I am in my early thirties now and, I was exactly 11 years old twenty years ago and I will be 51 years twenty years from now. I am presently in the public service in the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements. The above is important to preface because It has been interesting to note that 20 years of freedom is something that is not easily celebrated in a country where people have died, killed each other; and lived as first and second class citizens-as was the formulation of apartheid.
Prior to working in the public service I was privileged with a good education and am a graduate of the University Witwatersrand and am presently studying towards attaining an Mphil in human rights at the University of Pretoria, with interests in a Phd that would talk to black metaphysics (philosophy of being black, existence mentality and quality of thinking), democracy and human rights.
The last information is also important because during my studies and during my years in government-the later which started with an internship at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s Policy and Research Unit (PRAU) followed by a cadet program in diplomacy-I got understand that public service was really responsible for tangibles and intangibles- without even mentioning the efficiency of government in the delivery of these tangibles like housing, education, foreign direct investment and health care.
It seems to me that there is little appreciation of the intangibles in South Africa and hence the interaction over 20 years of democracy is polarized, some citing gradual success and some the lack of success on the part of government.
Intangibles and tangibles require definition, Departments like human settlements deliver tangibles like housing units, sanitation, thus Government and business provide tangibles- money is put in and services are rendered, it is government and the selectorate (the selectorates are head of beaurocracy that should ensure the quality of output).
Intangibles are personal attributes and no beaurocracy and selectorate can ensure that these intangibles are realized. It is the purpose of the individual citizen to pursue these intangibles and these are: happiness, a conquering mind and life changing ideas. In the most part, the whole employment and unemployment issue can only be solved by individuals. Therefore, while I appreciate that the constitution puts distributive justice as the responsibility of government and that our collective conscience in South Africa says it would not be right for the poor not to be taken care of by government- I also wonder whether or not we are demobilizing and depriving the citizen from looking within and finding a better world inside which she can recreate outside.
One of our core mandates in the South African 1996 constitution is section 10 of the bill of rights –Human dignity: “Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected”. The question therefore is: is the state and civil society the only ones that should defend that dignity, where is my agency?
I conclude with words of former concentration camp prisoner and survivor Dr Viktor Frankel in his book: Man’s Search for Meaning. “In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of less hardy makeup often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature”.
South Africa is not where it was 20 years ago, albeit that we are still facing large inequality- this is a good story for 20 years of democracy. I also think that we should ask a question that looks to the next twenty years- in 2034- Will we have something to celebrate, yes or no? Maybe that is not enough lets rather ask, will the cause of celebration rest on government or individuals protecting their dignity and pursuing their own happiness?
I re-read the poem invictus after the passing to first democratically elected President, Dr Nelson Mandela. I am also reading Edwyn Cameroon- the only declared public servant with HIV/AIDS- it seems the real satisfying intangibles are not delivered through fair politics and just government they actually come from within.
In Sum South Africans have a lot to celebrate and they also have a lot to be concerned about at the tangible level, but the happiness, stability and prosperity of South Africans really depends on self created intangibles that end up manifesting as tangibles.
Percy Makholwa- Communication Research and Strategy- Gauteng Department of Human Settlements- I write in my capacity