There is no rainbow in our nation

2017-09-24 06:07

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When we think about countries that face challenges regarding the achievement or maintenance of peace, South Africa does not come to mind.

We readily associate challenges to peace with countries in respect of which TV bombards us daily with blood-chilling visuals of guns blazing, bombs exploding, buildings collapsing, drones shattering lives and people dying, bleeding or running away in search of refuge.

Syria naturally springs to mind as a country not at peace. So do Israel and Palestine.

No one can legitimately dispute that countries facing full-scale insurgency wars, such as South Sudan and Nigeria, are not at peace.

The Korean Peninsula, where a nuclear war increasingly seems real, also comes to mind.

But is South Africa a country at peace?

Can we, with good conscience, say that ours is a country that has achieved and is maintaining peace in consolidation of the peace project that saw the country miraculously step back from the brink of catastrophe?

If our answer is positive, would the people of Glebelands hostel in KwaZulu-Natal, where almost 100 people have been killed in the past year, without any subsequent court convictions, agree?

What about Vuwani in Limpopo, where a protest over municipal boundaries left most schools gutted by fire, and where violence still flares up now and then? Would the residents of gang-infested places such as Manenberg in Cape Town agree that they live in a peaceful country?

These are some of the questions that emerged in spontaneous conversations among South African delegates on the sidelines of the World Alliance of Religions’ Peace Summit held in Seoul, South Korea, over the past few days.

Beyond those conversations, I had a curious discussion with a colleague from the Seychelles, which left me pondering our peace situation.

“You call yourselves a rainbow nation. But those of us who view you from outside often say: ‘How dare they! A rainbow nation signifies diverse people living together harmoniously.’”

She proceeded to say: “The only time I felt South Africa had a chance regarding peaceful coexistence was when [Nelson] Mandela was leading it.”

The explanation she advanced when I asked about the basis of her conclusions was quite revealing.

This, I believe, offers food for thought for South African leaders committed to the constitutional project of healing the divisions of the past and building a united nation as expressed in the constitutional preamble.

My colleague from the Seychelles, a former minister of health in her country, identified four examples that she argued belied the rainbow nation claim.

These were racism; race-based structural and systemic inequality; the increasingly polarised state of race relations; and toxic nationalism.

On racism, she alleged that she and her husband had experienced racism several times when visiting the country.

An example was an incident when, at Sun City, North West, they were stopped from entering an entertainment area, while a white friend travelling with them was allowed in.

The explanation proffered by the, incidentally black, gate keepers that their exclusion was based on their not being residents of that part of Sun City, did not wash with them because the white friend was staying with them.

On structural inequality, she opined that it continued along the contours of apartheid, particularly regarding socioeconomic wellbeing.

She was especially saddened by the juxtaposition of extreme poverty and wealth in South Africa, with the squalid living conditions of many black people looking like a different country.

She expressed deep concern about race relations. She particularly decried what she termed toxic divisive messages from some of our political leaders.

She also weighed in on the issue of periodic attacks on foreign owners of small businesses in the historically black townships.

We could argue that a foreigner has no right to judge us. Indeed, my colleague was painfully mindful of this.

She stressed that she tendered her opinion contritely, simply out of love for South Africa.

She praised South Africa for birthing the most universally approved peace messenger in the world. She also applauded us for being a global beacon of hope by showing, through remarkable handling of the transition from armed conflict, that peace is possible with good leadership and commitment.

The conversations we had on the sidelines of the peace summit were not dissimilar to views expressed during Thuma Foundation Democracy Dialogues, nicknamed #Demologues.

What is emerging is the realisation that the maintenance of peace is as important as the cessation of war.

Peace project is increasingly at risk

During Women’s Month dialogues held on August 9 and 26, there was consensus among women that the South African peace project is increasingly at risk.

Socioeconomic exclusion, characterised by extreme poverty and extreme inequality, was identified as a major threat to maintaining peace.

Unhealed racial, gender and other divisions of the past, at the level of intergroup relations, emerged as related and equally important concerns.

In this regard, women in both dialogues observed that some top government leaders, who should be key messengers regarding healing the divisions of the past, were doing the reverse.

They are increasingly exploiting and exacerbating such divisions and, in some cases, blatantly fostering racial polarisation to deflect attention from their failures regarding meeting people’s needs and reducing socioeconomic exclusion.

The #Demologues identified corruption in both the public and private sectors as anathema to democracy that works for all and related peaceful coexistence.

There was consensus that the stealing by some in the country’s oligarchy depletes resources that should be advancing socioeconomic inclusion in historical areas of socioeconomic exclusion, such as health, education, economic activity, land and housing, social security, and infrastructure such as roads, bridges, electricity and water.

It was also agreed that sociopsychological healing remains incomplete and that great efforts initiated in this regard at the dawn of democracy were abandoned too soon.

As my colleague from the Seychelles did, the #Demologues decried the polarising language of some of the top political leaders, particularly government leaders, who seem oblivious to their constitutional duty to lead the healing of the divisions of the past as part of building a united nation as envisaged in the Constitution.

I, for one, am convinced that, as long as there is injustice somewhere, there can’t be sustainable peace anywhere.

I concur with those who believe that the South African peace project is at risk unless we consciously return to peace messaging and accelerate socioeconomic inclusion.

I further believe that, without peace, all we are building can be destroyed in an instant.

I believe peace is like a tree; it requires nurturing through irrigation, initially to grow and later to thrive.

I am concerned that the recent so-called racial economic emancipation campaign by disgraced UK public relations firm Bell Pottinger, allegedly at the behest of Gupta-Zuma companies and persons, using catch phrases such as white monopoly capital, has dealt the national peace project an immense blow.

The question we may ponder is what we are to do to recover from this racially polarising campaign and generally re-energise the peace project. Anecdotal data from the #Demologues and other conversations reveal lots of excellent private initiatives that are reducing inequality and correcting divisive attitudes in pursuit of healing the divisions of the past.

A declaration that seeks to pave the way for an M-Plan to accelerate social justice, in the spirit of the post-World War 2 Marshall Plan, was adopted by women during the #Demologues.

The initiative seeks to accelerate the healing of the divisions of the past while fostering peace.

Whatever we do, targeting hearts and minds and reducing extreme poverty and inequality must be part of the deal.

Ending, or at least reducing, corrupt abuse of public resources must also be part of the package.

And our action must be prompt lest the fault lines that enabled the Bell Pottinger campaign enable other attacks on nation-building.

Madonsela is the founder and chief patron of the Thuma Foundation and is a Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow

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Read more on:    bell pottinger  |  jacob zuma  |  vuwani  |  racism

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