Opinionista Thuto Radebe 14 September 2020

Here’s an idea from left field: Let’s all get with the constitutional project and heal South Africa

Are we as South Africans like Barcelona or Kaizer Chiefs – beautiful teams but without a project? The venality that permeates every fibre of our being, the maladministration, misgovernance, the maiming of women and children and all the other afflictions that continue to blight our society – what do they say about us? Are these an unwelcome deviance from the project?

The iconic footballer Lionel Andrés Messi was recently asked why he had wanted to leave Barcelona FC. Among the reasons he gave was that the club does not have a project, that it has been “plugging holes along the way” over the years. By the latter, I suppose he meant how it has been conducting its affairs and the nature and impact of the decisions it has been taking.

Barcelona FC is a massive club, recognised as such not only in its native Spain, but all over the world. This is a club that runs a huge operation consisting of various departments, from marketing to social responsibility programmes.

The club’s success in the field of play over the years is well documented. This has allowed it to attract some of the best footballers money can buy. Why, then, would Messi, a talisman for the club since he broke into the first team in 2004 as a scrawny but supremely confident teenager, cast such aspersions on the only club he has played for professionally?

It would appear that the abject failure by Barcelona to win the UEFA Champions League in the past five years and the manner of their capitulation in the past three years (they did not reach the final and were trounced humiliatingly) rankled him.

It is this frustration that has caused him to question the efficacy of the club’s overall project, its vision, how far and to which direction and destination it is going.

Here in South Africa, Kaizer Chiefs, arguably the biggest club of them all, has just fired its German coach, Ernst Middendorp. The club has not won a trophy in the past five years, a state of affairs that is ineffably embarrassing for a club with a proud and glittering history replete with incandescent success. The club has announced that the coach’s sacking is part of “a strategy to bring back success to the club”. However, what is clear is that the coach has been made the fall guy in their latest failures which culminated with them ignominiously giving away the league crown on the final day of the season.

It has been crushing and devastating to all associated with this club to have witnessed such capitulation. But should the blame be placed in the coach’s lap? Messi’s concerns relating to Barcelona FC come to mind. What is Kaizer Chiefs’ project? What is their blueprint? This question is relevant because it will inform where the problem lies and will point to the chink in the armour.

Most football people will attest that Chiefs do not have an identifiable project, a discernible football philosophy. More believe that it is a club that has been “plugging holes” over the years. If there is a project, did the coaching philosophies of Stuart Baxter (under whom Chiefs last won trophies) and Middendorp accord with the project? Did the club really expect to win the last league campaign with the calibre of players they have been signing over the past few years?

It is revealing that Mamelodi Sundowns, South Africa’s most successful football club in recent history, has clearly and consistently articulated their project. The club even has a coach who has bought into the project, a man who is always ready to pronounce that Mamelodi Sundowns’ blueprint is to challenge for national league honours every season and to do well in the African Champions League.

The club is also not ashamed to openly declare its ethos of playing a brand of beautiful and successful football which has become its defining characteristic. It is no coincidence that the three main pillars of its project have seen it achieving such unprecedented success here and in Africa.

As a country, what is South Africa’s national project? What guides us? Is it our Constitution? During times of strife when we, collectively, as the citizens of our beloved country, are faced with challenges, do we seek guidance from the Constitution? Does it unite us in our common interests?

Those in the ruling party who are intent on derailing the anti-corruption train, what is their project? To which project do the elements in the Democratic Alliance that deny that race is an important factor in adopting programmes aimed at addressing the injustices of the past subscribe? Do the Economic Freedom Fighters hold the Constitution as their guiding light when they demonstrate misogynist conduct and violate other citizens’ human rights, all in the name of “their right to protest”?

The founding provisions of the Constitution lay down a marker for us; they define who we are. They clearly exhort us to enter the field of play which is the theatre of our lives and to play the game according to the principles and values that underpin the Constitution.

President Nelson Mandela described our Constitution as “a living document. Our understanding of its requirements will and must adapt over time. But the fundamental principles are and must be unchanging.”

In the past few years, we have seen the shocking subversion of the Constitution by actors in both the private and public sectors. Our very own members of Parliament and a sitting president were even censured by the Constitutional Court for violating the Constitution. Ours has generously been described as the most progressive Constitution in the world. However, I venture to suggest that, given its relatively young life, it is equally also the most defiled and spat-upon Constitution.

What then is our project? Do we not hold the Constitution as a project that is our guiding light? The venality that permeates every fibre of our being, the maladministration, misgovernance, the maiming of women and children and all the other afflictions that continue to blight our society, what do they say about us? Are these an unwelcome deviance from the project?

But, what project?

Segments of the ruling party have referred to a New Dawn, the DA desires us to enter into a social contract, a compact of some sort and still others promise to deliver us to a world free of the debilitating ills that threaten our very existence.

Does the litany of commissions of inquiry, the endless investigating committees, the indabas, stakeholder consultations and all other ad hoc undertakings that we engage in to pacify ourselves and critics not betray our lack of a consistent game plan? Are we like Barcelona and Kaizer Chiefs? Until when will we keep on changing the coach and recruiting new players after every season of despair?

Where is our project? Who runs it? Do we have all the necessary ingredients to nourish it, to keep it running? Where and who are our capable and competent role players? Do they possess the requisite expertise and skills to spearhead the project? We need to adequately answer these questions so as to enable everyone, every citizen, to buy into the project.

We must all aspire to see our country playing in and winning the champions league of nation-states. It is fitting that we should regard ourselves as the champions that the Mandelas, Sisulus and Sobukwes envisaged us to become. But this cannot be achieved if we repel any notion of a blueprint. We shall continue to wallow in defeatism and underachievement if we do not subject ourselves to the core values that underpin our project.

But what is this project?

In a tribute to George Bizos the Mail & Guardian published an edited version of a speech that he gave in 2015 at a Mail & Guardian and University of South Africa Critical Thinking Forum:

“In preparing for today, I read several definitions of the meaning of the word ethics. In virtually all of them, whether in the context of philosophy or business, the meaning fundamentally boiled down to this: a set of moral principles that govern our behaviour. We derive our ethical barometers from various influences. It may be from religious teachings, people you respect, books you read, or from experiences of injustice that have compelled you to treat others differently. I suspect for most of us it is a confluence of factors. For me, I take guidance and solace from the Constitution; for me, the Constitution remains a beacon that offers a guide for the behaviour that is expected of us. And while offering us protection, the Constitution also expects a great deal from us – not just from the state, but from every individual in this country.”

I share George Bizos’ view. I hold the Constitution as our blueprint. Our national project. But it is evident that so many of our fellow South Africans have a low regard for it.

Do they have another project?

Those in the ruling party who are intent on derailing the anti-corruption train, what is their project? To which project do the elements in the Democratic Alliance that deny that race is an important factor in adopting programmes aimed at addressing the injustices of the past subscribe? Do the Economic Freedom Fighters hold the Constitution as their guiding light when they demonstrate misogynist conduct and violate other citizens’ human rights, all in the name of “their right to protest”?

And so I inquire again, what is our project? After all, it is about the project, stupid. DM

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All Comments 3

  • I connect with Thuto Radebe’s reasoning, but believe that, as high a principle as it is, the Constitution will fall short as the ultimate dictator of our choices. It needs more than words if we are to avoid the siren calls of our human nature. We need something beyond ourselves – a higher, cardinal, faith of whatever kind – if we are to make ethical, moral and sometimes sacrificial decisions in all matters. And we need to know what those potential leaders who seek our support believe in, if we are to respond sensibly to their seeking the reponsibilities to which they and their like-minded associates aspire.

  • I mostly agree with the author. He does miss the point of the DA’s policies. Remember that The Constitution calls for a NON RACIAL COUNTRY. The DA is the ONLY PARTY to call for this! That is the missing piece in the authors project.

  • You are right Thuto, the nation needs to find its project in the form of a vison and strategy we can unit around, guided by a genuine defence and implementation of our Constitution. Reform of our political system, economy and state are critical enablers. My view is that it can start with a networked movement for community led development, akin to the United Democratic Front, with the vision and strategy set out in a Development Charter, inspired by the Freedom Charter. Rwanda has lifted itself onto a developmental trajectory. We can get there by linked communities initiating inclusive projects, negotiating and collaborating with the state – while supporting reforms, fighting corruption and holding it accountable.

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