Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 14 October 2013

Dear South Africans, let’s talk frankly: 20 reasons to celebrate twenty years of our democracy – Part Two

Last week I recalled ten good reasons why we should celebrate twenty years of our freedom. I listed the Constitution, our freedom of association and many other liberties that have made the world view us as a symbol of resilience. The response was interesting. There are a lot of people who, upon hearing the word celebration, quickly confused it with perfection or propaganda. I have no time for people who want to paint everything black. So, this week I say, frankly there are even more reasons to celebrate. Here are ten more.

11. We are a country where corruption is exposed.

In her book, It’s Our Turn to Eat,  author Michela Wrong notes that in a 2001 survey, Transparency International found that that the average Kenyan paid 16 bribes a month, mostly to the police or Ministry of Public Works to receive services they should have received for free. Kenyans were also playing the system with verve. Which of them would swear that they never relied on a “brother” for a bargain, a professional recommendation or a job? Who had never helped a distant cousin to jump the queue or win special access? Aware of their own complicity, they hesitated to point an accusing finger.

Sounds familiar? Every single weekend we are bombarded with stories of corruption. These can be very depressing as we see public figures betraying the confidence of the people. But a closer look reveals that our freedom means that the press has a lot more space than ever to point out wrongdoing. And a few examples in the last twenty years have shown that such exposition can lead to dire consequences. This is a reason to celebrate.

12. We have an effective Public Protector.

Under this administration we have the most effective Public Protector who has shown no mercy against corruption and maladministration. Our freedom has meant that with all her progressive background she has had to point out the rotten apples amongst us at the great personal risk of being a viewed as a pariah by comrades who only understand the poor language of closing ranks.

13. We have Chapter 9 institutions with teeth.

The Chapter 9 institutions of our country must rank as the best foot forward for our democracy. As a sterling example, the Auditor General has demonstrated a high level of independence through the years. Never fearing to point out the shambolic state in which many of our municipalities are, especially when it comes to wasteful expenditure. Now we know what needs to be fixed in order for our people to truly enjoy the meaning of their freedom. The South African Human Rights Commission, which started off with fireworks, is theoretically the most important of these Chapter 9 institutions. It has not covered itself with glory lately, given its not so enthusiastic leadership, but its very existence is worthy of our celebration.

14. The Constitutional Court.

This is the body that safeguards the rule of law. Simply put, this is the body that helps us celebrate the simple adage: all are equal before the law. Having been oppressed under the yoke of parliamentary “democracy” during the Apartheid years, we had no idea how this court would function. It has risen to the occasion, making decisions that cut across all in society. Our own democratic government has been told to get its act together a few times. Truly, this is the pride of our democracy.  This has been much to the irritation of some of our politicians, who have ill-advisedly threatened to “review the powers of the court’. The success of this court is the fruit of our collective toils as a nation – another reason to celebrate our freedom.

15. The equality court.

The court is busier than we read in the press. It indeed is a reason to celebrate when even those that benefited from Apartheid are able to approach this court to have their rights protected. Enough said.

16. Life expectancy rises.

A good news story of the turnaround in our health fortunes must be the new policy on combating HIV/AIDS that has seen South Africa implement the biggest ARV roll out in the world. This has saved so many lives! From the initial policy dithering – for whatever reason – to the resultant improvement in life expectancy, the story of the improvement of the health of our people is yet to be fully told. When a hospice that used to be full of HIV-infected children has to close down because of lack of patients then you know you have a reason to celebrate. Are there shambolic health facilities? Are there hospitals that run out of drugs, food and linen? Are there rude nurses? Of course, but all of this must not take away from the progress that has been made.

17. Attending to Home Affairs.

A few years ago when I was scheduled to travel to the UK, I realised that my passport was missing. I did not hesitate to cancel my travel arrangements (scheduled for a month later) indefinitely because I knew that to getting a passport out of Home Affairs was going to be a waiting game. The situation has since changed drastically. I received my passport within two weeks of applying. I reinstated my travel plans and was on my way with a sophisticated passport. Now I am told the days of the green dom pas are coming to an end, to be replaced by a smartcard to end so much of fraud that is bothering us. We have to celebrate how far we have come in this regard.

18.  The world looks up to us.

When South Africa was the skunk of the world, who would have guessed that one day:

  • We would have a South African woman leading the African Union,
  • We would have the former Deputy President of our country leading UN Women,
  • We would have numerous South Africans holding different, leadership positions in organizations around the world,
  • We would have a seat on the Security Council ,
  • We would host the World Summit on Sustainable Development,
  • We would host world cups of Cricket, Rugby and Soccer and make a roaring success of it?

More reasons to celebrate our freedom.

19. Mandela.

Nelson Mandela is a reason to be grateful and that, as we celebrate 20 years of freedom, Madiba is still alive with us to cherish. The world has declared his birthday a day to mark selflessness. This is a big deal. Mandela belongs to all in the world now making it impossible for the world to ever forget our struggle for a democratic and free society. If the world can so celebrate, we frankly have no excuse but to celebrate.

20. A vibrant Parliament

You may not like it, but our Parliament exists and it is up to us to shape it. It has overturned hundreds of laws that sought to denigrate the majority of our population and it has replaced them with progressive laws that seek to uplift the population.

There are too many reasons to celebrate 20 years of our democracy. There is no need to squirm at it all. Celebrating, however, does not mean we don’t have challenges. We do. But there is enough reason to take a moment to pat ourselves in the back and say “happy birthday, South Africa. May you see many more”. As we say in Setswana, “O gole o lekane le tlou” (grow, till you outgrow an elephant).

Yours frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM


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