Mamphela Ramphele

The pain of SA's Human Rights Day

2019-03-19 05:00
For the youth, 1994 carries the weight of unfulfilled democratic promises.

For the youth, 1994 carries the weight of unfulfilled democratic promises.

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South Africa's celebrated political settlement is not yet systemically supported by serious efforts to secure an emotional settlement of the pain from our ugly past, write Mamphela Ramphele and George Lindeque.

The cruel irony about Human Rights Day celebrations in South Africa on 21 March this year, is that for the majority of citizens there is little to celebrate. 

After more than 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations and 25 years of democracy in South Africa, we have not yet liberated ourselves from racism, inequities of land ownership, corruption, and government incompetencies. 

It is our contention that the prime reason for our incomplete transformation is that the wounds of our troubled past have not yet been healed. South Africa's celebrated political settlement is not yet systemically supported by serious efforts to secure an emotional settlement of the pain from our ugly past. Such an emotional settlement would open the way for us to see ourselves in our fellow citizens. This would enable us to work together to secure a socio-economic settlement and shared prosperity. South Africans have been reticent to venture on this journey. 

Why is an emotional so important? Our view is that it is a sine qua non to move South Africa forward. It would enable us to connect at the deep human level to unleash the potential of everyone to live the values of Ubuntu – "I am because you are". Embracing Ubuntu would help us to transcend our historic "them" and "us" attitudes to one another across predictable fault lines.

An emotional settlement would create greater willingness and enthusiasm to collaborate in investing in the creation of a socio-economic settlement so sorely needed for South Africa's secure future. A secure future is only possible if everyone has a stake in the success of our nation.

What must we do? The preamble to our Constitution clearly states that we are to:

- "Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

- lay the foundations for a democratic and open society …. based on the will of the people …;

- improve the quality of life of all citizens …and free the potential …; and

- build an united and democratic South Africa … ." 

How must we do this? Here are a few pointers:

- We need to be conscious of the impact of racism and prejudice on all of us. We need to actively work at acceptance of the reality that there is only one race – the human race. Each one of us is imbued with the divine. Colour coding used to grant privileges to some, whilst denying them to others, has poisoned our social relationships.

- We need to invest in celebrating who we are as a people with a rich diversity of cultures. Embracing the values of Ubuntu embedded in our human rights Constitution is essential to bind us together as a people. Our homes, schools, places of worship, work places and wider society need to re-enforce these values that we hold so dear. 

- We need to demand that our education system becomes one that educates citizens for the 21st century, cognisant of their responsibilities of fellow human beings as well as good stewards of our mother earth's sustainability.

- We need to promote and nurture the spirit of citizenship and commitment in all people to become contributors to the common good at all levels of our lives: personal, professional and political.

Let us make this Human Rights Day in 2019 an opportunity for new beginnings. Let us practice the true values of human rights in South Africa. The substance of "true hearts and minds" is what is needed to reimagine and build the South Africa we want to live in for ourselves, for our children and for our grandchildren. 

We, the people, need to pledge to create and build our country from the bottom-up. We must also make clear our expectations of our leaders – they need to lead by example as servant leaders. They need to understand that we have the power in our hands as citizens to choose only those leaders who meet the expectations of respect for human rights of all citizens.

Let us celebrate Human Rights Day this year by renewing our commitments to to live the values of the ancient wisdom of Africa – Ubuntu – encoded as human rights values in our Constitution. Let us build South Africa into a place for all South Africans. Proudly South African!

- Mamphela Ramphele and George Lindeque are co-founders of ReimagineSA.

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Read more on:    human rights day  |  ubuntu


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