The healing must go beyond celebrating a political settlement and include a socioeconomic settlement to rid the country of poverty and inequality.
Academic Mamphela Ramphele has an axe to grind with political friend-turned-nemesis Helen Zille. According to her, Zille and her white counterparts need to be educated about African history.
This after the “ridiculous outbursts” on colonialism by the Western Cape premier, which Ramphele says point to an urgent need to change the history curriculum in schools.
Besides that, Ramphele believes that, generally, white South Africans need to admit how much they have wronged black people, how they continue to hold stereotypical views about them and brazenly continue to rub salt into the untended wounds of apartheid.
She spoke to City Press following the launch of her new book – Dreams, Betrayal and Hope – which reflects on the country’s not-so-perfect democracy and her time at the helm of a now-limping Agang SA.
The former anti-apartheid activist said the country needed proper healing and that that is possible only through genuine dialogue or “healing circles”, be it in communities, workplaces or places of worship where white people would apologise to black people.
“We know from African tradition that when something goes wrong in a family, you sit down in a circle and the wrongdoer acknowledges their wrongdoing and explains him or herself. The wronged party signals whether or not they accept the apology that’s being offered. Apologies always came with some form of redress, so that you heal that which was broken.”
With the ushering in of democracy in 1994, civic education should have been a key element in averting the escalating racial tensions and continuing stereotyping of the black population. She lauded how Germany had prioritised civic education to ensure democracy was infused with a value system that puts human dignity at the centre to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
“We need to do the same in South Africa, otherwise we will continue to have outbursts [from] the Helen Zilles of this world, that we would not have water, roads or cars were it not for colonialism. I mean, where have they been in terms of informing themselves about African history?” she lamented.
Zille is in trouble with her party after tweeting – upon her return from Singapore and Japan – that not all the features of colonialism were bad.
She is undergoing disciplinary action after an increasingly frustrated Mmusi Maimane, the DA leader, referred her to DA structures for bringing the party into disrepute.
Ramphele labelled the comments as ridiculous.
“Africa is a contributor to the world’s civilisation – way before Europe woke up to science and technology and the civilised world. But our children don’t know that, white people don’t know that because we don’t teach history properly in our schools. We start in 1652 like there was no Africa before colonial conquest – it’s ridiculous. The continued stereotyping on a colour-coded basis is based on ignorance. That is what needs to be healed.”
The two had a fallout ahead of the 2014 elections over Ramphele’s last-minute decision not to take up DA membership.
DA needs healing
Ramphele said the DA also needed to rid itself of its superiority complex.
“They have outbursts of racist comments and innuendos. Maimane can be as dark or black like me, but he has to come to terms with the fact that the DA has to heal itself from the white superiority complex that is evident everywhere so that it can be more powerful, more appropriate to be seen as a contributor to healing of the wounds of the past and socio-economic change of the system in this country.”
The process of healing, she said, should not just be about sittings where white people verbally apologise, but must seek to change their views. It must go beyond celebrating a political settlement and include a socioeconomic settlement to rid the country of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
“White people have a lot of work to do on their own, like we had to do work as young activists in the 70s to get rid of the notion that we were non-whites or [non-] Europeans. They too have to do the work to raise their level of consciousness that whiteness is not a ticket to privilege, that the colour of one’s skin does not determine whether a person is smart or beautiful. It’s all about the diversity of the human race that God created. They need to come together and teach their children and admit that they in fact have these stereotypical views of other people.”
It’s been 21 years since the adoption of the Constitution, but none of the commitments in the preamble – which relate to the healing of the wounds of divisions in the country, equality and quality of life for all – has been achieved, she asserted.
Even more troubling for Ramphele is that white people still feel entitled to the privileges that they enjoyed under apartheid.
“The mistake was that after its [the Constitution’s] adoption, everyone went their separate ways and abandoned ensuring that indeed healing takes place.”
Ramphele said not even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was seen as a bridge that would bring stability in a divided country, was enough. The political settlement needed to be complemented with an emotional and socioeconomic settlement. This is also a point of emphasis in her book.
Ramphele was critical of the ANC hype around radical economic transformation, saying it was meant for President Jacob Zuma’s family and his friends, the Gupta family.
In the book she also proposes the establishment of a fund that would finance, among others, the skilling of the unemployed so that they contribute to the economy instead of relying on “dehumanising” social grants. There is already “enthusiastic support” from concerned individuals, including those in business, she said.
This dedicated funding, or the Rebuild SA Fund, as she calls it, would need to be managed by trustworthy people and operate under judicial supervision to avoid money going down a bottomless pit of abuse of state funds, she said.
It’s been three years since she resigned from Agang following divisions within the organisation and Ramphele still regrets her decision in 2013 to join a political party.
“I betrayed my idealism by going there. Now I know I should have just remained an activist.”
She changed her mind because of “total despair” watching the corruption, arrogance, nepotism and the lack of accountability from the ANC-led government.
“I needed to rid myself of my naivety that because I believe in certain ideals I could mobilise people to share those ideals. A lot of people liked what I said but they were not going to change,” she said in reference to expectations of free T-shirts, RDP houses and food parcels.
Agang, she charged, was hijacked and is a shell of its former self. Ramphele said the party, with only one MP, Andries Tlouamma, does not represent anything she stands for.
“The hijackers can’t really drive that dream because they don’t know the values. They are not the people that could have continued the vision we had in Agang. These are hijackers,” she concluded.
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