Distinguished guests, fellow citizens, friends and comrades, I greet you in the name of peace.
I think back to that fateful day, an eagle span from here, so full of promise when on the 10th May, 1994 at our Union Buildings, under the deep blue skies of Pretoria, with the Gods showering their blessings, our founding President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, spoke movingly of the promise of a new dawn.
One in which there would be “justice for all, peace for all, work, bread and water for all, where never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”
Twenty-two years, we have no choice but to ask: What happened to this beautiful vision? Have the Gods abandoned us? I realise today that its not the Gods, but our leaders, who abandoned us.
We live in extraordinary times: our country is going through a period of turbulence and uncertainty; millions of our citizens are denied access to the very basic things any human being needs to survive, to grow and to live a dignified life – adequate nutrition, clean water, comfortable shelter, education and healthcare.
The freedom that we dreamt of requires leaders at the highest levels who embrace decency and commitment to common good as their guiding light. It demands leaders who imbibe deeply the breath of servant leadership.
We are deeply grateful to you, Adv Thuli Madonsela, that you represent this lightning rod of audacious, resolute leadership, who inspire us with your deep sense of decency. You captured our imagination and dreams of a more just society. You make us proud to be South African.
Our democracy is in trouble today because we outsourced our engagement as citizens to a political ruling class who became drunk on power and are neither willing nor competent enough to help us out of this abyss of dashed expectations. They have failed to understand that the legitimacy of authority is derived from the people’s consent. They don’t understand the guidance provided by our Constitution.
I see the brutality of the past darkening our skies, the one we hoped never to see again. But it has been a long time coming. The fissures in our society run deeply with the blood of Andries Tatane, the Marikana miners and the many thousands of protesting citizens who simply ask that our leaders listen with humility and address their legitimate grievances. Now even our universities represent a militarised zone, where the culture of learning had been replaced by a culture of deep polarisation, fear, tear gas and rubber bullets.
We are in extreme danger of sliding backwards into the trenches of our past, of living in a volatile, fractured society that is continuously under siege.
Like you, Adv Madonsela, the majority of us don’t want to go back to that horrible place where we cannot talk to each other any more. We do not want to go back in time when our shared narrative was not one of social justice, human dignity, equality and freedom for each and every one, but one of conflict, non-negotiable positions and deep injustice.
Alongside you, I honour the students’ movement for courageously placing on our agenda the real issues we should be debating in our country. They go far beyond the demand of accessible, free, equal, high quality decolonised public education. That next generation believe that my generation has betrayed them, has let them down. And frankly on many fronts, and with an always helpful benefit of hindsight, I agree with them.
At the same time, like you, I am deeply troubled by the the spectacle of burning libraries and lecture halls, by the rising intolerance of a minority among the student leadership, who think violence is an only solution.
I understand the anger, but feel deeply troubled to hear the sentiment many young people express today: “I am prepared to die for what I believe.”
Like you, Adv Madonsela, no one wants another fellow South African to die again. Too many have died already to win the freedom we have. We have the right to organise. We have the right to free speech and the right to present a different vision and to go to our People and win their mandate.
So why has the language of violence become part of our social fabric, why has it become the new normal?
Because we live in an abnormal, unequal, unjust society.
We cannot just sweep the rising tide of discontent under the carpet any longer. We cannot ignore the other elephants in the room. Our crisis is not just a moral, political and governance one. Good governance is not just about free and fair elections and a state that just works for those who have wealth. It is the delivery of the political, social and economic goods that a citizen has the right to expect from his or her state and that the state has an obligation to deliver to its citizens.
Our country remains the citadel of privilege and class for a small elite. We live in a rich country but the vast majority of our people live on the margins of this obscene wealth. Jobless, hungry, evicted from farms, only barely escaping the deadly clutches of eternal poverty. We cannot be blind to the desperate and painful cries of our people any longer..
The overwhelming majority of South Africans want a thriving, peaceful society, based on decency and fairness. We have a right to a government and a civil service that solemnly engages us, that brings back hope, not extinguishes its flame.
They want to be led by decent, gracious, humble, modest people in the spirit of the “servant leader”. Not people who are disdainful, contemptuous, condescending and treat them like fools.
We need a new breed of warriors today who fight for peace. You, Advocate Madonsela, are the epitome of such a leader. Leaders who secure the ground to implement our vision of a caring society – not one of victims and victors.
We need to build a new social consensus in our country today. One that resonates with the hopes and dreams of our next generation. We need that national call to be supported by each and every one of us. It will make many of you uncomfortable. It will compel us to look back and rethink the story of our “rainbow nation”.
You, Adv Thuli Madonsela, have shown us with your dignified and tenacious leadership what we need to do. What 55-million South Africans need to do. In you, we’ve found a true public servant. But we know there are millions like you out there. You have given them voice and courage and for this we are eternally grateful. We wish you all the best in your next role and look forward to further contributions in public life.
I close with the wisdom of another great South African, Oliver Reginald Tambo, who with foresight of the future, shared his wisdom with us at the first ANC conference after its unbanning:
“We did not tear ourselves apart because of lack of progress at times. We were always ready to accept our mistakes and correct them. Above all we succeeded to foster and defend the unity of the ANC and the unity of our people in general. Even in bleak moments, we were never in doubt regarding the winning of freedom. We have never been in doubt that the people’s cause shall triumph.”
Thank you Advocate Thuli Madonsela for restoring our faith and providing the clarity of vision we need in deepening our shared humanity. Now we need to get down to work to realise that dream. DM
"We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings." ~ Ursula Le Guin