The argument which was then advanced was that all the major political parties had comported themselves in a manner which undermined our most important constitutional commitments:
- The ANC housed a coterie of rent-seekers whose main project was to enrich themselves and their cronies at the expense of millions whose desperate living conditions could have been significantly improved by the billions of taxpayer money that was siphoned off to the rent-seekers;
- The DA refuses to take race into account as a key basis for reconfiguring the country in which race continues to define privilege and disadvantage and where s9 of the Constitution expressly contradicts the DA stance;
- The EFF’s crude populism would, given half a chance, replace the present Constitution with a Chavez-type Venezuelan model.
Regrettably, the problem looms even larger.
Take for example the present controversy surrounding a school in Brackenfell. The events over the last week involving EFF protests, responses by parents and the DA coming out in support of the parents, requires an analysis that takes into account the broader problem of constitutional delinquency in our public life.
To state the obvious: peaceful protests are part of a working democracy; violent protests are a threat to democracy.
There are competing versions about why the protests turned violent outside the school. The determination of who was to blame will doubtless end up in court and for once it would be good if those who engaged in violent conduct were confronted by the law. Sadly, the interests of the pupils in being able to write their exams in an optimally peaceful context has been relegated to the back burner.
The focus of this column is to pose a related, but slightly different question: how is it that in 2020, a party for 42 pupils can take place where not one invitee was black; and this in a school in which there are 254 matric pupils drawn from a diverse community.
Those who elide over the importance of addressing our racist history revert to the argument that it was a private party and hence the freedom of the individual is paramount; that is presumably the freedom to be racist in one’s own home.
But this is hardly a plausible answer.
In the first place, the all-white party was attended by at least two teachers from the school. In turn, this raises an important issue: what kind of school fails to inculcate a culture which transcends race boundaries? In other words, 26 years into democracy, it appears as if schools like Brackenfell have failed to help develop a new South African identity in which the humanity of the pupils of the school which should unite them begins to transcend the race that divides them.
If the party is any guide: not even a start has been made.
One can hear the bittereinders argue that you cannot force people to engage socially. But these are children who, unlike their parents, have enjoyed the privilege of being born into a democracy in which enforced separation is no more. While these children come from different backgrounds, that there still appears to be a laager mentality is truly depressing – after all, do they not play together in sports teams or mix in cultural events promoted by the school? Is there a complete absence of social engagement across the racial divide? Hence, after 12 years of schooling, not one black child is deemed worthy of an invite and at least two teachers at the school seem to consider that nothing is untoward.
The vindication of the Constitution is the country’s best hope for a long-term democratic future. The alternative is for the country to subside into a divide between racially fuelled populism that destroys all constitutional guardrails, save when they protect their own, and a monastic libertarianism that seeks to preserve privileges of the past. The society that is envisaged by the Constitution is one which we create a fresh South African identity which, while respecting the dignity of difference, embraces the idea of a South African community constructed on the basis of substantive equality, dignity and freedom for all 60 million who live in this country.
The journey from the racist authoritarianism of the past to an egalitarian democracy of the future was never going to be easy. But, at a minimum, it requires a commitment to develop a new and nuanced South African identity. That those who were adults before apartheid collapsed would find the journey more difficult is, at least, understandable, not that this cohort should be immunised from critique. But the national hope lies mainly with the “born-free” generation. But when schools like Brackenfell and the parents whose children attend this kind of school, behave as if we were still living in 1980, the entire constitutional dream is fatally converted into material for a populist nightmare.
Brackenfell has become the canary in the mine. Expect more toxicity in our public lives, unless we embrace the future and let go of the past. DM