South Africa: Civil war or civil peace?

We’re at the cross­roads yet again and the onus is on our lead­er­ship to make wise choices and shun the path that leads to de­struc­tion

The Mercury - - BACKGROUND & ANALYSIS - Vasu Gounden

FEL­LOW South Africans, we have fought a brave strug­gle, we have won a bit­ter-sweet free­dom and we are slowly build­ing a na­tion.

Our na­tion is a work in progress and like the many na­tions which make up this world of ours, there comes a time when its peo­ple reach a cross­roads and have to make choices.

Many na­tions have been at that cross­roads and have had to make dif­fi­cult choices. Some have made wise choices and con­tinue to reap the ben­e­fits, while oth­ers have made poor choices that have led to death and de­struc­tion.

We are to­day stand­ing at that cross­roads and this his­toric mo­ment in our long na­tion-build­ing jour­ney de­mands of us that we make choices.

All of us, black and white, rich and poor, young and old, male and fe­male, Chris­tian, Mus­lim, Jew and Hindu, cap­i­tal­ist and com­mu­nists, have to con­sciously make choices that will de­ter­mine the coun­try we will con­tinue to live in. Or the coun­try many will be forced to flee from.

To­day we have a choice to make be­tween civil war or civil peace!

This will not be the first time that we will be stand­ing on the precipice of civil war. We were fast edg­ing to­wards civil war in the late 1980s and no­body was cer­tain who was go­ing to win that war, but what was cer­tain was that mil­lions were go­ing to be killed.

Then-pres­i­dent FW de Klerk had a choice: to use his gov­ern­ment’s mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus to go to war against the lib­er­a­tion forces or to en­ter into dia­logue. He chose dia­logue. Nel­son Man­dela, de­spite grow­ing in­ter­nal re­sis­tance and a de­ter­mi­na­tion among his fol­low­ers to en­gage the se­cu­rity forces of the apartheid regime, made the choice to lead his fol­low­ers into dia­logue.

Both these lead­ers went against vast num­bers of their fol­low­ers who at the time pre­ferred to con­tinue with the war. Their choice led us out of a civil war.

My col­leagues and I at Ac­cord (African Cen­tre for the Con­struc­tive Res­o­lu­tion of Dis­putes) have spent the past 25 years be­ing first-hand wit­nesses to the death and de­struc­tion of civil war in Rwanda, So­ma­lia, Sri Lanka, Syria and Su­dan.

We have seen sim­i­lar bloody civil wars in Europe, Asia and Latin Amer­ica.

Most of the lead­ers who lead their peo­ple into civil wars are gen­er­ally driven by nar­row sec­tar­ian in­ter­ests. What they have in com­mon is their abil­ity to con­vince and some­times ma­nip­u­late their fol­low­ers. They aban­don their moral compass and abil­ity to think long-term.

They be­come self­ish to the point of be­ing ir­ra­tional and they drag their peo­ple into war and con­flict that gen­er­ally lasts for over 20 years.

Imag­ine your lives dis­rupted for the next 20 years. Imag­ine you and your fam­i­lies with­out jobs, be­com­ing refugees from your coun­try, flee­ing over bor­ders with very few pos­ses­sions and liv­ing in squalid con­di­tions in other coun­tries.

The ques­tion we have to ask our­selves to­day is whether a civil war is pos­si­ble in South Africa.

Can we de­stroy this beau­ti­ful coun­try that we have built?

From my ex­pe­ri­ences both in South Africa and glob­ally, I un­for­tu­nately have to say that a civil war is not only pos­si­ble in South Africa, it is highly pos­si­ble.

Now let me say equally em­phat­i­cally, while time is run­ning out rapidly, we – all of us, not just the gov­ern­ment – have the abil­ity, the re­sources and the in­tel­lect to en­sure that we don’t go down that path.

The ques­tion is whether we have the po­lit­i­cal will, the com­mit­ment, the sense of one­ness as a na­tion, the re­silience, the hon­esty and in­tegrity, and most of all the com­pas­sion and em­pa­thy to come to­gether as a na­tion and work hard and self­lessly with ut­most ur­gency to take the path of civil peace.

The prover­bial storm is ap­proach­ing and dark clouds are gath­er­ing rapidly.

Twenty-three years after our first demo­cratic elec­tions, in­equal­ity has grown, un­em­ploy­ment has also grown and so too has poverty, de­spite its alle­vi­a­tion through so­cial grants.

Our econ­omy is ei­ther not grow­ing or grow­ing very slowly. Every sin­gle day peo­ple are mov­ing rapidly into our ur­ban ar­eas with no prospect of em­ploy­ment, plac­ing huge pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment to de­liver ser­vices from ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing and san­i­ta­tion to wa­ter.

How­ever, ser­vice de­liv­ery has de­clined, cor­rup­tion is fast be­com­ing en­demic, race re­la­tions are de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, eth­nic­ity is rear­ing its ugly head and po­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion has turned into po­lit­i­cal in­tol­er­ance. Crime is vis­i­bly threat­en­ing and the public per­cep­tion is one of de­clin­ing law and or­der.

Here lie the seeds for civil war. Our fault lines are many – and there are many among us who reck­lessly, in­ten­tion­ally or self­ishly plant these seeds for their nar­row in­ter­ests.

They go on to nur­ture them and wa­ter them with their hate­ful rhetoric, obliv­i­ous to the fact, or ir­re­spon­si­bly alive to the fact, that set­ting a match to this cock­tail of fault-lines will un­leash a war no­body will be able to con­trol. His­tory is re­plete with these sad sto­ries and we should not be added to this list.

What can be done to re­verse this grave trend and en­sure that we con­tinue on a path to civil peace and not de­te­ri­o­rate to­wards the path to civil war?

Our most ur­gent task must be to pro­vide a se­cure life for those who don’t yet have this se­cu­rity. This task can­not be achieved overnight. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments since 1994 have made huge progress in tack­ling the im­bal­ances of the past and some among us have ben­e­fited.

How­ever, these ef­forts were not enough.

In 1994 we had about 40 mil­lion peo­ple in our coun­try and about 50% of that num­ber was ur­banised. To­day we have 55 mil­lion peo­ple and about 64% of those peo­ple are ur­banised, and nearly 36% of our pop­u­la­tion is un­em­ployed.

Any politi­cian who stands up to get your vote and prom­ises to solve this prob­lem in the next five years will be mis­lead­ing you, ei­ther be­cause they know that you do not know what the state of our na­tion is, or, worse still, be­cause they do not know what the state of our na­tion is.

This huge chal­lenge is go­ing to take a con­certed ef­fort by all of us over the next 20 to 40 years. And we have to start to­day.

To avoid the fast-ap­proach­ing storm, our na­tion needs a new so­cial com­pact be­tween all the sec­tors of our so­ci­ety – the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and politi­cians, the gov­ern­ment, the trade unions, the pri­vate sec­tor, the me­dia, the re­li­gious sec­tor, civil so­ci­ety and the aca­demics.

We need as­tute po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who are alive to the de­mands of the time and their com­plex­ity.

We need lead­ers who are vi­sion­ary, who have long-term plans and the abil­ity to bring a sense of ur­gency and dis­ci­pline through­out our so­ci­ety so that those plans can be im­ple­mented pro­fes­sion­ally, ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively.

Our na­tion needs strong po­lit­i­cal par­ties and con­fi­dent po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. The board­rooms of cab­i­net and Par­lia­ment must be turned into war rooms against poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and in­equal­ity and not bat­tle grounds for nar­row party po­lit­i­cal or fac­tional in­ter­ests.

We need an ef­fec­tive public ser­vice. We have many well-mean­ing public ser­vants who are hard-work­ing and who op­er­ate pro­fes­sion­ally and in the best in­ter­ests of the public at large.

Then there are those who fail to grasp the public or ser­vant part of public ser­vant.

It is also in the public ser­vice, among other sec­tors of our so­ci­ety to­day where the cancer of cor­rup­tion is spread­ing.

Let me say to the thou­sands of public ser­vants that when you do not per­form your tasks, when you en­gage in cor­rup­tion and when the mil­lions of our peo­ple take to the streets to protest, that protest over time will lead to civil war -and you and your fam­i­lies will also be counted among the vic­tims.

Now, let me turn to the pri­vate sec­tor. You are the driv­ers of eco­nomic growth and em­ploy­ment in our coun­try. Along­side gov­ern­ment, you have the big­gest re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­liver us out of poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and in­equal­ity.

We need the pri­vate sec­tor to be­come ac­tive part­ners in the trans­for­ma­tion agenda of our coun­try and not col­lude in the feed­ing frenzy of cor­rup­tion that is eat­ing away at the fab­ric of our so­ci­ety.

Your busi­ness must not be only about profit for your­selves and value for your share­holder – your big­gest share­holder must be the public at large be­cause with­out them you can gen­er­ate no value for your­selves or your share­holder.

The rest of us in civil so­ci­ety – the me­dia, the aca­demic com­mu­nity, the re­li­gious sec­tor and the trade unions – all have to play a role in en­sur­ing that we se­cure our hard-won democ­racy.

We have many chal­lenges but we also have much to be grate­ful for. We still have a vi­brant democ­racy, the three arms of our gov­ern­ment – the leg­is­la­ture, the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the ju­di­ciary – still have rel­a­tive in­de­pen­dence from each other and we need to guard that jeal­ously.

We still have a free me­dia and our right to march and protest is still up­held.

We have a coun­try with amazing nat­u­ral beauty. We have phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture that is the envy of many around the world. Our roads, air­ports and ports are all world­class. We have fi­nan­cial and com­mer­cial sec­tors that ri­val the best in the world.

We have come a long way; we have walked too long a road; we lost too many pa­tri­ots. Twenty-three years later, we owe it to them and the Arch (Des­mond Tutu) and all his peers, to make sure that the colours of the Arch’s rain­bow get brighter; that we cor­rect our moral compass and stop those who only see the pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow.

We need to make sure that the rain­bow of hope and pros­per­ity does not only stretch from Ta­ble Moun­tain to the Drak­ens­berg; that it does not rise only among the Jacaranda of Pre­to­ria and fall in the bo­som of the amazing Blyde River Canyon.

The rain­bow of hope and pros­per­ity must also spread from Con­stan­tia to Khayelit­sha and Mitchells Plain; from Umh­langa to KwaMashu and Phoenix, and from Sand­ton to Soweto.

It is only when the rain­bow of hope and pros­per­ity touches each and every South African that we shall all be se­cure, free and en­joy civil peace.

●Gounden is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the African Cen­tre for the Con­struc­tive Res­o­lu­tion of Dis­putes (AC­CORD). This is an edited ver­sion of the 7th An­nual In­ter­na­tional Des­mond Tutu Peace Lec­ture de­liv­ered by him ear­lier this week


Nel­son Man­dela, left, and then-deputy pres­i­dent FW de Klerk chat out­side Par­lia­ment after the ap­proval of South Africa’s new con­sti­tu­tion in 1996. Both men had im­por­tant choices to make dur­ing the tran­si­tion to democ­racy, says Gounden.

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