News24.com | Diminishing civic activism in black middle class

It should be clear by now to anyone who cares to see that AfriForum is nothing more than a fringe right-wing pressure group that is getting more media attention than it actually deserves. As a result, it sets the agenda for our national discourse.

This is the organisation that has seen fit to travel overseas and link up with other right-wing organisations and personalities, to jeopardise South Africa’s relations with its important trading partners.

According to AfriForum, the murders of white people in this country – which are not isolated from the generally high national murder rate – amount to a genocide. However, this alarmist use of hyperbolic and strong language does not apply to deaths of black people at the hands of the apartheid state.

AfriForum does not see apartheid as having been a crime against humanity. This is simply because the system did not slaughter enough blacks for AfriForum to classify it as such. This notwithstanding apartheid having been labelled a crime against humanity by the UN General Assembly 52 years ago.

In other countries AfriForum would face criminal charges for spreading false claims of a genocide abroad. Their campaign is clearly detrimental to the interests of this country and its citizens.

In many democracies, the news media would also not give so much attention to AfriForum, let alone style it a “civil rights organisation”. Chief among the reasons for AfriForum’s wide media coverage is that its constituencies have a louder voice than the black and poor majority.

This is evident in many towns and cities across the country. Service delivery is more efficient in suburbs and other formerly white areas than it is in poorer, mainly black areas. In townships, a community can live with a burst pipe spewing raw sewage for weeks on end, while such a health hazard is attended to in a matter of hours in suburban areas.

Among more affluent communities there is the power of the news media and social media which gives them direct access to political leaders and government officials. Poorer communities do not have such access.

Perceptions among poor communities are that the government and the news media do not listen to them and they often feel the need to damage property – both public and private – during protests, just to get the attention of authorities. Such civil unrest is often followed by prompt attention from authorities to the communities’ grievances.

A lot of commentators and organisations which purport to speak for the poor black majority actually spend little or no time in informal settlements, townships and rural areas. Others are surrogates and lobbyists representing special interests that don’t serve the poor masses.

The more space AfriForum gets from the media, the more it influences the outcomes on land reform and other burning issues. The reality is that, more often than not, what is good for AfriForum is bad for poor black people. What has enabled inequality to thrive over the years, among other things, is that the poorest of the poor don’t have their own “AfriForums”.

We also have an electoral system that inadvertently mutes their voices between general elections. A constituency system, as opposed to the current proportional representation, would give constituencies greater power to directly influence government policies and programmes. However, until the electoral system is changed, there is a need for sustained public engagement beginning at community level and going all the way up to national level.

Such a move would amplify the voices of ordinary people in the national discourse. It would also greatly reduce the need for, and probability of, protests in communities. Furthermore, it would counterbalance the damaging rhetoric of AfriForum and its ilk, here and abroad.

Undoubtedly AfriForum is a well-funded outfit. It is not implausible that on its overseas trips it also raises funding. With the controversial statements it makes, it gets even more media attention and free publicity. That rallies the conservative support base it appeals to. This leads to the right-wing agenda dominating mainstream politics.

Anyone who has run an NGO or a not-for-profit organisation addressing issues of ordinary folks will tell of how difficult it is to raise funding to keep such an organisation afloat. Black businesses are often unavailable to fund pressure groups. This has more to do with the diminishing spirit of civic activism among black people in middle classes. Many take it for granted that a mainly black government will champion issues of black people, the majority of whom remain trapped in poverty and unemployment. While it is a government mainly by black people, it is nonetheless a government for all the races and cultural groups. The government is influenced by the voices it hears in the media and on other platforms.

The absence of voices representing the poor eventually sidelines their issues, while the voices of the well-heeled are amplified. Beneficiaries of the government’s black economic empowerment and employment equity policies have a responsibility to empower other black people. They must ensure that the acquired wealth trickles down to the least privileged. This can also be done through funding initiatives that benefit the poor.

AfriForum is not likely to disappear anytime soon. Instead, the pressure group and similar organisations seem set to grow bigger and louder as their constituencies fight back against the ANC’s radical socioeconomic transformation programmes. They view the governing party’s radical agenda as inherently against the interests of white people. The silent majority need to be given a voice so that their issues, and not AfriForum’s, can take centre stage in the public discourse.

– Nkosi is a public relations adviser and founder of the initiative

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