Since the achievement of democracy in 1994, building a non-democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, united, democratic and prosperous society as set out in the Constitution, has been a challenge. This has been due to amongst other reasons, the fundamental conflict between pain and poverty of the majority of black people on the one hand, and wealth and elitism of white people (including a few black politicians) on the other; which compromise the major ideals of the national democratic revolution and the fundamentals of the human project. Although some degree of social cohesion has been achieved in the past two decades, racism has become more pronounced both in private and public spaces, making reconciliation and nation building a dream. If the current socio-political condition does not change, it would be difficult for the reconciliation agenda to thrive, and to achieve the ultimate objective of building the nation.
We have had a very challenging year politically and economically, and come from a reconciliation month that reminded us of the importance of togetherness and unity in building our nation. In the same spirit of reconciliation, a major breakthrough in December, was the outcome of the NEC Conference of the ANC, which saw the deputy president of the country, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa at the helm of the ruling party. Albeit some scepticism, the markets responded positively to the news which to many, brought hope for rebuilding the nation and restoration of lost values.
As part of the ruling elite himself, one should wonder if the newly elected president of the ANC will fulfil the promises he made during his campaign. How will the Billionaire turn things around to ensure that all South Africans benefit without compromising the economy or selling out the masses? How will he heal a sick nation that has for a long time been ruled by narrow-minded elite who had organised society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast majority? How will he change attitudes and mind-sets towards building rather than destroying a beautiful nation, and against greed and corruption? How will he tackle racism, ensure tolerance of differences, build unity and ensure equality of opportunities? What strategies will he put in place to ensure that freedom and prosperity becomes a lived reality for all, and not just for a few, as set out in the Constitution.
South Africa is very rich in resources, yet the socio-political space continues to be hostile to black advancement. The main owners of capital resources continue to be white and the majority of black people are poor and unemployed in the country of their birth. Part of this is an outcome of a political compromise that was reached during the transition to democracy, which adopted market reforms at the expense of economic emancipation; a situation that perpetuated immense inequalities between black and white racial groups. In order to survive, black people must serve the interests of the owners of capital, by working for wages which are often not enough to meet their daily needs. Thus, they often have no choice but to be indebted to capital; and through credit and loans, strive to find means to survive from day to day. They do this while enduring subtle racism, and continued oppression and exploitation by owners of capital and their institutional systems.
Whether white monopoly capital or state capture, what systems will the new president of the ANC put in place to ensure racial equality? How will he address the indignity suffered by black people and ensure that they are emancipated from these shackles? Most importantly, how will he keep to the promises of the Freedom Charter - that South Africa belongs to those who live in it, and that the wealth shall be shared by those who live in it, and interpret them to suit everybody’s reality. These challenges are real and require action more than ever, not just words and good but ineffective policies.
We now know that the battle against colonialism did not end with nationalism. The fact that we are still confronted with stark racism despite our world acclaimed Constitution, and other good policies that speak against any form of discrimination, clearly indicate that our will and intelligence have failed us. The racist remarks and expressions are not because of our colour but are learned, and much influenced by the fundamental socio-political condition we live in; which make the values of reconciliation and social cohesion a smoke screen and the supposed human project a lie. The time is now rife for all of us, black and white, to unite and express our humanity and attack racism head-on.
In his January 8 Statement, Cyril Ramaphosa pronounced 2018 as the year of Nelson Mandela - a man who spearheaded the reconciliation agenda in South Africa at the most difficult time in history. This year must then be a year of actively reconnecting with the reconciliation agenda, and once again live by Mandela’s ideals and values of reconciliation and treating each other with human dignity. We need to do this not only for 67 minutes in July but throughout the year and in many more years to come. In his own words, Nelson Mandela said “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
If we want justice, it is important that we stand united in our diversity and agree about what type of nation we want to build, and start building it as individuals, families and communities. We do not need a written law to do so, but our humanity and our renewed attitude as builders of each other and the nation. Our past experiences must tell us that the continued destructive tactics we have often used to fight our struggles may not always contribute to building the nation, and therefore must not be encouraged. Although racism is violent and may call for a violent response, we should know that sometimes destructive tactics may be abused, and may amount to anarchism and criminal behaviour, and therefore may delay the achievement of the intended objective of enjoying the hard earned freedom which was fought by our forefathers.
For the country to move on, the black community must be conscientised of the oppressive ways of capitalism and then efforts must be made to create institutions that will eliminate these destructive influences. Much effort and energy must be devoted to ending certain abuses - such as women abuse, forced labour, inequality of salaries, and limitation of political rights. Disempowerment and lack of practical skills by the majority must be addressed, and links with the masses of the people by the educated and privileged classes must be improved. Laziness, cowardice and a lack of political will at decisive moments must be discouraged. Enough is enough, let’s all develop the attitude of nation builders; and perhaps, we shall see transformation in our country sooner than we expect.