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People's poet Mzwakhe Mbuli says lockdown is nothing compared to solitary confinement

'We were not fighting to go and swim with white people on the same beaches'

27 April 2020 - 07:30 By Aphiwe Deklerk
Poet Mzwakhe Mbuli.
Poet Mzwakhe Mbuli.
Image: SABC

Poet and former anti-apartheid activist Mzwakhe Mbuli has rubbished any attempt at comparison between the current state of disaster during the coronavirus pandemic and the pre-1994 state of emergency.

Mbuli, who was detained many times by the apartheid government, and who spent time in solitary confinement, said the national lockdown is nothing like it was back then.

“They were kept alone, there was no-one to say ‘the lockdown is over’, they were killed behind bars, Ahmed Timol and others. You can’t therefore equate that,” he said.

“You must not compare the lockdown with the state of emergency. During the state of emergency, people were shot dead, people were disappearing. If you want to equate yourself with Mandela, go and stay in jail for 25 years first.”

Mbuli’s words follow criticism of the lockdown by some unable to jog, socialise, drink alcohol and buy cigarettes.

SA celebrates Freedom Day on April 27.

He voiced support for the lockdown, saying South Africans can still go to buy essentials.

“People can see the figures [they defeat] the myth that [Covid-19] is only affecting white people ... it does not only affect white people.”

We were not fighting to go and swim with white people on the same beaches.

Mbuli is critical of post 1994 governments and says this year, South Africans would have a chance to introspect about the meaning of freedom.

“The crux of the struggle to me was about the land, lockdown or no lockdown. That is not affected by coronavirus.”

“We were not fighting to go and swim with white people on the same beaches. The main issue was land and everything else would follow. The question is, what are we waiting for?”

He said for the many South Africans who died during the struggle against colonialism and apartheid, the likes of kings Shaka and Hintsa who were involved in a number of battles, including those who died in the Battle of Isandlwana, the fight was about the land.

He questioned why, post 1994, those responsible for the deaths of Marikana mineworkers, civic activist Moses Tatane and the patients at Life Esidimeni were walking free.

“So go and ask those people [families of those who died in Life Esidimeni] and ask them what is the meaning of freedom. To the victims of Esidimeni, the meaning of freedom is different, to the orphans and the widows of people who died in Marikana, the meaning is different.

“We cannot simply generalise and say Mandela was released [from prison] and we were free. On Freedom Day in this country, there are racists, some race groups, you would never see, even on reconciliation day [events], at the stadium.

“But kill a rhino, kill a chimpanzee, kill an animal ... you will see them on the streets,” he said.

Mbuli said even though the country may be free, racism did not end in 1994 and South Africans need to reflect on that.