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Letters from Tomorrow — joyful South Africa on ‘the brink, the brim, the cusp’

Letters from Tomorrow — joyful South Africa on ‘the brink, the brim, the cusp’
Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk at the opening ceremony for the Presidents Cup between USA and an international team at The Links Fancourt Golf Course in George on 20 November 2003. (Photo: Stuart Franklin / Getty Images)

If you could go back to 27 April 1994, knowing what you know now about the collective journey we started on that day, what would you say to South Africa about the meaning of that day and what is to come? What feelings would you express about our first democratic elections and what lies ahead?

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of our democracy, a few people share letters to South Africa in contemplation of these questions. It’s akin to writing a letter to your younger self, but these letters are written to a South Africa whose democratic journey has been filled with twists and turns. 

We hope these letters offer a more personal and intimate account of what democracy has meant for some of our people. We hope that, as we head towards our next elections, they will inspire us to deeply reflect on where we have been, where we are and where we hope to go. – Lwando Xaso

letters from tomorrow

Retired Constitutional Court justice Edwin Cameron. (Photo: Alon Skuy)

You can create a great country

Dear South Africa,

From my heart I congratulate you on attaining your freedom, particularly because you struggled for it and have gained it not as a gift from outside or from above, but through your own hard-won deserts.

But, in congratulating you, may I add a few words of caution.

First, you will have in two years a wonderful Constitution, filled with just and proper promises and aspirations.

These will not fulfil themselves.

Second, those who say they struggled for your freedom will have to prove themselves, yet again, in the difficult, demanding, practical tasks of governance.

Keep a wary eye on them.

Next, the temptations of power and of the seemingly lavish state resources that go with it are perilous.

Be careful, for many will fall into the ways of self-enrichment, corruption, dishonesty and, eventually, murderous criminal gangsterism. That is something we would wish to spare you.

Third, the good thing about all this, dear country, is that you have at your disposal:

  • A beautiful Constitution
  • A history of deep, popular scepticism about governmental power;
  • A tradition of outspoken freedom of expression; and
  • A powerfully active nongovernmental and civil society sector.

Finally, you have a tradition of lawyering, starting with Nelson Mandela, who built on a tradition more betrayed than fulfilled, of independent courts and of using the law to fight against injustice. That tradition should be nurtured and expanded.

With all these implements at your disposal, with the right will and leadership, you can create a great country – and I am confident that you will.

Sincerely,

Edwin Cameron

1994: Advocate.

2024: Retired Constitutional Court justice.

Gugu Msibi. (Photo: Supplied)

Enduring hope

Dear South Africa,

On this historic day I find myself living in Boston, US, as an exchange student exploring my roaring twenties. Lindi Mabuza, whom I affectionately call “Aunt Lindi”, is the ANC country representative in the US, living in Washington, DC.

This is my first time living alone in a foreign country, but fortunately Aunt Lindi has invited me to visit her and her family.

I feel incredibly excited about voting for the first time. It is a privilege I do not take for granted. It feels as if there is something different in the air, something new, almost palpable. Having grown up during apartheid, it feels as if I, for the first time, am finally South African – proudly, a black South African.

I feel seen and worthy. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I’m trying to capture a feeling that is really so hard to describe right now. I make it a point in every room I enter today to mention that I am South African. I am so proud and in awe of what is unfolding.

Strangely, there is no fear at all. It feels as if now is the time for me to show up as the best version of myself.

I know exactly who I am going to vote for today and what I am voting for. I am filled with immense pride and cannot wait to get back home. There is a sense of a common and shared humanity that is emerging. It feels as if we are making our own North Star that will guide our country into the future.

Unfortunately, this feeling will not last. Thirty years from now, I will not be as excited any more. Dare I say, I will even be a tad bit disappointed and anxious.

But because of this moment I will always know that hope springs eternal.

Sincerely,

Gugu Msibi

1994: Exchange student.

2024: Board director.

Penny Moumakwa. (Photo: Supplied)

Remember who you are

Dear South Africa,

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp…

(From Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander)

It is with a profound sense of awe, pride, gratitude and sheer joy that I write this note to you on the day of our first democratic elections. It is absolutely unbelievable that this day has come to pass in my lifetime.

I honour the sacrifices of so many that have brought this moment to come to pass. This victory is a testament to their courage in the face of a violently brutal oppressive system and a manifestation of my people’s resilience, bravery and fortitude.

Take this moment in, breathe deeply and remember this feeling. This is just the beginning of a long and arduous agenda to radically deconstruct and dismantle the systems of racial injustice, marginalisation and oppression that have plagued our society for generations.

The road ahead will be bumpy, challenging and peppered with seasons of crushing defeats, but you must never be defeated, discouraged or hopeless. You must stay true to the mission of reconstruction and remember that all construction is messy and intense, and usually takes longer than anticipated.

In those moments of incredible difficulty, remember who you are. Recall the strengths and bravery of the giants on whose shoulders you stand. Make the necessary adjustments and keep moving forward.

You’ve got this.

Sincerely,

Penny Moumakwa

1994: Medical officer at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

2024: CEO and founder of Mohau Equity Partners.

Oyama Mabandla. (Photo: Supplied)

The work of generations

Dear South Africa,

I am in New York City. I took a subway to the United Nations headquarters where we, South Africans, can vote in our elections. I am voting and witnessing this historic moment with fellow South Africans Nomsa Chabeli as well as PJ Hope and Anton Katz SC, both lawyers studying towards their master of law degrees.

There is a bevy of American friends acting as cheerleaders on this momentous occasion. Also here are the legendary Hugh Masekela and great saxophonist Khaya Mahlangu, who are on a tour of the US.

Hugh Masekela performs during the annual Commonwealth Day Observance Service at Westminster Abbey in London on 12 March 2012. (Photo: Leon Neal-WPA Pool / Getty Images)

It is pandemonium, with folks crying and performing their joy. Someone in the crowd exclaimed: “This is the greatest thing that has happened to me with my clothes on.” There is abundant joy.

South Africa, the whole of humanity is cheering you into being. For me, the dream of this moment will never die. Some of us cannot even fathom in this moment that there are years to come when this dream will start to fade because of the misgovernance to which we will be subjected.

As joyous as this act of democracy is, it will take a lot of work, imagination and fortitude from us to reclaim the dream of this moment and make it a daily lineament of our lives. We will continuously need to recover our agency as citizens.

Each generation, already here and to come, will have to bend the politics and politicians of this country towards our desires as an engaged citizenry.

South Africa, this is the only way we will make this joint live up to its billing as the country of struggle and freedom – as Nelson Mandela’s Republic.

Sincerely,

Oyama Mabandla

1994: Law student.

2024: Business executive, chairperson of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection council of advisers and author of Soul of a Nation. DM

 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Letters from Tomorrow — on 30 years of democracy

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

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