The rain fell not in drops but in great sheets; sheets of water blown sideways by a wind that howled down the valley. It drenched the land and it drenched the people. It ran in riverbeds dry from months – years – of drought, and it made rivers where none had been before. It was like the heavens had opened in answer to the millions of prayers for relief. And it was good. 88mm in an hour good.
That same week the South African currency fell not in Cents but in Rands. It tumbled like the hailstones that accompanied the gushes of good falling from the open heavens. And it just kept falling as if it were on some kind of kid’s joyride. But no one was having any fun. We were bewildered and shell-shocked; struggling to make sense of what appeared to be a willful act of sabotage on our country.
But then – as if in answer to more prayers for relief – David van Rooyen fell. Like the rain the previous day this brought great whoops of joy; relief to the scorched earth. And immediately, the party was over for the free-falling currency. Some said the rise of Pravin Gordhan was a case of too-little-too-late. Most breathed a sigh of relief. Was it too early to say the drought was over?
Not for South African rugby. Most agreed that the fall of Heyneke Meyer preceded by the fans cries of #MeyerMustFall was long overdue especially after the Springbok’s humiliating downing by Japan at the Rugby World Cup in England. Many thought Meyer should have fallen much earlier – a case of too-little-too-late? Most breathed a sigh of relief. The dream of an end to the Springbok victory drought was born.
And they sat-in and they rose-up and they marched and waved banners and they bopped and weaved their way all the way to parliament and all the way to another successful student revolution. For those of us who remember it felt dangerous but necessary; like it could turn into another 1976 only this time with a hashtag and a more representative cohort of South African students. #feesmustfall was born. And our political leaders needed a collective change of underwear and the rain fell for the students and for democracy.
All races, religions and classes stood should-to-shoulder; in fact they sat for hours, days, weeks in protest against institutional racism at the University of Cape Town. They called for transformation and they made Rhodes the symbol of the movement. The #RhodesMustFall was born. This time the iconic statue of Cecil John Rhodes came down and in its place rose hope; hope for a future that would see racism fall and student leaders rise to challenge the system and the government of the day. Many asked where these youngsters had been for 21 years. Most applauded their campaign.
And #ZumaMustFall was born. The doubt had always been there but for many millions of South Africans the benefit had ended. Social media erupted and marches were organised. The stream that had begun to flow from UCT some 10 months earlier had grown into a river that was now rushing straight into the corridors of power. And of all the #campaigns in 2015 this is the one that is certain to succeed. It is simply a matter of time.
And in it all democracy rises and rises and rises yet again. That is what has made this a great year. It is not that we haven’t been battered, beaten and bruised. It is not that we haven’t been taken to breaking point. It has been a grinding year in which we have lost many battles. But as we approach its end we can say that every time the people have found their voice; every time citizens have rallied together, change has occurred; democracy has been victorious.
Once again we hear the voices of those who believe South Africa is doomed to ‘go the way of Zimbabwe’. This is utter bollocks! Democracy has never been healthier or more vibrant than it is currently. We only need to look at the few examples I have given above to realise that the people are more powerful than at any other time in the life of our young democracy.
We must remind ourselves that challenges to democracy do not constitute its failure. It is only when those challenges succeed that democracy is weakened. It is up to us citizens to ensure that this never happens. We must redouble our efforts and we must continue to use all means at our disposal to tackle every challenge that we are faced with; take to the streets, take to social media, write to the editor and whatever you do – vote in next year’s Local Government elections. It is up to us ensure that 2016 is another year in which the rain fell and democracy rose.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.