Shared values unite a nation

2019-03-06 06:02

WE need to resist the temptation to see the widespread looting of public resources for private benefit as acts of depravity of a few bad people. We would do well to confront state capture as a cancer that has embedded itself in the culture of doing business in both the public and private sectors.

These deep cultural roots emanate from the very nature of colonial conquest and the structural injustices of apartheid that used political power to benefit a minority of the population at the expense of the majority. We have yet to acknowledge and address the foundations of the wounds (of both the oppressed and oppressor) of humiliation from being treated as less than human. Human dignity is inherent in the essence of being human. Violation of the dignity of others violates the self and undermines the establishment of a just society.

Failure to systematically “heal the wounds of our ugly past”, as enjoined by the Preamble of our Constitution, has left us with a social culture that tolerates violations of the rights of other human beings. State capture, gender-based violence, failure to invest in talent development for 80% of the children of our nation, and indifference to the failure to provide quality basic public services to all, are symptoms of a wounded people.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s courageous work through the commissions of inquiry to expose stare capture and the culture of impunity in our society in order to bring to book those implicated, needs to be complemented by the systematic work of healing the wounds of the past to enable us to embrace shared values of ubuntu to guide our institutions and relationships. Embracing our inextricable links as human beings would enable us to see ourselves in our fellow human beings, which would enable empathy. Empathy is the expression of the essence of ubuntu — the “I am because you are”.

Ubuntu enables you to see me in you and to feel my pain and share my joy. We then become connected as human beings and citizens. A society infused by the values of ubuntu is unlikely to be as violent as ours is today.

It is striking how little we have invested in the institutionalising of our Constitution and its values in our schools, places of worship and workplaces.

Those in the public service, including Parliament and government, rarely make reference to the Constitution as the foundation of the values against which they judge their actions. Without shared values it will be difficult to create a culture of mutual respect and accountability.

Over the past 25 years, we have built enviable institutions with strong legal frameworks and foundations. State capture and the human rights violations in homes, schools, workplaces and places of worship exposed the vulnerabilities of our institutions to abuse. Shared values and mutual accountability are essential vaccines against impunity.

Shared values that find expression at the personal, professional and political levels are the only guarantors of mutual respect, collaboration and the securing of sustainable social justice for all. State capture is an expression of alienation by citizens in the public and private sectors from the institutional foundations of our nation.

Citizens who have a strong sense of pride in, and ownership of the institutions and resources of our nation, would neither steal from themselves nor tolerate such theft. Nor would they destroy public property in anger if they had a strong sense of being co-owners. The cost of failing as a nation to inculcate citizenship as stewardship is huge.

It is not too late to heed the words of the late minister of Education and one of the architects of our Constitution, Professor Kader Asmal, who urged us to invest in promoting values-based civic education and practice: “In order for human rights as practice to flourish, there must be particular kinds of relationships between persons, for example, relationships of profound respect for the other.”

For as long as we continue to postpone building “relationships of profound respect for the other”it will be difficult to root out practices that undermine our common humanity.

Healing the wounds of brokenness from many generations of extreme dispossession and disrespect would lay the foundations for building relationships of respect for the other. Healing through acknowledging the wrongdoing, both past and present, and forgiving each other, is the only way we will be able to work together to build a society characterised by ubuntu.

• Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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