Mamphela Ramphele – physician, educator, author and activist – wrangles with the ghosts that still plague South Africa 19 years after apartheid. She examines four major issues that are thwarting South Africa’s progress: “racism, ethnic chauvinism, sexism and authoritarianism.”
‘Rwanda also presents a success story of how to lay the ethnic ghost to rest. The post-genocide government tackled the trauma of genocide head on. They did not hide behind the legacy of colonialism, but admitted their own responsibility for having failed to tackle divisions and tensions that had led to the bloodshed. They also acknowledged the contributory role of competition for scarce resources to the crisis. Rwanda has set itself a 2020 vision as a knowledge economy and has been systematically implementing coordinated strategies towards that end since 2000. It recruited the diaspora to join government and operates efficiently by harnessing the power of information technology to create a truly wired government. The president, Paul Kagame, actively drives the agenda and tolerates neither incompetence nor corruption from his cabinet colleagues. The genocide museum in Kigali makes a harrowing and unforgettable statement about what the Rwandese did to one another. The skulls, broken bones of victims from babies to adults, and personal effects are on permanent display. There is also a cemetery on the museum property where victims are buried as their remains are discovered all over Kigali. Denialism has no place in Rwanda today as it powers towards its 2020 vision.’
In South Africa, ethnic identities have been shaped by the institution of the Population Registration Act of 1950 that classified people according to their ‘racial’ category. This classification was used to determine who had access to what resources and provided the foundation for the introduction of the ‘homelands’ policy intended to ‘advance Bantu culture and independence’. Today ethnicity continues to influence access to resources in South Africa. Divisions within the ruling ANC (between supporters of President Thabo Mbeki on the one hand and those of ANC president Jacob Zuma on the other) are framed in ethnic terms by some of the contestants. Mbeki’s detractors play on the dominance of AmaXhosa in leadership ranks and the need to give other groups a chance. His relatively privileged background as a trader’s son and his access to good education in exile is also used to discredit Mbeki as elitist. In contrast, Jacob Zuma is portrayed by his supporters as ‘a man of the people’ who boasts about crediting no one but himself for his ability to read and write.
The role of traditional leaders in a democracy such as ours presents major dilemmas. The compromise reached during the negotiations to include them in the governance system was driven more by the imperatives of managing the risks of revolt on their part than by a proper definition of their roles. Those arguing for downgrading the role of traditional leaders cite the risks of perpetuating fragmented tribal/ethnic politics that had been promoted bycolonial and apartheid governments. In addition, ‘traditional leadership’ was reinvented over the years to reward loyalists of old regimes, while authentic leaders were in some cases exiled or demoted. The question of the authenticity of traditional leadership is not an uncomplicated one.
Another difficulty of promoting traditional leadership lies in the contradiction between the equality clauses of our constitution and the tenets of male-dominated traditional leadership. Gender equality is often violated by the practice of customary law. Some of its provisions have been corrupted by collusion between successive colonial powers and male leaders, and practices that were intended to be flexible have become more rigid over time. Thandabantu Nhlapo identified a list of notorious provisions that need urgent review:
•The levirate, which is the continuation of the deceased husband’s marriage through a brother or male relative
•The sororate – a practice where a younger sister bears children for an older one in the case of barren marriages
•Polygyny – a practice that allows a man to marry more than one wife
•Child betrothal and forced marriages linked to family obligations
•Inheritance laws that follow patrilineal patterns through which family wealth passes from father to son
•Women’s status as minors that deprives them of rights to land and economic decision-making
•Lobola or bohadi that exchanges women and cattle between families.
These weighty matters need to be resolved to enable us to align customary practices with the precepts of our constitution. Failure to do so puts the most vulnerable women and children at risk of having their human rights violated without access to any recourse. It is especially rights relating to land and property ownership and gender equality that are being compromised in the name of traditionalism. Equality before the law is yet to have meaning for the most vulnerable among us.
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