No one more powerful than the liberation

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No one more powerful than the liberation: HOLTZMAN on the challenges of delivering change in post-conflict South Africa
by Ludovica TORRESIN for Shared Future News
9 August 2018

Zelda Holtzman was involved in the African National Congress (ANC), in Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) military structures, and in the South Africa Communist Party. She was also a high ranking official in the South African Police Service from 1995 to 2003. In an interview event organised as part of the Feile an Phobail festival, Holtzman shared her experiences and insights.

Led by Stephen McCaffery, Holtzman explained how she became an activist, starting with a description of the conditions she grew up in. She was born in a working-class family, and she lived in an area that was completely separated from white areas. Services were designated to either white people or coloured people, who had difficulty accessing services such as public transportation. These injustices, part of daily life, were in addition to the constant violence towards black people, who often were imprisoned only because they were considered potential criminals, she said.

Thanks to the rise of the Black Consciousness Movement, Holtzman started to attend meetings in her school, where people had the opportunity to talk about the forms of oppression that they experienced every day.

Holtzman decided that protesting wasn’t enough to achieve the aim of a fair and peaceful society. She saw in the ANC an organisation capable of fighting de-Africanisation; the ANC was a tool for those struggling — working class, students, women — a way to speak up and to unify the oppressed. The goal was to develop programmes to actively help the population and support African identity:

“There must be something bigger [than] just protesting against education. So I think that when I discovered the ANC I thought: ‘This is the vehicle that will liberate us and get us to get our land back’.”

Holtzman talked about police violence and the necessity of collaborating with it, in order to transform it into an instrument of peace and security. She said that this process was one of the most difficult challenges that they had to face because of the resistance to it.

After 1994, a major issue has been widespread corruption in the government. This is an obstacle to the process of reconciliation, started by Nelson Mandela Acknowledging corruption has been a dilemma, because it means questioning the leaders that people have chosen and which could be seen as an opposition to the revolution. Holzman highlighted the estrangement of the ANC from its initial values:

“We become arrogant in the process. We thought ‘Only we can, only we have the right ideas and only our ideas are right (…) we fought for liberation, we sacrificed more than the others, where do you come from?’. Now, let me go back to why we engaged to liberation, was it to be more powerful than someone else?”

Holtzman finally outlined the importance of reflecting, learning from the previous mistakes, and identifying the inconvenient truths in order support the people.

“We need to redefine, reshape and reframe the agenda for today, because is it about protecting the party or is it to protect and to engage the people around the issues of humanity?”

Image source: Marissa Mc MAHON.

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