The dawn of democracy in South Africa in 1994 inspired not only the fulfillment of the aspirations, hopes and dreams of the people of this country but the aspirations and dreams of all oppressed and progressive peoples the world over.
The defeat of apartheid and the trappings of white supremacy, once regarded as invincible, crumbled and signalled the birth of a new nation, a reawakening and rejuvenation of a people who longed for equality, freedom and democracy in the land of their birth.
This was once again a reaffirmation of the indomitability and resilience of the human spirit to overcome great odds in the quest for freedom and justice.
I may have been a teenager at the time of freedom’s dawn, but through my elders’ recollections and through their continuous imparting of political education, ie. “umrhabulo”, the narrative of the indomitable spirit that has always defined my people has since been grafted into my own being.
The euphoria and jubilation of the moment of freedom found expression in the epilogue of the 1993 constitution which declared “this constitution provides an historic bridge between the past of a deeply divided society characterised by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice, and a future founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence and development opportunities for all South Africans, irrespective of colour, race, class, belief or sex”.
A few days ago, on April 27, South Africa celebrated 23 years of the democratic dispensation.
Twenty-three years in the history of a nation is a relatively short space of time but it is pertinent and appropriate to pause, look back and ask the question: “Have we as a people been able to achieve and live up to the expectations of our constitution ‘to heal the divisions of the past, improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person’?”
In a statement made at the opening of the debate on reconciliation and nation building, in the National Assembly on May 29 1998, former president Thabo Mbeki raised these questions as to “whether we are making the requisite progress to: create a non-racial society, to build a non-sexist country – to heal the divisions of the past – to achieve the peaceful coexistence of our people – to create development opportunities of all South Africans” and “whether our actions have genuinely sought to promote the integrated constitutional objectives of national unity – the well-being of all South Africans – peace – reconciliation between the people of South Africa and reconstruction of society”.
At the time Mbeki answered these questions with an emphatic No! Is the situation any better or different today?
Sadly, as uncomfortable as the answer might be, recent events in the country point to the fact that the country is spiralling backwards and sliding towards what others have been bold enough to say – our country is fast approaching the status of a “failed state”. Needless to say, the Afro-pessimists must be shouting with glee and excitement at the prospect of South Africa as a failed state.
That may well sound like an exaggeration but it does not take away the fact that the country has been relegated to junk status by two rating agencies – Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, that the Constitutional Court found that the president has violated his oath of office by failing to uphold, defend and protect the constitution and that parliament had failed to hold the executive accountable, that there has been an increase in incidences of racial tension in the country, that the country is regarded as one of the most unequal societies in the world, allegations of state capture, the chaos and mismanagement of state-owned enterprises – the list goes on and on.
It is under this prevailing status quo that I have received with great jubilation the news that certain prolific foundations, namely the Chief Albert Luthuli Foundation, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Foundation, Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, Thabo Mbeki Foundation, FW De Klerk Foundation, Helen Suzman Foundation, Jakes Gerwel Foundation and Umlambo Foundation (whose patron is UN women chief and former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka) have joined forces in an unprecedented show of unity to invite South Africans to a National Dialogue – the first of which will take place on Friday, May 5.
Once again, a historical call is being made to all South Africans to join together and marshal their collective wisdom to pull the country back from the brink.
It is my view that there are many issues that the National Dialogue must consider, but for now I wish to draw my compatriot’s attention to once again begin to interrogate our constitution. This “national compact” is not only what binds all of us as a nation, but the promises and aspirations contained therein are fast being replaced by resentments, despair and anger. We must ask the question and answer honestly: “What needs to be done to rekindle the dream of a prosperous South Africa which is supposed to play its rightful place in the affairs of the African continent?”
The call for a National Dialogue is one that might be easily misconstrued as one that can only be led, supported and executed by our elders, but the point needs to be made to South African youth that even at the time of the founding of the ANC Youth League, the league of gentlemen at the helm including Anton Muziwakhe Lembede were unapologetic in their stance that it is the youth who have to play the time- honoured role of “re-examining the struggle, which today continues in a new form”.
AP Mda elaborated this point by saying: “It is the critical gaze of the youth who play the time-honoured role of re-examining the status quo, sometimes to the discomfort of the ‘old guard’.” Today, just as in Lembede’s generation, the youth still “have the flexibility to scrutinise their own positions, and have the courage to adapt them to changing conditions if need be”.
As a young South African, I applaud the collective vision of these foundations in taking this massive step to call South Africans together to begin to undertake this massive inward-looking exercise. This vision is what I believe to be the correct step in the right direction in finally accepting and internalising the truth that we are the solution we seek.
I therefore call on all South Africans, and young South Africans in particular, to avail themselves in great numbers to partake in the National Dialogues – and to participate with utmost honesty and tremendous zeal. For the South Africa we all envisage is not one that is simply a birthright, but one we must collectively stand up and avail ourselves in our youthful vigour to help achieve.
Asanda Magaqa is an award-winning journalist and independent media, film and communications consultant. She writes in her personal capacity.