We must not leave anyone behind

2018-04-29 06:05
Thuli Madonsela

Thuli Madonsela

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When I attended the launch of Lord Renwick’s book titled How To Steal a Country, three days before South Africa celebrated Freedom Day, I was reminded that it took the collaboration of many to deliver the freedom and democracy we take for granted today. We were reminded that the price of our freedom was the efforts and sacrifices of many, particularly those who leveraged power and privilege in pursuit of justice for all.

The book launch discourse reminded us of the years in which we went off track and almost got back to the winter of despair that the dawn of democracy had banished. I must admit that I am one of those venerated in the book, though I was surprised by that move.

As far as I know, rescuing South Africa from the state capture derailment is an ongoing collaboration. The real heroes are the whistle-blowers who risk all by refusing to participate in unlawful schemes. The Public Protector work itself was not the work of a lone crusader – it was a collaborative effort by a team simply doing the job it was appointed to do, nothing more. Without civil society, opposition parties and the judiciary, we would neither know the depth of the rot entailed in state capture, nor have reached the height of pushback against it achieved to date.

Renwick, who was the UK’s ambassador to South Africa around the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, is credited, among other contributions, with rehabilitating relations between the ANC and the UK government under Margaret Thatcher. Throughout his life, he supported South Africa’s march to greatness in pursuit of its ground-breaking constitutional vision.

When the corruption tempests set in, culminating in mounting evidence of the capture and attempts to capture state institutions for private gain, principally by a Zuma-Gupta family and business alliance, Renwick, Peter Hain and others were instrumental in exposing and ending Bell Pottinger’s communications terror campaign. This sought to divide the nation along race and class lines as a “dead cat” strategy to divert attention from and possibly derail the Public Protector’s investigation into allegations of state capture. The campaign tried to galvanise support for those implicated in state capture by branding anti state-capture efforts as a white monopoly capital-led pushback against the radical economic empowerment of black people.

A key lesson from our achievement of non-racial democracy and our successful resistance to grand corruption, particularly in the form of state capture, is the importance of civil vigilance, engagement and social accountability in strengthening and sustaining constitutional democracy. We learnt that a people united by the truth and a commitment to justice can never be defeated. There can be temporary setbacks, but ultimate victory always goes to those on the side of truth and justice.

We learnt that if we don’t address social injustice, our democracy remains on shaky ground that can be mined by political entrepreneurs such as the white monopoly capital propagandists. Suddenly your right to comment about maladministration and corruption depended on your skin colour and whether or not you were a beneficiary of colonialism and apartheid. If you were black and middle class, you were labelled a clever black or a foreign agent. Foreigners were told the West never cared for us, on top of having colonised us and stolen our land.

The support gained by the racially divisive campaign showed that despite the calm on the surface, racial relations in South Africa remain in the process of healing. Those implicated in state capture were using social injustice to divide and conquer. They are not the only ones who do so. Political entrepreneurs universally mine the anger, despair and legitimate concerns of those left behind for their ascendancy. This explains the rise of nationalism and extremism globally.

Political entrepreneurs steal democracies by oversimplifying complex transformation challenges into cheap slogans that, like mirages to thirsty persons, promise quick resolution of their pain, knowing that such promises won’t materialise. Some of the empty promise makers may, as has been the case in state capture evidence, have been part of the problem by diverting resources and policies to their own, private interests, instead of pursuing inclusive development. Such empty promises nefariously exploit people’s hope. They gain ground because groups and communities left behind in the division of the democracy and peace dividends want their democracy dividend now. Political entrepreneurs offer them hope that this will happen under their hand. They know that, like thirsty people, the disaffected do not have the luxury of time nor the tools to distinguish water from a mirage.

What we witnessed, first-hand here at home, is evidence of the fact that as long as there is injustice somewhere, there can’t be sustainable peace anywhere. It became clear that when the architects of our democracy committed this country to the Constitution, to “heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights” and to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person”, they knew this was necessary for the sustainability of our democracy and peace.

As we celebrate 20 years of democracy, today is better than yesterday. Thanks to unravelling of state capture and a presidential change of guard, we are back on the pedestal of hope that Oliver Tambo, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Helen Suzman, Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and others placed us on. To prevent other political entrepreneurs from stealing our democracy, tomorrow must be better than today for all, not just some. There can be no peace without justice and shared prosperity. Leaving others behind not only violates the African principle of ubuntu, we also do so at our own peril and at the risk of the sustainability of our democracy and peace. We’ve proven that, in bringing down the elephants of apartheid and state capture, together we are formidable.

- Madonsela is professor and chair in social justice at Stellenbosch University’s law faculty and founder of the Thuma Foundation

Read more on:    thuli madon­sela  |  democracy  |  freedom

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