CityPress - - Voices -

It was a heady mo­ment. The broad na­tional con­sen­sus behind the adop­tion of the Constitution was an in­di­ca­tion that South Africans strongly de­sired to have some­thing close to a solemn com­mit­ment that sig­nalled the be­gin­ning of a new phase in their his­tory. As the min­is­ter of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form de­cides on ap­point­ing a spe­cial mas­ter to en­sure that pend­ing land claims will be pro­cessed, April 6 marks 344 years since Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape of Good Hope to be­gin a phase of his­tory that our Constitution in­tended to for­mally bring to an end.

The Constitution would set a frame­work for new re­la­tion­ships among South African cit­i­zens, based on an agreed set of fun­da­men­tal val­ues from which would be de­rived rights, ben­e­fits, du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of shared cit­i­zen­ship.

But this begged the ques­tion: How do South Africans be­gin to live to­gether on the ba­sis of a new doc­u­ment when, for more than 150 years, they have known one an­other largely across crude, bi­nary sim­pli­fi­ca­tions of mas­ter and ser­vant; the civilised and the un­civilised; the ed­u­cated and the ig­no­rant? Within this crude world of bi­nary sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, re­la­tion­ships be­tween po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic groups were fun­da­men­tally trans­ac­tional in a ma­nip­u­lated kind of way, such that the di­rec­tion of power was pre­de­ter­mined one way: from pow­er­ful whites in con­trol to pow­er­less blacks un­der con­trol.

Hav­ing to know one an­other as a peo­ple with­out pre­de­ter­mined iden­ti­ties, in a new con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, and to be­come so­cially, po­lit­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally and cul­tur­ally welded into a new na­tional com­mu­nity was, while de­sir­able, a con­di­tion that could not sim­ply be de­clared into be­ing. It needed work. Was that work iden­ti­fied? How would it be un­der­taken? Over what pe­riod of time would it yield its results in ways repli­ca­ble into the dis­tant future?

An­other ques­tion arises: On which seg­ment of the broad South African pop­u­la­tion would the bur­den fall to bring about a new so­ci­ety? Brazil­ian ed­u­ca­tor Paulo Freire, in his sem­i­nal book Ped­a­gogy of the Op­pressed, an­swered this. Those who em­bark on a self-lib­er­a­tion cause – no mat­ter how long it takes across gen­er­a­tions of strug­gling peo­ple – do more than free only them­selves. They also of­fer the gift of free­dom even to their op­pres­sors.

That brings about its own ques­tion: Will the also freed op­pres­sors recog­nise their gift, from sources they least ex­pected?

The gift of the op­pressed to their erst­while op­pres­sors will not be the schools, fac­to­ries, shops, clin­ics, roads or dams nor­mally listed as achieve­ments. These kinds of public and pri­vate in­fra­struc­ture are in the achieved new space of free­dom; they are a given. They were pro­duced by the or­gan­ised, even if mostly en­forced, ef­forts of all South Africans who par­tic­i­pated in their mak­ing.

What dis­tin­guishes one so­ci­ety from an­other is not so much the en­ablers of hu­man ef­fort, but whether the hu­man con­text in which they were achieved is wor­thy of the in­tel­lec­tual, moral, eth­i­cal and cul­tural re­spect of uni­ver­sal hu­mankind. This is the gift of the op­pressed to their erst­while op­pres­sors: an in­vi­ta­tion to hu­man­ity.

All the in­fra­struc­ture in­her­ited from colo­nial­ism and apartheid is not the gift of the colo­nial­ist or the apartheid racist to en­fran­chise their erst­while vic­tim. Em­bod­ied in its cre­ation are the ef­forts of all hu­mans who gave of them­selves, de­spite the pro­found in­jus­tice in the dis­tri­bu­tion of the re­wards of ef­fort.

The chal­lenge of the new Constitution to all South Africans is the in­vi­ta­tion to hu­man­ise the na­tional en­vi­ron­ment. Not any more un­earned priv­i­leges; not any more geo­met­ric wealth so gar­gan­tuan, even its own­ers are un­able to imag­ine it; not any more un­equal op­por­tu­ni­ties across na­tional life. If the South African town and city were the site of colo­nial en­ergy, the town­ships are the cur­rent sites of the new, demo­cratic en­ergy. How that re­al­ity will evolve is the great­est his­toric chal­lenge of our times.

The adop­tion of the Constitution saw the abun­dance of vi­sion­ary poli­cies and leg­is­la­tion in the Man­dela and Mbeki pres­i­den­cies. They re­main a tes­ti­mony to the goal of the en­vi­sioned democ­racy.

But as the years pass, it in­creas­ingly seems that the re­al­ity of be­ing a new na­tion ap­pears not to have mea­sured up to the idea of ac­tu­ally be­com­ing one. And that speaks to the al­most to­tal ab­sence of vi­sion in the cur­rent pres­i­dency.

Al­most? Yes: there is al­ways a sil­ver lin­ing. But the sil­ver does not shine enough to be a bea­con. In the cur­rent pres­i­dency, in mak­ing room for the par­tic­i­pa­tion of cit­i­zens, gov­ern­ment did so with­out main­tain­ing the vi­sion­ary ori­en­ta­tion of the strug­gle for free­dom.

The legacy of the com­mon­wealth of the South African econ­omy con­tin­ues to be over­whelmed by the ra­pa­cious laws of wealth­mak­ing that cre­ated it and is now evolv­ing into a pol­i­tics of a crim­i­nally syn­di­cated gov­ern­ment poised to abort a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy in its third decade.

There is not much sil­ver light in the dra­matic re­treat from the public com­mu­nity, the en­vi­sioned com­mon­wealth. It is be­ing over­shad­owed by the atom­is­ing ten­den­cies of cap­i­tal­ism in the colony still driven by ex­trac­tive ori­en­ta­tions.

Town­ship en­ergy has yet to ac­ti­vate it­self to achieve its best. Un­til that hap­pens, newly en­fran­chised black elites ex­tract by em­u­la­tion, with­out a town­ship spa­tial ground­ing to in­vest in. Raid­ing the Trea­sury is their crim­i­nal ob­ses­sion. Not much will come out of the wealth stolen that will up­lift the qual­ity of life among the vast poor. That is why 19 000 land claims can get lost, while the mis­ery of land claimants is over­shad­owed by the dizzy­ing speed of blue-light con­voys. This ob­ser­va­tion opens a win­dow for me to make two as­ser­tions. Firstly, there is a dis­con­nect be­tween the hu­man­is­tic, demo­cratic as­pi­ra­tions em­bod­ied in our Constitution on the one


CLAIM­ING THEIR SPACE Hun­dreds of res­i­dents from Khayelit­sha town­ship in the Western Cape are build­ing houses on pri­vate prop­erty. The oc­cu­pa­tion bid, led by the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers, is part of the party’s land ex­pro­pri­a­tion pol­icy

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