A time to embrace the demands of democracy

Is heritage always something from the past done by others? Or will what we do today become the heritage that will be celebrated and protected in the future?

The general election was only a few months ago, and yet the speed of change has pushed it into the fog of yesteryear. Since then, political parties have been formed, others cleverly reformed or carelessly deformed.

Above all, that so-called "new generation of young South Africans" who were eligible to vote for the first time without having lived under legalised racism didn't come to the party. I don't use the hashtag #Apartheid because I don't think Apartheid is gone. Legalised racism in South Africa is happily no more, thanks to a Constitution that protects all and sundry.

Apartheid just won't come back again under the same name. So let us not ignore the inventiveness of bad politics. It will reappear in a new form to enrich a political elite. Big business as usual and, ironically, often also a questionable heritage for tomorrow.

At least the born-frees can still change the future of our democracy. They can plan to register their commitment to vote in the upcoming municipal elections of 2016. That is to say, if they care to cast their ballot. To protect our future heritage of freedom, every citizen - young, middle-aged, senior, doddering or not yet quite dead - has work to do. We all owe the 20-year celebration of this remarkable "second chance to make our dreams come true" our active support, not as passengers, but as citizens with passionate full commitment to the future of our children.

There is no second choice here, no alternative to a future of freedoms. How do we put into practice the enshrined rights for each person? Only by becoming involved in the daily protection of this process of government of the people, for the people, and by the people. If we do not do what democracy demands, which is to exercise our freedom of choice, our insistence on the impartiality of a Public Protector, our trust in the unprejudiced structures of Parliament, and our respect for even those hard hats who disagree with our point of view, we will lose tomorrow's heritage. We must all use our voices to defend our rights as citizens of a country and not as mere members of a political party.

Could the 2014 general election have been the last flickering colour of red in our fast-dimming rainbow? The joke used to be that black and white were never hues in that symbol. Ironically, today, among our more than fifty shades of grey, black and white are all that is left. Throughout the world one can watch democratically-elected governments use democratically-accepted ways to diminish democracy.

Because of the fear of not being politically correct, we will no longer be able to fight obviously repulsive fascist laws of suppression. The moral high ground has been sold to the highest bidder. And in most cases that bidder has enough support through money and power to cut our feet to fit their shoe. There is no safety net of neutrality.

And yet, if the people lead, government will follow! Often heritage can start at home. Celebrate it by standing up and being different. Using freedom of choice! Too many South Africans just sigh and say: "What's the point of having an opinion?"

It's like looking at the key in your hand to the door of the future - and then with a shrug tossing it into the dam of apathy. That door will not open for you ever again.

Besides being an addicted democrat, I am also a terminal optimist. Because of my work, I will always recognise the "mock" in democracy and seek out the "con" in reconciliation. I am an optimist because I have learnt during these mature years of my struggle against prejudice and fear, to always expect the worst, hoping that the worst will never be as bad as I imagined.

So far, so good.

But the old, familiar blueprints of our heritage are now fading and fragile. We have to reinvent the excitement of being in charge of our future. Heritage starts today to be recognised as such tomorrow. All South Africans have a voice. All citizens have a vote. Everyone has choice. The greatest heritage we can give the future generations to celebrate is our freedom of expression. Express it and you strengthen it!

This column first appeared on Daily Maverick.