Set­tling for one out of three out­comes landed us in this mess

CityPress - - Voices - Mamphela Ramphele voices@city­

Africa’s wis­dom is sym­bol­ised by the de­sign and use of the three-legged pot as this type of struc­ture is the most sta­ble; ask any con­nois­seur of potjie kos. Our dis­mal per­for­mance as a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, founded on hu­man rights, re­sults from our fail­ure to base our tran­si­tion to democ­racy on three legs, in the form of po­lit­i­cal, emo­tional and so­cioe­co­nomic set­tle­ments.

To ex­tend the metaphor, the in­creas­ing social in­sta­bil­ity and ten­sions ap­par­ent in our so­ci­ety re­flect the cost of cook­ing with a one-legged pot – it is un­sta­ble and can­not con­tain enough food for all ci­ti­zens.

We need to com­ple­ment the po­lit­i­cal com­pact sealed in 1994 and cel­e­brated world­wide by act­ing on the com­mit­ment we made in the pre­am­ble of our Con­sti­tu­tion, in the name of “We the Peo­ple”, to heal the di­vi­sions of the past; es­tab­lish a demo­cratic, open so­ci­ety in which ev­ery­one is equal be­fore the law; ad­dress the qual­ity of life of all ci­ti­zens to free up ev­ery­one’s po­ten­tial; and take our place as a sov­er­eign state in the com­mu­nity of na­tions.

Im­punity in the pub­lic ser­vice – as ex­em­pli­fied by the brazen acts of in­com­pe­tence and cor­rup­tion that run riot at state-owned en­ter­prises (SOEs) such as the Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of SA, PetroSA and the SA Social Se­cu­rity Agency (Sassa), along with state cap­ture and other crimes that go un­pun­ished – re­flect a mind-set of peo­ple who are yet to be lib­er­ated from be­ing sub­jects of an op­pres­sive regime to be­com­ing ef­fec­tive shapers of our con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy.

Our fail­ure to heal the wounds of our ugly past has been used by some elites to jus­tify the con­tin­u­a­tion of a cul­ture of “me, my­self and I” in civil so­ci­ety, as well as the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors. The ANC gov­ern­ment, which con­tin­u­ally boasts of its com­mit­ment to the poor, ap­pears to be in no hurry to lift all ci­ti­zens out of poverty. It has sin­gu­larly failed to en­hance the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion and health ser­vices to free up the po­ten­tial of all ci­ti­zens and, in so do­ing, en­able them to be­come con­trib­u­tors to na­tional pros­per­ity.

The Sassa case demon­strates how social grant re­cip­i­ents have been made cap­tives of abu­sive fi­nan­cial prac­tices by the depart­ment of social devel­op­ment’s pre­ferred ser­vice provider, Cash Pay­mas­ter Ser­vices. The same be­hav­iour is ev­i­dent in the con­duct of pub­lic of­fi­cials and board mem­bers of most SOEs. There is a sys­tem­atic hol­low­ing-out of pub­lic as­sets for the ben­e­fit of po­lit­i­cally con­nected in­di­vid­u­als and of­fi­cials.

Our wob­bly one-legged potjie also leaves those ci­ti­zens en­joy­ing his­toric priv­i­leges off the hook. Many feel lit­tle em­pa­thy for those who con­tinue to en­dure grind­ing poverty. They blame those liv­ing in poverty for their predica­ment – “they have too many chil­dren”; “they feel too en­ti­tled to all the free ser­vices from the state”; and “they are not hard-work­ing enough” are com­mon re­frains. There is lit­tle ac­knowl­edge­ment of the com­pounded ben­e­fits of multi-gen­er­a­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, as well as cap­i­tal ac­cu­mu­la­tion that they con­tinue to en­joy.

Some even claim that they can­not be held re­spon­si­ble be­cause they were born after apartheid.

Emo­tional set­tle­ment, the sec­ond leg of our potjie, needs to be ef­fected through sen­si­tively fa­cil­i­tated di­a­logues. This would help all ci­ti­zens to ac­knowl­edge the ef­fect of our ugly past on those who ben­e­fited from it as well as those who were ex­ploited.

Both sides have been wounded and have car­ried those scars into our demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion. The hu­man rights val­ues em­bod­ied in our Con­sti­tu­tion can­not flour­ish in the midst of a so­ci­ety hob­bled by wounds. We are yet to see one an­other as un­self-con­sciously fel­low South Africans.

Po­lit­i­cal elites in our cur­rent dis­pen­sa­tion also feel en­ti­tled to the fruits of cor­rup­tion, nepo­tism and state cap­ture. In the ab­sence of the sec­ond and third leg of the potjie to trans­form our na­tion into one that ad­vo­cates for social jus­tice, they help them­selves to our na­tional as­sets.

Our fail­ure to re­struc­ture the econ­omy and make it more in­clu­sive has left it wide open to in­di­vid­ual elites to en­rich them­selves, even at the cost of their indi­gent fel­low ci­ti­zens.

The pro­pa­ganda ap­pro­pri­ated by the ANC, which claims to be our sole lib­er­a­tor from apartheid and the only trusted guar­an­tor against a re­turn to apartheid rule, has un­der­mined poor peo­ple’s abil­ity to hold them ac­count­able. Many poor peo­ple be­lieve that vot­ing the ANC out of power will bring back apartheid. Who can for­get Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s Novem­ber 2013 state­ment, made while cam­paign­ing for the 2014 elec­tion, that vot­ing for the DA “will bring back the boers”?

It is not sur­pris­ing that ci­ti­zens’ rage at be­ing dis­re­spected, lied to and con­demned to a multi­gen­er­a­tional life of poverty and a mar­ginal ex­is­tence on the pe­riph­ery of our cities and met­ros, is of­ten turned in­wards, lead­ing to do­mes­tic, com­mu­nity and pub­lic vi­o­lence.

What is to be done? We need to go back to the com­mit­ments we made in the pre­am­ble of our Con­sti­tu­tion. We need to strengthen the foun­da­tions of our democ­racy by com­ple­ment­ing our po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment with emo­tional and so­cioe­co­nomic set­tle­ments. We need to reimag­ine South Africa anew and recom­mit to build­ing the coun­try of our dreams.

We need to get our schools to embed civic ed­u­ca­tion in their life ori­en­ta­tion cur­ricu­lums to pre­pare young peo­ple to be­come in­formed, re­spon­si­ble ci­ti­zens. This would also boost their self-con­fi­dence and their hope in a fu­ture that they can shape.

This could go a long way to­wards help­ing them make good life choices, lead­ing to re­duc­tions in sub­stance abuse, teen preg­nan­cies and sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases.

We also need to en­cour­age faith-based or­gan­i­sa­tions to prac­tise their heal­ing min­istries in our wounded so­ci­ety. Par­ents, teach­ers and com­mu­nity lead­ers are of­ten hope­less and feel help­less in the face of ma­jor do­mes­tic and social con­flict. Emo­tional set­tle­ment di­a­logues in our churches, mosques, syn­a­gogues and com­mu­nity halls are es­sen­tial to help us find our way back to feel­ing op­ti­mistic for a fu­ture we can shape.

Our so­cioe­co­nomic sys­tem has been de­signed to per­pet­u­ate poverty and inequality. Black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment has failed dis­mally to re­dress past in­equities. Our econ­omy needs a broader base of ed­u­cated, skilled and highly mo­ti­vated peo­ple as en­trepreneurs, pro­fes­sion­als, ser­vice providers and cus­tomers to en­hance sus­tain­able eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

We can­not have a vi­brant econ­omy that re­lies on only 20% of the pop­u­la­tion as ac­tive con­trib­u­tors. The dead weight of those con­demned to social wel­fare is at the heart of our slug­gish econ­omy. Only proud, con­tribut­ing ci­ti­zens can guar­an­tee a sus­tain­able, demo­cratic, ac­count­able, pros­per­ous and so­cially just sys­tem.

Hu­man Rights Day is an op­por­tu­nity for us to recom­mit to com­plet­ing our un­fin­ished trans­for­ma­tion into a coun­try prac­tis­ing its hu­man rights value sys­tem, with ubuntu as the guid­ing light of all social re­la­tion­ships.

Ramphele is co-founder of Reimag­ineSA

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