Living the Constitution daily
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values and human rights, writes Mamphela Ramphele
Yanga Jadezweni, a talented dancer in his early twenties, was stabbed to death in Khayelitsha on the 20th anniversary of the approval of our Constitution as the supreme law of the land. He was a leading member of Indoni Dance, Arts and Leadership Academy, a three-year-old initiative that is training young people from the poor townships of Cape Town to become professional performers in the Afro-ballet genre. Their success has seen them perform all over Western Cape and they have recently completed a tour of Australia.
This young dancer would have been alive today had we lived up to the promise we made to ourselves on that day 20 years ago to “heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”.
Yanga’s death is but one indicator of the high cost of our failure to stop the dumping of poor people to live in overcrowded, humiliating environments, where they are forced to compete for scarce and diminishing resources in our cities. The most important scarcity in places like Khayelitsha is human dignity. The festering wounds of the unhealed divisions of the past discharge brutal violence that cut short talented lives daily.
We need to reimagine our society so we can all recommit to the dream of a society that is living the values of social justice and fundamental human rights. Citizens need to own the dream rather than embrace it as Nelson Mandela’s.
Owning the dream would enable us to make the values and principles of our Constitution come alive in our daily lives through civic education; too many citizens are unfamiliar with them. Citizens need to embrace them as a guide to living in our society.
Our education system has surprisingly not yet used the Constitution as the anchor for the subject of life orientation in the school curriculum. What better way to orient young people’s lives as responsible, informed citizens than the guidance of our Constitution?
Can we make 2017 the year of embedding its values and principles in all we do as a society, as a tribute to our 20year-old national Constitution? Let us institute civic education in our homes, schools, tertiary education institutions, and places of work and worship. Aligning our personal values and lifestyles with human rights values would make us a society exuding ubuntu in every facet of our lives.
Making the commitment to heal divisions of the past has never been more urgent. Black and white citizens are scarred by the legacy of white supremacy that justified dispossession and exploitation of black people in order to privilege white people. Our 1994 political settlement needs to be complemented by emotional and socioeconomic settlements to right the wrongs of our past.
Healing the wounds of our ugly past requires us to set in motion “working through” processes at home, at work in both the private and public sectors, in schools, in communities and in places of worship. We can, and must undertake this working through of our painful past by acknowledging wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness, giving forgiveness and linking hands to build our beloved country into a just society.
Empathy between those who benefited from the privileges resulting from their wrongdoing and those who suffered injustices is essential to setting the tone for fundamental transformation of our structurally unjust society. Legislated black economic empowerment or punishing racists and sexists alone would not be sufficient to the task of attaining sustainable social transformation.
The structural violence of white supremacy compounds male chauvinism and sexism. Black men who are humiliated by their incapacity to be the heads of households, providers and decision makers tend to vent their frustrations on those closest to them. Violence in poor communities is driven by the humiliation of structural violence in our unhealed society that is dominated by white men. Young black men desperately need positive environments in which to reimagine themselves as men, without the need to use violence as an instrument of asserting their manhood.
We need to recreate our cities into modern mixed-use urban settings that become engines of sustainable socioeconomic development, providing opportunities for all to express themselves and thrive. African cities need not perpetuate the colonial centre and periphery configurations that continue to exclude the majority black populations from the benefits of urban infrastructure. South Africa has the constitutional imperative to use its urban planning, financial and technical capacity to transform our landscapes.
Imagine Cape Town, Johannesburg, Tshwane, eThekwini and Nelson Mandela Bay as vibrant well-managed metros where poor people live in dignified spaces near places of work and cultural centres. Imagine the opportunities that would open up for the desperate young people who are unemployed, unskilled and unemployable. Instead of loitering on street corners, and in shebeens and drug dens, they would be apprentices and traders, providing much-needed goods and services as contributors to our economy. They would then move from rage and violence as outsiders, to become proud included and affirmed citizens.
Rural towns and communities also desperately need to be reimagined in line with our constitutional values. African traditions and customs that are infused with ubuntu are unlikely to be in conflict with the values of our Constitution.
Ubuntu’s insistence on respecting people because they are human, regardless of their age, gender or economic status, is completely aligned with human rights values. What is missing are the healing circles for communities and residents of small and large towns to reimagine their futures as proud citizens of their country and their local areas, and link hands to rebuild their environments.
Solms-Delta wine farm has over the past decade worked hard to establish a model of transforming our farming districts and healing the wounds of land dispossession that remains a major source of pain across the country. The process involved deep, protracted, facilitated conversations between descendants of the indigenous people who were dispossessed of the land, and those of the white family that took ownership of the farm as part of the colonial expansion programme.
The “working through” process was painful and difficult. The result is a 50-50 ownership structure that ensured buy-in by all in a shared vision for the farm, its governance and management processes. The farm is thriving.
Land is an emotive issue in our country. We need to institute nationwide processes tailored to each setting to address land reform and restitution before it is too late. Imagine, for example, Cape Town speedily completing the land restitution process to enable the healing of the physical and emotional wounds of District Six.
Reimagining our cities as homes for all, healing the wounds of our ugly past and transforming our socioeconomic system into one that provides hope, dignity and opportunities for all is the only way to stop the unnecessary loss of life. Yanga Jadezweni’s death should serve as a reminder of the urgency of this task. Ramphele is an active citizen
HUMILIATING ENVIRONMENTS A young girl in Khayelitsha, on her way home after buying a plastic bottle of paraffin for cooking and heating. The most important scarcity in places like this is human dignity, and the festering wounds of the unhealed divisions of the past discharge brutal violence that cut short talented lives daily