Create bridges so all can walk rainbow road

2011-09-24 10:16

Dear Mama,

Since the Dinokeng Scenarios you have continuously called on South Africans, particularly the youth, to learn to walk together.

While in principle I agree with the notion – as I’m sure many others do – I think it’s fair to say that it is far too idealistic. First, if we are to walk together as black and white youth we first have to agree on a point of departure.

Propose that we depart from the place where white people forcefully took land away from our forefathers – and you lose our white brothers and sisters. They’ve had enough of being guilt-tripped.

They were not there; they had nothing to do with it.

Besides, they’ve had to genuinely work hard to get to where they are in life in a new South Africa that has offered them very few opportunities.

Propose that the point of departure be from the dawning of the new South Africa – and you attract the scorn of our black brothers and sisters.

It sidesteps the heinousness of apartheid and ignores the deep psychological and socioeconomic wounds that were inflicted on multiple generations of our people.

The irony is this – ultimately, we all want the same things and fear the same things.

We don’t want to become a Zimbabwe, Syria, Libya, Burundi or Somalia yet we remain fixed on the slippery slope leading us there.

This serves as a justification for those who say civil war and total retribution is the only way forward.

At least then, those that remain standing will be those who have exterminated the rest.We all have valid and debased points. None of us is willing to shift positions; we all believe we’ve given too much already.So where does that leave us?

How do we walk together if we can’t even agree on where the journey starts?

Dear Rori,

You raise extremely important questions about finding the starting point for conversations between young people that would allow you to agree on how to walk together as citizens.

The metaphor that comes to mind is that of a family consisting of stepchildren and step-parents who have to find a way of being a family despite the history that brought them together.

The starting point should be acknowledgment by the parents to all their children about the hurt that preceded the constitution of this new family unit.

Our Truth and Reconciliation Commission was such an attempt. It helped but it did not tackle a key aspect of the hurt that apartheid caused – denial of socioeconomic rights and the legacy of impoverishment that persists to date.

The unfinished business of acknowledging and dealing with social justice issues has to be acknowledged in the conversation of our South African family.

My generation, as the “parents”, must be open with your generation and help you accept one another across the divide.Unfortunately, our schools have not come to the party with creative ways of teaching and learning our history.

I would urge you to form reading groups to share perspectives on selected texts on that painful history.

Sampie Terreblanche’s book on the foundations of the South African economy, Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like and Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza’s Unfinished Business would be good starting texts.

Reading and reflection is a source of wisdom often neglected in a world in which too much reliance is placed on instant messaging. I also would encourage you and your peers to familiarise yourselves with our Constitution.

It is available in all languages and should be a prized possession of all citizens.

Your generation has the good fortune of being heirs to the constitutional democracy so many have given their lives for. Your role, as this generation, is to live the dream of a South Africa “united in its diversity”.

The good news is that many of you are already living the dream, but the rhetoric of a divided society seems to be lagging the acceptance, celebration and pride in being un-self-conscious South Africans.

An important issue to tackle is the persistent superiority complex on the part of some white people who believe that their success is a reflection of superior intellectual and other “innate” capacities.

They deny the impact of advantaged opportunities. White people need to work on this damaging complex to allow them to participate as equals in shaping our society.

Equally important is to recognise that many black people still suffer a sense of inferiority and see their persistent poverty as a sign of their own and other black people’s inadequacy.

This inferiority complex is reflected in self-hate, disrespect for one’s self and those who look like one.We need to have conversations as black people to rid ourselves of this negative self-image.

We are the majority and we are full citizens of this country.

We should start behaving like proud owners of this democracy.We need to build on successful examples of across-the-divide harmonious relations to tackle the real issues of a growing chasm between the haves and have-nots.

Fundamental transformation of our socioeconomic landscape is essential to levelling the playing field. This should take the form of conversations about how we can achieve social justice by tackling impediments to making freedom a reality in the lives of all citizens.

The school system needs to be overhauled so we do not continue to have 80% of our schools referred to as dysfunctional. Every child deserves the right to high-quality education.

Your generation could play an important role as “big brother/sister” to children from poor environments by adopting schools you can work with as young professionals.

You can become the mentors and coaches of children across the divide and support poor parents in fighting for quality education for their children.

We also need to transform the land-ownership landscape you refer to so passionately.

Attempts thus far have not met expectations because the premise has been redress with less focus on how such redress can be matched to appropriate land use.

Many of the people whose land was forcefully taken may not necessarily want to be farmers, and so should be compensated in a way that enables them to move forward.

The state is the largest land owner and should explore options of that land use to settle claims and still ensure the continuation of a robust agri-business.

Conversations across all generations cannot be complete without attending to transforming the economy to enable and empower those excluded from the benefits of freedom thus far.

The millions of people between the ages of 18 and 35 who are not in school, not in training and not employed are a sad commentary on our unfinished business of transformation.

 They are a wasted human and intellectual resource.Your generation can play a key role in helping us to mobilise these young people and connect them to opportunities.

I am convinced that if you and your peers from across the divide were to sit down and start talking as shareholders of South Africa Inc, you will be amazed at how much you have in common. History should be used as a rear-view mirror while we keep our eyes on the road ahead.

The future belongs to those daring enough to forge a way forward.As young South Africans, you need to assume the rights and responsibilities of shaping the future of your country. You are family and you should start enjoying seeing yourselves in the “other”.

This In the first of a series of questions posed to Mamphela Ramphele

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