AS Karl Marx said, human beings make their own environments, but not under conditions entirely of their choosing. We certainly would not have chosen the environment in which we find ourselves today.
Today, a year later, I have no choice but to pose the question: what have we done with the priceless gift of humanity Noncedo Ngqondi and her comrades bestowed to us?
That leads me to these questions:
- What is it that defines our society? What makes for our identity as a people and a nation?
- How do we, who live and have been urged to describe ourselves as proudly South African, answer the questions: who and what are we?
- Wherever they may now be, given that they have departed the world of the living, what answers do Ngqondi, Pumeza Lose and Mxolisi Gumenge give when they are asked the question: who are these people among whom you were born, who grew and died?
Many in the mass media communicate troubling and negative messages, perhaps drawn from particular and actual incidents, that, among other things, as a people:
- We are prone to violent crime and corruption;
- We are driven criminally to abuse women and children;
- Through heartless negligence, we have condemned millions to de-humanising poverty;
- As individuals and leaders of our people we are hungry for power and its abuse for personal gain;
- Our leaders would corrupt the institutions of the democratic state for personal benefit, the destruction of the rule of law and the negation of democratic practice;
- We live in and preside over a community defined by the collapse of all moral values, which, therefore, is in desperate need for moral regeneration;
- We live in a society that once showed immense promise, but that is now condemned to despair and eventual collapse – burdened by a leadership that is dishonest, self-serving and shamelessly selfish; and
- Rather than an African renaissance, we face yet another false African start.
But if unity of our people is pivotal, the pestilence of corruption is a life and death matter on which our future depends.
I would contend that, after racism, corruption is the second most serious malady staring humanity in the face today.
Corruption is cancerous – it eats away at the vitals of society, since it ultimately chokes off key societal institutions.
Bearing this concern in mind, the government has over time put together a battery of anti-corruption systems.
In the end, however, it is up to individual members of society occupying positions of trust to heed their conscience.
No matter how effective the laws of the land are, the fight against corruption boils down to the individual's sense of right and wrong.
It follows that we need a conscious intervention at the level of education to enable our nation to appreciate the devastation corruption is causing in the long term.
We may need to begin exploring creative ways of introducing subjects related to ethics into our school curriculum at early stages.
In the end, corruption is not a matter of the government alone – it concerns all of us.
It takes political leaders, the media, business leaders, civil society, public intellectuals, academics and communities to identify the root causes of corruption and to mount a sustained struggle to liquidate it from society's system of thought.
How I wish that those who use knives and guns to fight for leadership positions in our organisations could learn from such modesty, honesty and integrity.
How would they view the infighting in Mpumalanga, here in the Nelson Mandela Bay and elsewhere?
What would they think about the murders and the alleged existence of a hitlist, which is drafted by comrades to murder other comrades?
This factional fighting for the perks of office is what they fought against all their life.
They would be horrified at the scale of greed and crass materialism of the new clique of tenderpreneurs, and all those who see access to political office as a ladder to personal wealth.
We cannot, unfortunately, talk about our public services without also dealing with the massive problem of corruption.
We owe it to our late comrades such as Ngqondi, Lose and Gumenge to root out this cancer, which threatens to turn our hard fought for democracy into a predator state.
They would have led the ANC – just as they did when alive – whenever our movement faced the daunting challenge to fight against these foreign cultures fostered into our movement, including crass materialism, greed, abuse of public office for narrow personal gains, corruption and downright ill discipline.
They would have insisted that the movement must take decisive action to confront these new cultures before our movement and the government, together with politics, are discredited in the eyes of the people.
They would have recalled what Vladimir Lenin said: "Despair is typical of those who do not understand the causes of evil, see no way out and are incapable of struggle.
"The modern industrial proletariat does not belong to the category of such classes."
The challenge we face is to reproduce more Ngqondis , Gumenges and Loses.
That is the challenge our education and political programmes face. If we fail, the future of our glorious movement is bleak.
Self-interest and crass materialism are simply threatening the foundations laid by these colossal giants.
I want to say today in memory of Ngqondi , Gumenge and Lose that young people should not be drawn into the corruptive tendencies of buying votes in our organisation because that has led to fake, fong kong and phony leadership that has created a political distance with the people.
When promised jobs and money, we call on the youth to take and still expect that they should stick to their principled positions. We must not allow our principles to be bought that cheaply.
Frantz Fanon said: "Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it."
To fulfil our generation's mission we first have to be clear about what it entails.
And we cannot have a common understanding of what this mission is unless we have a proper, revolutionary political education within our ranks.
Our fallen comrades' humility should be a stark reminder to all of us of how revolutionaries should conduct themselves [in a democracy].
May their souls rest in peace.
Gift Ngqondi is the head of the research unit in the office of the chief whip, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality