South Africa should not pin its hopes for recovery from the brutality of the country’s past on the ANC’s December elective conference, said politician and academic Mamphela Ramphele in Cape Town on Wednesday.
“What are we waiting for? We are the people shaping the future, not the people who are meeting in some room killing each other,” Ramphele said at a discussion on heritage and multiculturalism ahead of the annual celebration of Heritage Day on Monday.
She said no one wants to open the “can of worms” that is the brutal, emotional and economic humiliation caused by the country’s colonial and apartheid past.
“Guess what? The can is open, and the worms are crawling all over the place in our country,” she said.
During colonialism and apartheid, heritage and culture were either eradicated or accommodated so that South Africans now describe themselves by the colour of their skin first, and then their nationality, noted Ramphele. African innovations and achievements including writing, the construction of the pyramids, the creation of the numerical system and cosmology are not given the recognition they deserve. People even measure intelligence by how well others speak English, she continued.
Young children are becoming less able to articulate their heritage because they are not being taught in their mother tongue in their early years, and are being taught at school that life in South Africa started in 1652 with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck. Ramphele urged South Africans to share the stories of their past, “with all its ugliness,” for acknowledgement and forgiveness to begin.
“We carry the scars in our minds and bodies as toxins,” she said.
“Our failure to sit together and acknowledge to one another the wounds and pain of our divided past is undermining our humanity.”
The former leader of Agang and a failed alliance with the Democratic Alliance said the hurt of the past manifests in people having a short fuse that can be seen in the destruction of property over disputes, ongoing gender-based violence, fathers who struggle to parent and have low self-esteem because they were treated like slaves and are still sometimes called “boy”.
A lack of respect can be seen in the conduct of President Jacob Zuma, she continued.
“You can’t steal as much as President Zuma is doing if you have an ounce of self-respect.
“He has no shame, he has no capacity to have self-respect.”
Ramphele said the negotiated settlement that paved the way for South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994 made a new start possible, but there was unfinished business.
“But of course the people who were very active as the handmaidens at the negotiation process were the business community. As soon as the Constitution was adopted in 1996, they check out, back to business as usual.”
Ramphele said she remained optimistic for South Africa but there was a long road ahead towards socioeconomic healing.