Open Letter to the President of South Africa, Mr Thabo Mbeki

Dear Mr President,

I write to you as a concerned citizen of South Africa, almost on the eve of my thirtieth birthday. I was born only a few months after the Soweto Uprising of 1976, so it is safe to say that the struggle has been in my family’s consciousness since my birth. My parents stood on the steps of Wits University in the 1970s while the police fired tear gas at them, shouting for the rights of the oppressed. The security police used to check up on us every so often. We lived in fear of the apartheid government.

Thirty years later, I still live in fear.

I am a white, middle-class, gay man, in a long-term relationship with another white, middle-class gay man. We are both working and studying full time. I aim to become a secondary school teacher, and he is studying to become a doctor. He is already gainfully employed in the private health sector.

Sir, it is clear from reports in the press, from family and friends, and even from your own government, that violent crime is spiralling out of control. Prosecuting attorneys are being attacked by murderers in the offices of the court. Tourists are being robbed and viciously beaten in broad daylight. The police service and its members are being hijacked, and dogs taken. I will not go on with how bad the situation is, because we already know how bad it is.

As I mentioned previously, I am studying towards a degree in Secondary Education (senior and FET band) through the University of South Africa. I believe that I have something to offer the children of South Africa, that my contribution will make the lives of the country’s children better in some small way. My sister is studying to become a primary school teacher, also with the same aim.

Sir, my fiance (one of the reasons we love this country is the wonderfully tolerant Bill of Rights and Constitution) wants to become a medical doctor, and I want to become a teacher. We want to offer something of value to the citizens of South Africa, and we are dedicating a large portion of our time, effort and money into pursuing our degrees.

However, we watch with sadness the way crime is given such high prominence in the media. We listen with sadness when members of our families and friends are affected by crime. Friends have been murdered, usually with no motive.

Mr President, I implore you to re-evaluate government spending, and focus on the sectors that require immediate attention. In my mind, this would be the education and health departments, followed by public works, and only then followed by the criminal justice and correctional services departments.

Sir, the money being spent on your security is probably increasing monthly, and why is that? Are you also scared? Do you lie awake at night, worrying if someone is going to attack or kill you? I know several hundred people in this country, and I know that a large portion of them do lie awake at night, worried if someone is going to attack or kill them, or people close to them.

Mr Mbeki, you are the second man to lead a democratic South Africa, following in the footsteps of the greatest statesman alive, Nelson Mandela. What great shoes to fill. You have done an acceptable job in many areas, considering who preceded you. Nevertheless, two areas that are sorely lacking your attention are the aforementioned education and health.

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the minister of health, has made South Africa a laughing stock. The matter is not, and never has been, whether HIV causes AIDS. The matter is that people are dying from AIDS and need to be taken care of. This includes tens of thousands of single mothers, nurses and teachers who are afflicted with HIV. These are the people who take care of the children, who are the future of this country.

Mr President, the statistics show that most criminals are youngsters – people below the age of 30 – people my age or younger. These are the people that were finishing school in 1994, when the new South Africa took shape. Somewhere between Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech and now, the morals and values of the country have broken down, to the extent that no one cares about anyone else anymore. THIS is what I mean by improving education.

There is no value for human life. As a result, the death penalty, should it be reintroduced, will be ineffective. If people don’t care about human life, why should they care what happens to them tomorrow?

It is clear that something needs to be done. As the foremost representative of the people of South Africa, it is your duty and obligation to take care of your country, to look after the privileged and underprivileged equally, as enshrined in our Bill of Rights and Constitution.

Educate the nation to love one another again, to have value for human life. That will bring down the crime substantially more than the death penalty, and building more prisons.

Sincerely

Randolph Potter