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21 March 2018 05:22 (South Africa)
Opinionista Mmusi Maimane

Mandela and the pursuit of justice

  • Mmusi Maimane
    Mmusi Maimane

    Mmusi Maimane is leader of Democratic Alliance. See his Wikipedia profile here.

There have been so many moments over the last few days that cut to the heart of what it means to be South African. The most personally emotional moment for me was undoubtedly Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s moving tribute to President Mandela.

Even on that painful day, for someone so close to Madiba, the Archbishop wanted to be there for us out of duty, and love. Out of pure generosity of spirit he wanted to deliver his sincere and important message to South Africans; his sisters and daughters, as he called us.

Oliver Tambo described acts of humanity like this as “ordinary respect”. He said that our cause need not be complicated. The basis of nationhood need only be that we recognise the human being in others, and then treat each other in that way every day.

There is no pandering to the selfishness of people or groups in that vision. It is a vision that does not ask for justice to be forgotten. It does not ask for society to stay the same. There is only a call from Tambo for humanity in our pursuit of justice.

I cannot think of a more beautiful basis for our South Africanness than that.

In fact, many Africans demonstrate that every day in spite of those who try to tear us away from the essence of our beings. What Madiba gave me was the right that I, as a black South African, can be human before the law.

Many, with very different motives, try to pull us away from just how great Madiba’s time as President was.

Those who want to tell us that nothing has been accomplished since 1994 must acknowledge some truths or accept that their agendas are misguided.

There are not enough of us who accept the mess that Apartheid left our governance in. The economy was on its last legs. The structure of government we have today did not exist.

Instead we had a national government geared to serve whites only, and then a series of homeland governments with no sensible structure whatsoever.

All of this had to be integrated into a single national government capable of serving all South Africans.

The amazing success of the Home Affairs Department is an incredible example of the integration of many systems that did not work, into a single unit that could one day be fit for purpose.

All of this took time and needed to be managed despite a deeply polarised South Africa and an oppositional and undemocratic civil service.

President Mbeki took up this project and developed world-class public finance laws that we can still use to achieve clean governance today.

I was a proud ANC voter at that time and I don’t care if people think less of me because of that. How far we have come must be a genuine source of pride. This is our heritage, especially as young South Africans.

The fact that we have so far to go, and the reasons why, is a genuine source of shame. It is a source of shame because of the immense potential and uniqueness of South Africans that Desmond Tutu was at pains to tell us about.

As the Archbishop tells us, the central message that President Mandela leaves us with is that change is possible. Not just any change, but world-conquering change.

But the path of change, and also the destination, is what is of real importance if we are to confirm what our people and the world suspects. That South Africa is uniquely placed to deliver a vision that is both beautiful and unique for the world.

President Mandela’s time with us is represented in so many beautiful and diverse images that it is almost possible to imagine ourselves experiencing every moment of it.

There are photos of a young, determined Madiba in traditional Xhosa dress that remind us of the calling to deliver opportunities so that South Africans in all corners of our land can realise their full potential.

Equally, there can be no cause to interpret tribalism as a defining factor of Madiba when you see images of him in traditional Basotho dress later on in life.

There are images of Madiba flattering global icons with his presence, like a shy Princess Diana or an affectionate world champion boxer like Muhammed Ali kissing him on the cheek.

But there are also stories from ordinary people, and Madiba’s opponents, about the humanity he showed them regardless of status or politics.

If any one of us had met and experienced the wealth of individual South Africans and their culture like Madiba did, could we possibly conclude that we stand on the side of hate for any individual or group?

Hate can never accomplish what a heartfelt feeling of humanity and a commitment to justice can. I will tell my children that if a man can spend 27 years in jail, and still emerge to build a peaceful society, then we have no excuse. The forces of good will always conquer the forces of evil. And evil can never be repaid with evil.

The hour when this simple truth became most apparent, is the hour of Chris Hani’s brutal slaying at the hands of those desperate for this country to turn from its path toward democracy.

That was the moment that convinced me to enter politics. That was the moment when a leader of the ages stood up and reminded South Africans of what is most important.

That even in a time of hate, where the sides of good and evil seem so obvious, there is always nuance. There is always capacity to see the uniqueness and goodness in individuals.

Viewing all the diverse images and stories of Madiba together, can we not conclude something?

That a large part of our fundamental heritage from South Africa’s most defining years is an historic mission to pursue both justice and humanity in equal measure.

It's with a deep sense of privilege that we lived through this era. A tireless champion in pursuit of the rights of every South African, I can be in politics today thanks to Nelson Mandela. He pioneered a route for choice and democracy.

While our society is unequal today largely still through race, Nelson Mandela reminded us that we can pursue the justice of a prosperous and diverse South Africa, and still work on our humanity. We can create opportunity and, if we can believe, we can build on from the foundation he has laid for us.

He is not only a global icon but indeed the father of our nation. He passes over to us a Constitution that will allow us to build a country that belongs to all.

Today, many want us to be apart. We must build on his legacy. DM

  • Mmusi Maimane
    Mmusi Maimane

    Mmusi Maimane is leader of Democratic Alliance. See his Wikipedia profile here.

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