny Clegg was talking about?
Where is the magic in silencing the workers, and ushering them into a corner while proceeding to play some happy music for everybody else that wasn’t escorted out.
I know that Trevor’s response may not have been what the workers wanted to hear; maybe he wouldn’t have had the right answers. But it would have been an act of good faith, to hear them out. Sometimes, it is enough to just listen.
I wish things had gone differently today, I wish Trevor Manuel had just listened, I also wish Dali Mpofu had spoken up, and said something to Trevor, I wish he had gone outside, just for a minute.
While the miners picketed outside, singing “Tell us Dali what is happening” He was sitting inside listening to Johnny Clegg.
Johnny Clegg also said the miners ’outrage was a confirmation of South African Democracy and a conversation which needs to happen.
I believe the conversation could have happened in that very moment (and that would have been magical) but it didn’t, because all the people that should have said something, said nothing.