Opinionista Boichoko Ditlhake 4 July 2018

A clarion call to action in defence of our constitutional democracy

South Africa’s political uncertainties are destined to escalate leading up to the national elections in 2019. We are unsure as to the outcomes of these elections, whether they will set in motion a further reprieve and sanity, or if they will ignite added political predicaments – this will depend on what we do today as citizens.

Our state of development, driven and influenced by a combination of our history of colonialism and apartheid on the one hand, and reincarnated by some uncaring and self-centred new elite, on the other hand, are corrupting and detaining the dreams of a people.

Accordingly, our social transitions and associated political discourse are reckoned on the deficit of positive identity, culture, honesty, respect and tolerance of the people’s suffering who are more provoked as a way of stirring negative identity politics for the purpose of garnering electoral leverage.

Essentially, this is predicated on rallying ordinary citizens to keep some politicians in power for their own end, bereft of understanding the objective conditions of the poor and national cohesion, especially given our history and its inequalities and racial restlessness.

We thus need to re-examine the landscape of our political discourse – tolerance, respect and identity – in order to implant sincerity, contemplation and empathy to minimise societal divisions along racial and ethnic lines. The beneficiaries of this negativity are some political elite and their cohorts.

This explains why South Africa is perpetually in a state of crisis, ensnared between continuities of apartheid legacy and a decade of State Capture, on the one hand, and the promise of a dream for the rebirth of a nation as put forward by Nelson Mandela, on the other. The interruption, contrived by a decade of state of capture, betrayed this dream, plunging our country back into the era of an inhumane system of racial disharmony and developmental ruin.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration brought a sigh of relief, and revived the dream – for a new dawn, for the renewal of a future.

It is no understatement that the country is under siege on many fronts – corruption, violent crimes such as cash-in-transit robberies, violation and killing of women and girls, collapse of state institutions and governance, service delivery failures etc. As a result, ordinary citizens and workers are at their wits end as how to effectively express their frustration at being left behind and have resorted to violent protests.

The majority want our young constitutional democracy to succeed in order to deliver on the post-apartheid promises of an equitable and prosperous nation. For this to be realised, we need a visionary, selfless and ethical leadership to address the scourge of unemployment, inequality and poverty, crime and corruption.

The question is whether we have such political leadership?

Hopefully, the era ushered in by the events of the ANC’s December 2017 conference at Nasrec (though significantly contaminated by a trade-off between integrity and wickedness), and the subsequent elevation of Ramaphosa as the president, both of the ANC and the Republic, seems to have altered the political calculus.

As in 1994, we are once again marking a possible turning point in the history of our country.

We must be concerned about the ethically troubled and factionally conflicted governing party. However, our responsibility as citizens is to expand our energy towards patriotic defence of our democratic institutions, guided by the constitution of the republic. What is troubling though is what it will take to put our constitutional democracy on a sustainable path to stability and progress.

Notwithstanding these changes (including Jacob Zuma’s departure and the election of Ramaphosa) that gave us a reprieve, and noting the looming national elections in 2019, so much remains at stake.

In crafting a common national narrative, Nelson Mandela asserted, during his inaugural speech, that: “We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

What has happened to the “covenant” that Mandela and the governing ANC entered into with the people? How was it so effortless for things to go astray, and fall apart?

Were there signs that our country could be so audaciously stolen? How culpable are we in letting our republic down – to be captured-in-transit and for such an extended period of time – 10 years? What did we do, did not do and/or could have done?

We were forewarned by Chris Hani1 – and failed to heed the call – when he said: “What I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists who drive around in Mercedes Benz’s and use the resources of this country to live in palaces and to gather riches…. What is important is the continuation of the struggle. The real problems of the country are not whether one is in Cabinet but what we do for social upliftment of the working masses of our country.”

Despite this warning, South Africa has once again been turned inside-out by a self-righteous and heartless elite. They have betrayed our dream.

While we celebrated the Nasrec outcomes, it has become clear that Zuma’s departure did not, and does not guarantee the end of graft in itself, but offers the possibility for self-correction.

Corruption and dishonesty not only eroded the state and its institutions, but also the private sector and civil society.

We need moral leadership to rethink and recast our future through the renewal of our moral compass.

This clarion call, therefore, appeals to women and men of extraordinary courage, moral strength, selflessness and fearless determination to unwaveringly reverse the derailment of our democratic project, and lead us to dream once again and lay a solid foundation for the restoration of our social contract as a nation.

For us to succeed, it is our responsibility as citizens to ensure that those who have punctured our national integrity through State Capture pay for their sins. We must strengthen the hand of the government and relevant institutions to do the right thing.

As if Martin Luther King Jr was one of us, experiencing our pain and despair in the year 2018, recognising our necessity for a vision of national renewal that resonate with our collective dreams and shared purpose as South Africans, he solemnly urges us, as he did with Americans, that: Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy….. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice (……) Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. (…..) We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline (……) Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force….. for many of our white brothers …. have come to realise that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realise that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

As South Africans, at the induction of our constitutional democracy in 1994, we want to be the builders and holders of our own destiny. We agreed to transform our economy, state, society, communities and country based on our shared virtues to banish racism and racial segregation, inequality and poverty through equitable redistribution of national resources.

However, inequalities are rising. The structural inequalities and historical imbalances are being compounded by new dimensions in the global financial arena, as well as internal political and economic intrigues.

The scourge of corruption deepens the institutional weaknesses and allows “legal” and illegal syphoning of national resources by a handful of powerful individuals. Our economic governance systems are too weak, too closed, too opaque and too inefficient to deliver socio-economic development.

Some of our political leaders and parties seem to have either entered a state of paralysis and/or been stung by a populist or pseudo-fascist bug, endangering our prospects for recovery from the debilitating State Capture nightmare.

This therefore, is the time to build popular unity for the defence of our constitutional democracy, underscored by civic patriotism. This will enhance civil society’s dynamism through unity in action, based on a common programme of action to enable us to move in the same direction.

We need to appreciate and oppose the growing sense of restlessness, frustration, hopelessness, indifference and inaction. We need to transform these attitudes into positive energy. Our political systems need to be restored and rejuvenated by organised and disciplined civil society.

Let us improve the laws. Let us refine the machinery of state. Let us review our institutions and if needs be our Constitution. But let us not forget the people.

Equally, the negative political party culture gaining ascendency needs to be resisted. The flourishing populism cannot be left unchallenged. Our present environment regarding race relations, despondency, anger and poverty is highly toxic and vulnerable to manipulation and distortions.

Under these conditions of national fragility, the exercise of political power for the good of society is rare. The collective will and interest of the people, of the nation as a whole, are seldom concentrated in the system of positive political power and electoral campaigning. Rather more frequently political power is sought after for the benefit of self-serving individuals. This is morally wrong, politically destructive and socially and economically harmful.

As electorates, we care about elections not because we wish to see a certain group win for its own sake, but because we desire all political actors to commit to the interest of the people. Our political parties and leaders must be motivated by national interests through the exercising of political sensibility, tolerance, respect and sincerity.

South African civil society organisations must upgrade their capacity and organisational values to become effective fortresses of defence against corruption, service delivery failures and abuse of power.

Broader civil society organisations must come to the realisation that they are collectively powerful in unity of purpose based on clear principles. Our people are hungry for leadership with principled, accountable and transparent ethos.

South African civil society needs to enter a new age of maturity and determine if it is fit for purpose. In the coming months our resilience and capabilities will be tested. We will be asked: where were we when our country was captured and stolen, when corruption became the new normal – and what did we do and why?

We will hear from communities who face daily threats of violence for being different – and we will be asked: will you stand with us and protect us and help us remove the cultural and social prejudices? We will hear from our mothers, sisters and girl children who face domestic violence and sexual abuse – and we will be asked: where were you when we were violated and murdered, and what did you do?

We will be asked hard questions by our youth and our students: why do our leaders and civil society always exclude us, why do you not listen to us, why do you not empower us, why do you not trust us? We must demonstrate to our youth that we can listen and indeed we can change.

The time is ripe to rise to our full potential as civil society. We must strengthen the connection between the local, provincial and national level. We must align this new movement with the demands and needs of our people, particularly women, children and the youth.

Let us put aside the foolish things which divide and weaken us. We must say with one voice: We are ready. Ke nako…. Now is the time! DM

Boichoko Ditlhake is returned to South Africa after working as Executive Director for the SADC Council of NGOs, based in Gaborone, Botswana for over 10 years.

1https://www.thesouthafrican.com/remembering-chris-hani-six-of-his-most-famous-quotes-24-years-after-his-assassination/

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