It’s the future that counts

2011-06-14 00:00

THE coincidence of the death of Albertina Sisulu and the first anniversary of our successful hosting of the Fifa Football World Cup signifies the passing of one era and the dawn of a new one.

But while the past is set and nothing can be done to remake it, the future will be an outcome of what we decide and do today, and what we allow to be done in our country. So, we who live at the confluence bet­ween the glorious past and the future have a special responsibility to fashion a desired future.

In this sense, the past was one of gallantry and heroic efforts by outstanding oppressed people in the face of a system that sought to define them as second-class citizens in their own country. It was fashioned by efforts of ordinary people who decided that they would not sit and watch while their country was being divided and debased in the name of racial hierarchy. They would not stand by as the poor, especially black people, were forced to bear the brunt of the remaking of South Africa in the frame of the apartheid philosophy. They resolved collectively and individually to organise and equip themselves, and join hands with others to make it plain to authorities that apartheid was rejected by the majority of people.

This system, apartheid, was in essence what the late Joe Slovo called "colonialism of a special type" in that both the coloniser and the colonised claimed citizenship in the colony. The demarcation between white and black areas was an artificial attempt to define the relations bet­ween the colonised and the coloniser by means of forcefully differentiated physical spaces.

The ordinary people and prominent leaders, who, in their individual ways, helped build the momentum for change to the point where the apartheid system just could not withstand the tsunamic energy, demonstrated a strong commitment to a bigger idea.

Only a similar spirit of citizenship would ensure that good policies and correct institutions are put in place and succeed in confronting today's challenges of poverty, national disharmony, and crass materialism. Such is the collective energy we need to harness to oppose emphatically the culture of corruption, self-enrichment, immorality and violence in families, in communities and, most importantly, in government. Uncaring, irresponsible and poorly performing leaders need to see that their anti-social behaviour is universally unacceptable and is rejected across the board, especially at grass-roots level. There should be no impression that this behaviour is sometimes politically or economically justifiable.

For, as President Jacob Zuma remarked during his oration at the funeral, Mam' uSisulu's life and the lives of her contemporaries epitomised the very struggle for freedom, human rights, justice and human dignity. They did not compromise in order to be elected or appointed to affluent positions. There were no immediate and direct personal benefits for their huge sacrifices. But their reward was the creation of a caring, just, united, non-racial and non-sexist society. It was the big idea of a better life for all that inspired their efforts.

We seemed to have generated some enlightened commitment during the World Cup last year, but so many anti-social tendencies have come to the fore since then and helped dissipate the spirit of oneness in commitment to our country and its health. In place of excitement and passion for South Africa has come much negativity and dejection. Even with the successful local government elections, the country remains even more divided along various lines than before.

The National Planning Commission released elements of the proposed national vision for 2030 and a diagnosis of what has gone right and wrong since 1994. There are no surprises in the latter as the story of remarkably improved access to essential services by the poor was recorded in the 10 and 15-year reviews before. The fact that the new South Africa has so far failed to reduce poverty and unemployment, weak governance, growing corruption and infrastructure backlogs is also well known.

The vision that will come out of the commission's further discussion should make provision for the generation of collective citizens' commitment to change and a struggle against poor governance, corruption, violent crime and poverty. The vision of South Africa in 2030 will have no meaning if it is not translated into real change in the lives of the people.

The temptation to overemphasise technical measures and clever policy ideas by authorities and experts in bringing about change is misplaced. The commission ought to think carefully and broadly about the human factor and citizen ownership in the push for societal change.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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