Apartheid’s over. Really?: Ferial Haffajee

2013-04-14 10:00

If not now, when will we start taking responsibility for our own upliftment?

Of course I know we still live in apartheid’s hulking shadow. Of course I know land has not been redistributed or restituted in meaningful ways.

Of course I know that development is uneven. The world I inhabit in Johannesburg as a city slicker who has benefited handsomely from the freedom years is a very different world from Bochum in Limpopo or even Diepsloot.

The fruit from freedom’s tree has been picked unevenly. Of course.

Yet 19 years after apartheid ended, I think we – citizens and the civil servants we reward so handsomely – should start taking responsibility for everything from potholes in Joburg to the brown water that flows from Kimberley’s taps, to the boreholes run dry in Limpopo and the grannies who were raped in Limpopo this week.

I know the rapists can probably trace their pathology to apartheid’s destruction of families, their emaciated masculinity to unemployment, or whatever.

But how does that help the grannies who should be living carefree twilight years? Carefree, twilight years in freedom times.

I would argue the post-apartheid policing system should by now be able to send much clearer messages of what will not be tolerated by the criminal justice system in a democratic era.

And that 19 years is enough for the generous welfare system to have embroidered a better social fabric so the gogos do not live such vulnerable lives.

And that 19 years is enough time to have put up street lights, created town planning systems around people and prevented violence.

This argument is not made to expunge or deny the cruelty and multigenerational impact of apartheid. It is not made blind to the impact of psychological violence that lives on in many of us. But 19 years does beg the question: if not now, then when? If not us, then who?

It is rather a clarion call for taking responsibility and accepting the mantle of freedom fully. After all, 19 years is not a flash in time, but a full generation by any definition.

That’s 19 years since the Treasury was liberated, bulked up and run by cadres who implemented policies determined by a democratically elected Parliament.

It is 19 years since the extraordinarily hard work began to change the civil service to serve a whole nation and not just a smattering thereof.

Billions of rands have been spent to employ more people to do this task, and to empower them with training and salaries which have changed the class status of public servants from working class to middle class.

Yet despite this measurable transformation, unionised civil servants will not take responsibility for outcomes they directly control, like public health, education, roads, transport and infrastructure, all of which are within their remit.

Last week, the genera- secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, Fikile Majola, wrote that it was all still apartheid’s fault. In one fell swoop, he abdicated responsibility and agency, both of which are assets of freedom.

How much longer can we do this for?

The National Development Plan is now under attack from unionists like Majola, not for the reasons they outline (largely a set of old macroeconomic dogmas), but because I think it seeks to change the governing philosophy of the ANC – of a delivery state where people are passive recipients of goods from a liberation movement – to one of an active citizenry that takes responsibility for its own upliftment.

It seeks to move us from a mind-set of dependence to an ultimate liberation, to shake us free of apartheid. And that, for some, is a very scary place to be.

Taking responsibility often is.

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