We have not walked Madiba’s path

CityPress - - Voices - Fanie du Toit voices@ city­press. co. za

Clive Derby-Lewis’ re­lease from prison and Thando Mgqolozana’s self-re­moval from fu­ture literary fes­ti­vals in Fran­schhoek share a sim­i­lar­ity: both pre­cip­i­tated crit­i­cism of for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela.

In a col­umn in The New York Times, ac­tivist Sisonke Msi­mang de­clared her­self “tired of the empty pol­i­tics of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion”, call­ing it a “chore­ographed unity”, and hoped that she would find “suc­cour in know­ing that Derby-Lewis would likely die in jail” for the mur­der of Chris Hani.

In the same ar­ti­cle, she wrote that she would “like to think that [Hani] would have de­fied his men­tor, Mr Man­dela, by of­fer­ing us a less con­cil­ia­tory path to dig­nity”. Mgqolozana is re­ported to have said: “We need to be an­gry at Nel­son Man­dela. I don’t think black peo­ple are an­gry enough at Nel­son Man­dela.”

Their anger is pre­sum­ably rooted in part ei­ther in the per­cep­tion that Man­dela pur­sued rec­on­cil­i­a­tion at the ex­pense of so­cial jus­tice, or that he al­lowed white peo­ple to get away with not play­ing an ac­tive and crit­i­cal role in fos­ter­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to this nar­ra­tive, pur­su­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion as Man­dela did was ei­ther a waste of time or, at best, should never have been more im­por­tant than so­cial jus­tice. Man­dela should take a large share of the blame for the state we are in, and so, the think­ing goes, we should be an­gry, or at least crit­i­cal of him.

While the anger Mgqolozana, Msi­mang and oth­ers man­i­fest is un­re­servedly un­der­stand­able, it re­flects a flawed read­ing of history. In fact, for Man­dela, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was not an ob­jec­tive to be chased at the ex­pense of any other. For Man­dela, jus­tice was the mea­sure against which rec­on­cil­i­a­tion would be judged. Racial in­ter­de­pen­dence for Man­dela in­sisted on the con­crete re­dress of apartheid in­jus­tice as rec­on­cil­i­a­tion’s key out­come.

In a speech to Par­lia­ment af­ter his first 100 days in of­fice, Man­dela said: “From the out­set, the Gov­ern­ment of Na­tional Unity set it­self two in­ter­re­lated tasks: rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and re­con­struc­tion, na­tion-build­ing and de­vel­op­ment.”

The key is this: Man­dela recog­nised that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and re­con­struc­tion would post­date his pres­i­dency. He set us on a path that we have not fully walked. In­stead, there has been a lack of fol­lowthrough on the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions, dither­ing on HIV/Aids, and ram­pant in­ef­fi­ciency and cor­rup­tion in the pri­vate sec­tor and gov­ern­ment. This is not to sug­gest that we should not crit­i­cally re­view Man­dela’s pres­i­dency – we should, but only on the ba­sis of an ac­cu­rate read­ing of history. Man­dela’s pres­i­dency fea­tured our rein­tro­duc­tion to the global com­mu­nity and all that en­tailed, in­clud­ing the mas­sive re­shap­ing of the na­tional econ­omy and a repri­ori­tised so­cial agenda.

There can be no deny­ing that there is work to be done to fash­ion a sus­tain­able and ro­bust na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Aca­demic and ac­tivist Steven Fried­man wrote some time ago that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion has failed be­cause we have not tried it yet. For him, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion would have in­volved de­bate and di­a­logue and, ul­ti­mately, a set­tle­ment of two key ques­tions: how to talk about race so that over time it mat­ters less rather than more, and a grand eco­nomic bar­gain to set­tle on how much cap­i­tal we need as a coun­try to grow, against the cap­i­tal that ought to be re­dis­tributed. Be­cause we have not reached these agree­ments, he wrote, we con­stantly bicker around the edges of the de­bate.

In other words, the anger we feel as South Africans is per­haps less be­cause of the path Man­dela steered us upon, and per­haps more be­cause we have not fol­lowed it with enough ur­gency. If we look care­fully enough, we can see where things have be­gun to fall apart.

The In­sti­tute for Jus­tice and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion’s an­nual SA Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Barom­e­ter Re­port in 2014 an­a­lysed the first decade of pub­lished sur­vey data that show that lev­els of in­ter­ra­cial con­tact and so­cial­i­sa­tion have im­proved and, with this, lev­els of in­ter­ra­cial trust: the per­cent­age of South Africans who re­port of­ten or al­ways talk­ing to some­one from another race in a so­cial set­ting in­creased from 10.4% in 2003 to 23.5% in 2013. But it also shows that the poor (mostly black peo­ple) re­main ex­cluded from such con­tact.

De­press­ingly, the sur­vey shows low, and fall­ing, lev­els of sup­port among white South Africans for con­crete and ma­te­rial re­dress and, sim­i­larly, a lack of ac­knowl­edge­ment among them that apartheid re­sulted in the poverty of many black South Africans to­day. At the same time, there is an ero­sion of na­tional unity, partly be­cause of per­ceived poor lead­er­ship and cor­rup­tion that has re­sulted in fewer peo­ple sub­scrib­ing to a belief in a united South Africa.

There is a sharp choice fac­ing South Africans: ei­ther we con­tinue “chore­ographed unity” and deny the poor so­cial jus­tice with the con­se­quences that brings; or we make the grand pact Fried­man sug­gests, have the right con­ver­sa­tions about re­dis­tri­bu­tion and in­clude the poor in those dis­cus­sions, and give gen­uine rec­on­cil­i­a­tion a go.

It starts with the ur­gently needed un­der­stand­ing that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and so­cial jus­tice rely on us com­ing close enough to one another to start car­ing for each other. But how can we, if we re­main em­bed­ded in our cul­tural sup­po­si­tions, our racial en­claves? And are these not two things Man­dela gave us: the will­ing­ness to walk with each other and the abil­ity to care for one another along the way?

Du Toit is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Jus­tice

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