[OPINION] South Africa’s long walk must continue
If we ever needed a more graphic example of what the ANC has become, we need look no further than the video footage of armed men allegedly firing shots in the air at an ANC branch general meeting. No chair-throwing this time, rather something more fearsome.
Matthews Phosa, himself still in this ANC presidential race, immediately said these men were part of Mpumalanga premier and apparent kingmaker David Mabuza’s ‘private army’. Why would any politician have a ‘private army’ in a democracy, one might ask? But then this is Mpumalanga and whether or not the allegation by Phosa is true, that province has seen its fair share of political assassinations. The ANC in Mpumalanga is denying Phosa’s claims. That such claims can even be made in a democracy should shock us all. But while the footage is horrific, in large measure we have become inured to the failings and violations of the ANC.
As if to provide the perfect dissonance, news of the violence of that event was juxtaposed with the fourth anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death. It was he who embodied our hopes and dreams (perhaps inappropriately). And lest we forget, it was Mandela who was the chief architect of the constitutional framework the current ANC under Zuma has done their best to destroy through their avarice and lack of respect for the rule of law and the people they govern.
The day Madiba died still leaves a residue of heaviness. 5 December 2013.
At the Apollo in Harlem, New York, the words on the strobe banner simply said, Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013: ‘He changed our world’. As South Africans we had started the long process of letting go as Madiba took seriously ill many months before. Yet, despite this it seemed as if nothing could quite have prepared us for the moment when the news of his passing reached us.
While world leaders and millions around the world marked the passing of a truly great man, first and foremost Madiba was of South Africa, of the soil, one of us.
Given Madiba’s status as a global icon, the moments of deep sentimentality were almost inevitable. Yet, Mandela’s legacy is that of revolutionary, freedom fighter, radical politician, reconciler and above all, a man completely committed to the Constitution and the rule of law.
Known by so many epithets - ‘God’s gift to the world’, ‘a beacon for humanity’ and in the words of the late Ahmed Kathrada ‘one with a truly heroic impulse’- Nelson Mandela became synonymous with not only the fight against apartheid but the global struggle for human rights. Despite all this it has also become fashionable to look back in anger and say that Mandela ‘sold us out’. That reasoning is lazy and mostly does not take into account the global politics of the time or the mutually hurting stalemate South Africa was in by the late 80s and certainly by 1990 when Mandela was released.
And so, copious amounts of ink will be spilt on defining his legacy. Political scientists and commentators will spend decades unravelling ‘the meaning of Mandela’. The ANC will continue to appropriate his legacy while we all wonder what Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo, such wise heroes, would make of the current crop of ANC leaders? One dare say they would be deeply disappointed.
As South Africans we were privileged to have lived in his lifetime and to have experienced the great transition from apartheid to freedom. That road was rocky. Who could forget the day of Chris Hani’s assassination when Madiba’s calm words on national television surely brought us back from the edge of the abyss?
The transition was fraught and mistakes were made. Mandela himself would be the first to admit that. But his presidency was defining in its commitment to reconciliation and the Constitution. We would do well to remember that in the days and years ahead. For who can forget his reading of Ingrid Jonker’s Die Kind in Afrikaans as he opened the first democratically elected Parliament in those halcyon days in 1994?
‘die kind wat ‘n man geword het trek deur die ganse Afrika
die kind wat ‘n reus geword het reis deur die hele wereld
Sonder ‘n pas’
‘the child grown to a man treks through all Africa
the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world
Without a pass’
And so Afrikaans could itself, even as the language of the oppressor, become a tool for liberation of one from the other and from those who use it.
But even greater than his acts of magnanimity towards his oppressors was his willingness to appear before the Constitutional court and give evidence in the Sarfu case in 1998 on whether he had ‘applied his mind’ when setting up a commission of inquiry into SA Rugby’s affairs. In doing so Mandela showed that no one was above the law and that even his actions as president were subject to constitutional scrutiny. It is a singular lesson for our country at this time.
As we remember him for these things and far more, for his truly selfless struggle and for giving our beautiful, diverse and complex country its place in the sun, Seamus Heaney’s words are apropos;
‘…History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.’
But, despite hope and history rhyming, ‘we dare not linger’. Ours is an even greater burden now than in the heady days of freedom. That burden is felt each day as we watch the ANC losing whatever ethical compass it still has and each time the rights of ordinary citizens are violated by the state’s ineptitude or callous neglect.
Madiba may be gone but our long walk must continue, haltingly, often painfully but continue it must.
Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february