Conversations with Mamphela Ramphele – Transforming our nation together – without denial

2011-10-08 12:19

Dear Ma

Seventeen years into our “democracy”, we find ourselves in rampant denialism.

ANC loyalists deny that the party has largely failed the ideals of the struggle and the poor majority.

Whites deny that they still benefit from apartheid. Most South Africans deny that this nation’s success doesn’t only rest on government’s shoulders, but those of every citizen.

Denialism is fine if there are no real consequences.

But as we saw in the Mbeki era, we can’t afford to drag our feet in meeting our responsibilities.
Continuing to deny the pervasiveness of apartheid and urging people to “move on” (read forget) has dire consequences.

Racist attitudes that perpetuated class divisions then are still alive today. People pretend to live in an unhistoricised vacuum, that they have accumulated privilege through hard work and enterprising attitudes, ignoring the fact apartheid made the labour that built their empires cheaply.

They pretend their wealth is not connected to others’ poverty. The revolution has become the notion of a blank-slate South Africa, and to say 1994 came with minimal economic restructuring is to be the new counter-revolutionary. Denialism needs to end.

We need the cooperation of all the rich. Most are white, and in that sense apartheid achieved its mandate.

Dear Keolebogile

Thank you for raising the important issue of denialism in our society and its negative effect on our transformation process. Denialism is an age-old defence mechanism used by people across the world to avoid dealing with the painful truth of whatever reality they face.

South Africa has to learn from the devastating consequences of the Aids denialism of the past decade-and-a-half and not repeat that mistake in tackling the unfinished business of socio-economic transformation.

We have to confront the pain of our reality that poverty and inequality are a threat to our entire society. It is not a black or white issue.

It is a South African reality that poses huge risks to our aspirations to be a prosperous democracy united in its diversity. Acceptance of this reality opens possibilities for more open and constructive conversations about what is to be done and how such action is to be undertaken.

The very first step in open conversations has to be acknowledgement that we are part of a family of citizens of this beautiful country. Building a firm foundation for our democracy is a mutually beneficial programme, the outcomes of which will make ours a better society.

The second step is to recognise the futility of the blame game. We are a family at risk. We need to weigh the benefits of dealing with the reality of the risk we face against those of apportioning blame.

All citizens have to accept that poverty and inequality are a direct result of the social engineering of apartheid that deliberately impoverished black people while ensuring prosperity for white people.

The failures of successive post-apartheid governments to successfully address this legacy added to the complexity and weight of the problem.

There is enough historical analysis to support this statement of fact for those who need knowledge. We need to learn from other countries that have also had to deal with adversity born out of social engineering experiments.

Look at China. It had its own devastating cultural revolution under chairperson Mao Zedung that traumatised many and destroyed lives and professional careers during the 10-year period between 1966 and 1976.

But see how it has spent the last four decades rebuilding itself into the powerful nation it is today. The Chinese did so by using international best practice adapted to a Chinese cultural framework and by working with global development finance institutions.

Many Eastern European countries such as Poland, Latvia and Czech Republic have also spent the last two decades rebuilding themselves from the ruins of Soviet domination.

The third step is to mobilise the resources necessary to tackle our legacy and take advantage of our opportunities. We have a rich heritage of natural resources, fantastic climate and landscapes, a strong private sector and sophisticated infrastructure.

We also have a young population, which is an opportunity for greater innovation and adaptability.We have enough wealth in our country to set up a prosperity future fund to tackle the key bottlenecks in our ­socio-economic sector.

Contributions to this fund should come from a once-off tax of all those earning R1?million or more as well as from the corporate sector.

The government should also contribute to the fund to ensure alignment between government programmes and those of civil society and the private sector.

The fund should be managed by the private sector to establish living cities, towns and rural areas so as to eradicate shacks, upgrade inadequate housing and provide vibrant shared services for communities.

In addition, schools in all areas should be innovative learning and teaching institutions that meet the minimal standard of facility provision.

This includes basic information technology, libraries and laboratories for all children to benefit from modern knowledge and stimulating environments.

Support should also be given to the government’s revitalisation of the health care system to ensure equitable access to quality care for all.

Imagine what an exciting atmosphere this could promote! We need to redirect our energies from denialism, blame games and bitterness and focus on making ours the most vibrant and prosperous society on the continent.

We need to leverage our wealth by investing it in making ours the greatest country united in its diversity. I am confident that your generation has the capacity to transcend the legacy of the past and stretch across boundaries to become agents of change.

» Why don’t you start this positive conversation with your peers, colleagues and family members and widen the circle? Continue the conversation on Twitter @City_Press or on our Facebook page

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