Call­ing all ac­tive cit­i­zens

We must forge a new hu­man­ism and African­ism that race, eth­nic­ity and na­tional bound­aries we in­her­ited from colo­nial­ism

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The strug­gle for democ­racy in South Africa was waged fiercely across a num­ber of fronts – mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion, the un­der­ground, the mil­i­tary and the in­ter­na­tional arena. Just as fiercely as the strug­gle to lib­er­ate the ma­jor­ity was waged, there was a bit­ter strug­gle against it by the mi­nor­ity us­ing ev­ery as­pect of state power, with a heavy re­liance on re­pres­sion and the mil­i­tary. Nei­ther side scored an over­whelm­ing and con­tin­u­ous vic­tory on the “bat­tle­field”, and hence the strug­gle con­cluded in a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment.

The most sig­nif­i­cant part of the set­tle­ment is con­tained in our Con­sti­tu­tion, and it is in un­der­stand­ing its con­tent that we must give at­ten­tion to the build­ing of a na­tion out of an apartheid past, where the em­pha­sis was on di­vi­sion by race, gen­der, lan­guage, tribe, class and ev­ery con­ceiv­able other di­vi­sion that could be con­jured up.

We un­der­stood then, as we still do, that po­lit­i­cal power is the means to the cre­ation of an in­clu­sive na­tion­hood, and not an end in it­self. This is a mat­ter that en­gaged African and South African thinkers.

Among these thinkers was Pro­fes­sor Jakes Ger­wel, who set the chal­lenge thus: “We must use the to­tal­ity of our abun­dant re­sources, in­clud­ing our cul­tural and artis­tic re­sources, as build­ing blocks for a new vi­sion of Africa, one that cul­ti­vates the best tra­di­tions of what and who we are. To do so, we will need to forge a new hu­man­ism and African­ism that tran­scends race, eth­nic­ity and na­tional bound­aries we in­her­ited from colo­nial­ism.”

Our Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires that we:

Recog­nise the in­jus­tices of our past; Hon­our those who suf­fered for jus­tice and free­dom in our land;

Re­spect those who have worked to build and de­velop our coun­try; and

Be­lieve that South Africa be­longs to all who live in it, united in our di­ver­sity. More im­por­tantly, how­ever, it re­quires that we use po­lit­i­cal power to cor­rect that path and com­mit to:

Heal the di­vi­sions of the past and es­tab­lish a so­ci­ety based on demo­cratic val­ues, so­cial jus­tice and fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights;

Lay the foun­da­tions for a demo­cratic and open so­ci­ety in which gov­ern­ment is based on the will of the peo­ple and ev­ery citizen is equally pro­tected by law;

Im­prove the qual­ity of life of all cit­i­zens and free the po­ten­tial of each per­son; and

Build a united and demo­cratic South Africa able to take its right­ful place as a sov­er­eign state in the fam­ily of na­tions.

Much of the com­men­tary of the present deals with the con­tin­u­a­tion and re-emer­gence of crude racism, gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and resur­gent trib­al­ism; the con­stant is­sues raised in re­spect of the break­down of the rule of law and the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of vic­tims of crim­i­nal­ity about the ab­sence of pro­tec­tion; the frus­tra­tion of the poor, who feel ex­cluded and un­der­mined by poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and in­equal­ity; and the hor­ror that we still wit­ness pe­ri­od­i­cally of xeno­pho­bic at­tacks on fel­low Africans.

Nine­teen years af­ter the adop­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion and 21 years since our first demo­cratic elec­tions, we have to ques­tion whether this spirit con­tin­ues to shape and guide us as Africans and South Africans.

Have we healed the di­vi­sions of the past, or have they sim­ply been buried so deep in our sub­con­scious­ness, es­cap­ing from time to time in in­ex­pli­ca­ble forms of vi­o­lence, such as at­tacks on for­eign­ers or on each other? And how do we ex­plain this vi­o­lence? Do we re­ally fear those from other na­tions, or are there other, more cred­i­ble, ex­pla­na­tions? Do we know who we are as a peo­ple? How can it be that young black peo­ple born af­ter democ­racy con­tinue to feel alien­ated in their own coun­try?

As a coun­try, we have made a great deal of progress since 1994. Aside from the ob­vi­ous changes to in­sti­tu­tions and leg­is­la­tion, the econ­omy has grown at a steady pace, re­sult­ing in ris­ing in­comes and em­ploy­ment; ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices such as ed­u­ca­tion, health, hous­ing, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion has been ex­tended to all cit­i­zens; demo­cratic elec­toral sys­tems be­ing es­tab­lished; and a rights-based cul­ture pro­moted.

There is a gen­eral ac­knowl­edg­ment, how­ever, that we have not made suf­fi­cient progress to ad­dress the long-term legacy of apartheid de­spite the adop­tion of sound poli­cies. While poverty lev­els dropped dur­ing the pe­riod of rapid eco­nomic growth, the labour in­comes of the poor­est 40% dropped with the ex­pan­sion of so­cial grants, ac­count­ing for in­creases in house­hold in­come.

De­spite im­prove­ments in terms of ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and re­ten­tion, the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion for the ma­jor­ity of black learn­ers re­mains poor, af­fect­ing em­ploy­ment and earn­ings mo­bil­ity. Our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem re­mains skewed to favour the wealthy.

A sim­plis­tic ap­proach to this would be to dis­miss these is­sues as the re­al­i­ties of the class sys­tem true of most democ­ra­cies, but the dis­tinct race di­men­sion to these ex­pe­ri­ences can­not be ig­nored. We find that, de­spite poli­cies de­signed to im­prove the lives of the poor, we have not changed the out­look of many of our cit­i­zens.

Cre­at­ing a so­cially co­he­sive so­ci­ety re­quires a con­certed ap­proach by all South Africans.

The Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of ac­tive cit­i­zenry and lead­er­ship to iden­tify in­ci­dents of in­jus­tice and to hold gov­ern­ment to ac­count. To en­sure the qual­ity of de­liv­ery, this type of ac­count­abil­ity mech­a­nism works best when ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing the wealthy, de­pends on the same ser­vices to en­sure the qual­ity of de­liv­ery.

The par­tic­i­pa­tory gov­er­nance mech­a­nism adopted for lo­cal gov­ern­ment af­ter 1994 is de­signed to en­sure the par­tic­i­pa­tion of cit­i­zens to en­hance de­liv­ery rather than im­pede it. This form of ac­tive cit­i­zenry re­quires lead­er­ship – be­yond the po­lit­i­cal, at all lev­els – that places cit­i­zens at the cen­tre of de­vel­op­ment, where they can act as agents of change. The con­tract to build such a co­he­sive so­ci­ety must be based on trust – trust in the cred­i­bil­ity and equal com­mit­ment of all par­tic­i­pants, trust that lead­ers will up­hold the con­sti­tu­tional val­ues of our democ­racy and trust that trade-offs are de­signed to ad­dress in­jus­tices.

In truth, our lived ex­pe­ri­ence sug­gests that we have not lis­tened to the plead­ings of the best among us, as in Ger­wel’s plea that “we will need to forge a new hu­man­ism and African­ism that tran­scends race, eth­nic­ity and na­tional bound­aries we in­her­ited from colo­nial­ism”.

This is the dis­cus­sion we can no longer de­fer. The Jakes Ger­wel Foun­da­tion has de­cided to open this dis­cus­sion. It is im­por­tant, but is com­plex be­cause it of­fers no sim­ple an­swers, will not be solved by merely as­sign­ing blame to oth­ers and de­mands de­ter­mined, or­gan­ised and mea­sur­able ac­tions by all of us.

The Jakes Ger­wel Me­mo­rial Lec­ture that was de­liv­ered by Dr Car­los Lopes at the Univer­sity of the Western Cape on Tues­day helped to open this de­bate. Manuel re­tired from ac­tive pol­i­tics last year. He was the chair­per­son of the Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and the

long­est-ser­vice fi­nance min­is­ter in SA


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