Durban – Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on Saturday said racial tensions in the country had hit an all-time high.
“We are still shocked following the so-called coffin assault incident which happened in Mpumalanga. The incident happened as we are forgetting the Penny Sparrow and other incidences."
“Race problems have always been there, however in the last few months we have seen a surge. The problem of racism has been more complex than the blatant forms of discrimination that have formed trending topics in our society,” said Mkhwebane.
She was speaking at the 2016 Chief Albert Luthuli Memorial Lecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville Campus alongside Dr Wally Serote and Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe.
Mkhwebane said the country had been grappling with issues of economic emancipating the black majority, the land question and the manifestation of the racial tensions.
“These are issues that have been bubbling under the surface and it was inevitable that they would at some point erupt into the open, forcing society to face them head on.”
She said Chief Albert Luthuli spent most of his time fighting for the political and economic emancipation of the majority.
National assembly 'voice of all South Africans'
Mkhwebane said in celebrating 20 years of the Constitution, she questioned whether it was an obstacle or a catalyst in fostering nation building and social cohesion.
“The role of those we elect into public office is clearly spelt out [in the Constitution] and the president is given a role to uphold the Constitution, as said by the Constitutional judgement by SJ Mogoeng Mogoeng, where he said the president is the Constitutional being by design and commander in chief of state affairs.
“And the national assembly is the voice of all South Africans, poor, voiceless and the watchdog of state resources. The national assembly holds the executive responsible for the fulfilment of the promises that they have made to the nation.”
She said Chapter 9 Institutions like her office ensured that that Constitutional democracy was upheld.
Mkhebane also reminded the gathering of the powers of the Public Protector.
“This institution has assisted a lot of complainants including resolving service delivery issues involving housing, social grants, UIF, birth certificates and cases of conduct failure.”
She said there were many who were still left behind.
“I was discussing with my daughter and she said but mommy why can’t you use political power to reduce the imbalances of the past to ensure that people also have economic power?”
Constitution not a means to an end
She believed that if every citizen spent time reading the Constitution in their preferred language, “we would have an empowered nation.”
The new public protector also questioned whether subjects like Life Orientation were doing enough to inculcate Constitutional studies in the curriculum, especially at a young age.
“Our Constitution is not a means to an end, there are legislations that have been created and the full implementation of these laws would go a long way.”
When it comes to social cohesion, more needed to be done, she said.
South Africans could start by taking pride in their flag as well as learning at least one indigenous language, suggested Mkhwebane.
“We have a beautiful country whose democracy is based on a Constitution that is envy to the world. Yes we have had experiences and continue to experience one challenge after the other but who said it would be easy?
“We come from a history of overcoming obstacles, let us draw from our experiences to negotiate the hurdles that we are faced with as we march to the promise land, we shall overcome,” said Mkhwbane.