Outgoing public protector, advocate Thuli Madonsela, has warned that as long as there is injustice in South Africa, lasting peace is an illusion.
Speaking at the annual Neil Aggett memorial lecture at Kingswood College in Grahamstown on Wednesday, Madonsela said global injustice created despair and anger that would eventually result in those affected fighting back in a way where “the rules don’t matter”.
She said the former trade unionist and community doctor, who was found hanged in an apartheid jail cell in 1982, aged 28, had stood up against injustice and paid the ultimate price. Although born with a “skin colour that brought him privileges”, the former Kingswood College pupil had dedicated his life to working in the black trade union movement, earning money to support himself by working night shifts in township hospitals.
Madonsela said Aggett, unlike many people who only stood up to injustice when directly affected, was a different kind of intellectual who gave up a potentially great and lucrative career to become his neighbour’s keeper instead.
“We are here to celebrate and to remember the life of a great young mind that taught us the value of standing up against injustice beyond the paradigm of just us.”
She said even though South Africa had come a long way after 22 years of democracy, the fact there were still huge socio-economic disparities and blatant discrimination when it came to health, education, housing and other rights promised in the constitution, was creating a lot of anger.
Madonsela spoke of the daily struggles of poor students at universities and the injustices they had to endure to get a good education that often resulted in not everyone realising their full potential. Examples of students sleeping in toilets, not eating properly or hanging around campus for months doing nothing because they could not afford registration fees were cited.
Delivering a message of hope, entitled Standing up to Injustice, Madonsela urged South Africans to step out of their comfort zones by making time to listen to their neighbour’s daily struggles and then trying to do something to help.
She urged people not to just slate government when they “dropped the ball”, but rather to step in and assist in fixing the problem.
“We need to understand we are all in the same boat and our fortunes are intertwined,” she said. — firstname.lastname@example.org