Assassinating Biko's ideals
Stephen Bantu Biko was murdered by the apartheid police on September 12 1977. I thought about him this week.
Friday, September 14: We are on the sixth floor when we see the men. There are two of them, emaciated, white. They are carrying a wheelchair. This is a hospital and they are carrying a wheelchair up a flight of stairs.
I am not surprised. I am saddened. I have just walked up from the third floor to the eighth. Now I am walking down. The lift at one of South Africa's top public hospitals is not working. Everyone here walks up the stairs. The junior doctors with their stethoscopes around their necks and their smart white coats, sensible shoes clicking on the tiles. The nurses in their sombre blue uniforms holding notepads. The attendants with their trolleys. The attendants do not smile. The doctors look exhausted.
It is the people who cannot walk, who cannot get themselves up these stairs, who are stuck. How can a hospital, a place where the infirm are made whole again, not have a working lift? How do the sick get themselves up and down these stairs? They cannot. So how does this hospital actually work?
Steve Bantu Biko, who died so long ago because he asked black people to respect themselves and their fellow blacks so that they could reclaim their humanity, has just been remembered. He once said: "In time we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift - a more human face."
We make invalids walk up one, two, four, nine, flights of stairs. This is our human face. A humane government - a government made up of what was once the once most humane movement in the world, the ANC - makes invalid human beings, black human beings who have suffered the vicissitudes of apartheid, walk up a flight of stairs when they are ill. This is the Steve Biko Academic Hospital.
Wednesday September 12: My friend is a tenderpreneur. It is wrong to make this appellation negative. My friend works hard. He attends government briefings. He puts in quotes for government work. Most of the time he does not get it. Sometimes he does.
I say that the appellation tenderpreneur is positive because it has made people like him provide a service to the government, give jobs to people and give themselves a modest income. My friend is not rich. He does a bit of construction work, because he has builders on his books. He does quite a bit of carpentry because he employs a lot of carpenters. I have met some of them. They are happy, competent, people.
They are not happy now. They have not been paid in months. This is a man who built and refurbished wards at a hospital in Tshwane.
When he was done, he provided the department with all the necessary paperwork.
Three months after he concluded the job, he still has not been paid. When he calls, he gets the runaround. First, he was told that he had not done the paperwork. Then he had done the paperwork. Then he had to wait for "the run".
Last week, he sat in his house, waiting for his bank to tell him he had been paid. At 5pm on Friday he still had not been paid. He will be kicked out of his house this weekend. He has not paid his workers. He is moving back to his mother's house.
He reminds me of a Gauteng entrepreneur's response to ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who last month said black firms were ripping off the government.
The businessman told The Star that it was the government that was corrupt: "You pay to be introduced to the political principals, you pay to get a tender, you pay to be paid and you must also grease the machinery. There are also donations to the youth league, the women's league and the [Communist Party]."
My friend has paid no one, so he is made to wait for pay that is honestly earned. He is ruined.
Wednesday, September 12: Opposition parties put forward a proposal that parliament's portfolio committee on mineral resources either visit Lonmin mineworkers' representatives or invite them to air their grievances in parliament or to the committee. ANC MPs use their majority to shoot down the proposal.
ANC MP Roseberry Sonto's response is telling: "We cannot meet a crowd that is suicidal. We have to first work out what they want and let the processes there unfold."
Thirty-four mineworkers were shot down and killed by policemen in Marikana a month ago. The dead leave behind them weeping wives, mourning mothers, crying kids. My MPs, representatives of a government with a "human face", say these men are suicidal.
These are my stories of our human face. The face we have lost.