Quo vadis South Africa?

2008-06-23 00:00

On Thursday it will be 53 years since a crowd of several thousand people took up their places on the winter-brown grass at Kliptown and proceeded to adopt the Freedom Charter — a blueprint for a non-racial, humane society in stark contrast to the ruthless apartheid police state of the day.

It is worth considering whether the sort of society that the Congress of the People envisaged in the Freedom Charter has come to pass since 1994. There have certainly been changes for the better, but there is no room for complacency. For instance, the preamble of the

Charter states: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”. Increasingly this key principle is being undermined by racial politics, xenophobia, the yawning chasm between rich and poor and perhaps above all by the sense of entitlement of the politically well connected.

Joseph Mobutu’s long and destructive dictatorship of the Congo led to the emergence of a class known by those outside his charmed circle as the grosses legumes (big vegetables). These individuals battened on the economy of the Congo, reducing it to one of Africa’s worst basket cases. We have already started sprouting our own crop of “big vegetables” and the effects can be seen in the increasing inefficiency of most branches of the civil service and of parastatals like Eskom. The sort of erosion of values that this causes makes it increasingly difficult for the government to carry out the mandate envisaged by the framers of the Freedom Charter.

It is perhaps an unfortunate legacy of years of living in an unjust society that the law does not seem to enjoy the respect which is essential to a functioning democracy. This is apparent in minor things such as when rows of shiny black vehicles flashing lights roar past ordinary motorists at well over the speed limit, not only endangering other road users, but also openly declaring that politicians are somehow above the people they are meant to serve.

It is apparent in major things such as the ongoing Arms saga as well as the clouds of suspicion hanging over ANC president Jacob Zuma, suspended police chief Jackie Selebi and most recently Judge John Hlophe. This high-level sleaze, coupled with rampant poverty and poor service delivery, contributes to the crime wave sweeping the country.

Democracy seems to mean different things to different individuals and groups in society. One cannot imagine the dignified delegates to the Freedom Charter behaving in the boorish manner exhibited at the chaotic ANC Youth League congress in Bloemfontein. One would hope they would have been appalled at Julius Malema’s call to kill for Jacob Zuma. It is doubtful whether they would have approved of the Youth League’s vow to take action if the agents of a democratically elected government ever succeed in bringing their hero to trial on corruption charges.

What would the delegates at Kliptown have made of a leader who wows the crowd with a song asking someone to bring him his machine gun, or of a president who seems to stand by when worse atrocities than those inflicted by the apartheid government continue to be meted out by the rogue leader of a destroyed country?

Perhaps this would be a good week for all South Africans to recommit to the key principles of the Freedom Charter adopted on that chilly June day so many years ago.

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