Freedom of expression is a right that is enshrined in our constitution and South Africa as a democracy, has been hailed throughout the continent as a symbol of what most African democracies should be. As a country we enjoy the civil liberties that enable us able to confront, to question and hold our leaders to account for their decisions and their actions. That is why we have people who protest and take their grievances to the highest office in the land. These are rights many lost lives and their loved ones for. They did not this to be popular, they did because they fought and were killed for the right to equal treatment, right to be heard and to have their issues addressed. The fundamental rights to human dignity.
What is the matter with Ntsiki Mazwai’s letter that so many have found offensive?
Why is society berating her for exercising her civil rights? Aren’t the sentiments expressed her letter concerns that many raised both on and off social media when the National Lockdow was announced? Is that not the reason why many on social media shared posts that encouraged that people buy out the stock of street vendors before lock down? Isn’t that the reason why we applauded Mr Manana’s NGO for identifying various places and giving street vendors monies so as to enable them to at least be to stock up on their materiall and be able to operate when 21 days National Lockdown ends?
Big business in the form of Mr Oppenheimer and Mr Rupert donated R 2 billion rands to be accessed by SMMEs in an attempt for them to recoup whatever losses they will suffer during this lockdown. Yet similar provisions have not been made for the men and who women who make a living by selling by the side of the street.
Why then, are we treating Ntsiki Mazwai as a leper, a trouble child “Ngwana watswenya” for exercising her civil rights by raising this very fundamental issue? Shouldn’t we be applauding her for voicing out what has been in the forefront of our minds? Does the fact that these concerns are written by her make them any less legitimate?
Yes, it is duly noted that her letter only serves to highlight the plight of street vendors and offers no real solutions. Why should she offer solutions on her own? Does she have the have financial muscle of the Ruperts and Oppenheimers?
No, but she does have the courage, the boldness and the tenacity to write that letter and even as people have ridiculed her for it, it’s been read and shared. Therefore, she has played her part.
All that is left is for those people who hold the President’s confidence, the Minister of DTI and Minister of Small Business enterprises and many others, to assist and find legitimate solutions to the issues she has raised. This lockdown is a serious threat to township entrepreneurship and the neglect of this sector is going to have a serious impact on the socio – economic issues that the country is already grappling with and will probably be dealing with for years hereafter.
In short, it is important that civil society learns the art of separating issues from personalities. Let’s not allow our collective prejudice to cloud our judgment where socio-economic and human rights issues are concerned.