We must give life to the Con­sti­tu­tion

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Sello Hatang voices@city­press.co.za

Over the past few weeks, the re­gion has been shaken by the deaths of a num­ber of ac­tivists and lib­er­a­tion he­roes. Namib­ian Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, for­mer pres­i­dent of Botswana Quett Ke­tu­mile Joni Masire and South Africa’s Lord Joel Joffe and Kes­val “Kay” Moon­samy, and more re­cently Ntate Johnny Mekoa and Mme Emma Mashinini. They were all part of a gen­er­a­tion of lib­er­a­tion stal­warts, serv­ing their coun­tries and peo­ple with dis­tinc­tion and ded­i­ca­tion de­spite the gravest of odds. These deaths bring into sharp re­lief the clos­ing of a chap­ter in Africa’s his­tory.

As we move from the post-colo­nial and apartheid state we know that the lib­er­a­tion of our re­gion from the yokes of poverty, in­equal­ity, racism and ex­clu­sion will come from a new gen­er­a­tion. This new gen­er­a­tion will stretch across the con­ti­nent and be com­prised of a vast range of ac­tors, from grass­roots ac­tivists to so­cially con­scious busi­ness­peo­ple and for­ward-think­ing politi­cians to dar­ing jour­nal­ists.

Like the gen­er­a­tion be­fore, the new gen­er­a­tion of ac­tivists will also strug­gle against dif­fi­cult odds. One such ac­tivist who paid the high­est price was jour­nal­ist Suna Venter. Threats, ha­rass­ment, in­tim­i­da­tion and at­tempted mur­der ul­ti­mately led to a heart con­di­tion and Venter’s death. She was an ex­am­ple of a prin­ci­pled and coura­geous ac­tivist. Her pass­ing should en­cour­age new forms of ac­tivism in re­sponse to the grow­ing threats in our coun­try.

In 1996, for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela spoke at the Cape Town Press Club’s 21st an­niver­sary and noted: “The me­dia fra­ter­nity is more than just a crit­i­cal ob­server of his­tory in the mak­ing. At least in our young democ­racy, it con­trib­utes not merely by be­ing a watch­dog. It is a builder; it is an ac­tive par­tic­i­pant.”

Madiba knew the im­por­tance of the press and that de­spite the prob­lems in terms of trans­for­ma­tion and re­port­ing, “South Africa should put the free­dom of its press and me­dia at the top of its pri­or­i­ties as a democ­racy. None of our ir­ri­ta­tions with the per­ceived in­ad­e­qua­cies of the me­dia should ever al­low us to sug­gest even faintly that the in­de­pen­dence of the press could be com­pro­mised or co­erced. A bad free press is prefer­able to a tech­ni­cally good sub­servient press,” he stated in 2002.

Madiba’s words should guide us as we move into par­tic­u­larly tur­bu­lent times. Democ­racy is built on in­sti­tu­tions, val­ues and agen­cies that must be pro­tected, cul­ti­vated and trans­formed, yet too of­ten we use mi­nor crit­i­cisms to write off im­por­tant as­pects re­quired to build our democ­racy. Our goal should be to trans­form in­sti­tu­tions with­out dele­git­imis­ing and de­stroy­ing them in the process.

A crit­i­cal part of our democ­racy that is ei­ther per­ceived as the last bul­wark of the coun­try or gate­keeper of priv­i­lege is the Con­sti­tu­tion. Fol­low­ing our board re­treat last month, the Nel­son Man­dela Foun­da­tion, aware of the cri­tiques of the Con­sti­tu­tion, was man­dated to un­der­lie our work with a sense of “con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism”. For the board, the Con­sti­tu­tion needs to be given life through our ac­tions and our ways of be­ing and the un­der­ly­ing val­ues of the Con­sti­tu­tion should be re­garded as be­yond re­proach. Thus, while we may ar­gue about the par­tic­u­lars of the Con­sti­tu­tion, the el­e­va­tion of jus­tice, free­dom, equal­ity and dig­nity should be the foun­da­tion on which we build our coun­try.

A na­tion will al­ways be in flux and will al­ways re­quire con­stant rene­go­ti­a­tion, di­a­logue and com­pro­mise, but these fun­da­men­tal val­ues should be en­trenched into the so­cial norms of the coun­try. A fail­ure to recog­nise this will ul­ti­mately lead to the fail­ure of the cre­ation of a South African na­tion and real cit­i­zen­ship. In­stead, as we have seen, a rise in po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion, marginal­i­sa­tion, anomie and alien­ation has be­come nor­malised.

I re­cently had the priv­i­lege of trav­el­ling to Ar­gentina, a coun­try with its own tor­mented his­tory. In my in­ter­ac­tions with many Ar­gen­tini­ans I was able to re­flect on the con­tra­dic­tions of our coun­try. On the one hand, I was able to see the love and ad­mi­ra­tion that many have for South Africa and that in the imag­i­na­tion of many across the world, South Africa rep­re­sents some of the univer­sal ideals of jus­tice, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and free­dom; while on the other hand, I noted how we have de­graded our­selves and have con­tin­u­ally dropped the bar with re­gard to what we find ac­cept­able, and I was un­able to jus­tify many ac­tions and the route our coun­try seems to be tak­ing.

If we are to live the Con­sti­tu­tion and give it life, if we are to heal the wounds of the past and build a so­ci­ety built on dig­nity and free­dom, we must con­sider that many in­sti­tu­tions, even those that we may con­sider prob­lem­atic, must be pro­tected and trans­formed. This should not be done through slash­ing and burn­ing but rather through di­a­logue and con­scious en­gage­ment with an ac­cep­tance of so­cial jus­tice as an un­der­ly­ing con­di­tion.

The price of their demise or weak­en­ing and of work­ing to­wards val­ues that are not as­pi­ra­tional but based on ha­tred will be a price too high to pay and an in­sult to the me­mories of the lib­er­a­tion he­roes be­fore us.

Hatang is CEO of the Nel­son Man­dela Foun­da­tion

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