Brick by brick the 1994 deal is being torn asunder – with dire consequences for SA

2019-05-01 20:56

As we mark 25 years of democracy, the greatest mystery is why the 1994 political consensus, which ended statutory apartheid and gave hope to millions of South Africans, is being allowed to disintegrate.

On many fronts the 1994 deal, the basis of what came to be known as “the New South Africa”, is under attack in an incipient revolt against the status quo – the first phase being to attack and delegitimise its symbols.

The most powerful and influential of those symbols is, of course, Nelson Mandela .

The most scurrilous charge (in the context of the liberation struggle) is that he sold out black people.

It is said that, by preaching reconciliation and reassuring white people about their future in the new South Africa, he gave them the nerve to resist change and mount a rear-guard fight to preserve their unfair status of privilege.

Yet the promotion of reconciliation should be a self-evident imperative for anyone committed to building a new, united nation out of the ruins of its divisive and violent predecessor.

Mandela did not say reconciliation should be predicated on whites keeping their apartheid-bequeathed economic and other advantages at the expense of black people.

And it should be said that white people have played a big role in giving reconciliation a bad name.

In a society where black people still suffer the consequences of historical and current discrimination and economic exclusion, most whites still choose to ask: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

In the same breath they will fawn all over President Cyril Ramaphosa, as they did recently in Sandton and Stellenbosch.

As with Mandela in his time, they love Ramaphosa only to the extent that he assures them that there will be no land grabs and other such unlawful activities in South Africa.

So, the Stellenbosch farmers would balk at the point where he told them, as he should tell whites at every turn, that for him to succeed, they must play their part by treating their employees humanely as fellow compatriots.

Starting by, for instance, paying workers a living wage; providing decent housing; giving them a share of ownership and educating their children.

And the white people he addressed in Sandton while neighbouring Alexandra was on the boil? How many offered to help resolve the challenges in that township, let alone visiting to see the situation first hand?

The other, much maligned, symbol of the 1994 pact is nonracialism.

Partly due to frustration with the slow pace of change since 1994, and partly due to genuine ignorance of history, sections of the black population now blame the adoption of nonracialism by the liberation movement for continuing white racism.

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But this is an ahistorical proposition. The liberation movement in its various formations did not advocate racism.

Its position was that the new, post-apartheid society would not be based on race as apartheid had been. It was a noble ideal which would require effort and dedication to realise.

The fact that sections of the white community have clung to racism does not in itself invalidate nonracialism as a core value of our nation.

Neither does it mean we who are not racist must become racists ourselves. Surely, law-abiding citizens do not decide to do crime because criminals will not stop thieving from them?

Mike Seluma

Nonracialism, with antiracism, was adopted by the liberation movements deliberately – as a deeply held belief and the antithesis of apartheid and racism generally.

It is a value held dear by progressive mankind globally.

The more valid criticism is that the new state has tended to deal with racists with the proverbial kid gloves – a disproportionate response given the centuries-long destruction and suffering wrought by racism.

Given our history, crimes of racism should attract especially harsh punishment.

The other equally important value that has fallen by the wayside in our increasingly acrimonious political atmosphere is nation building.

By definition, it precludes the majority from using its numbers to ride roughshod over the needs and interests of “minorities”.

The debate over the renaming of Cape Town Airport is a case in point. Whether the airport is eventually named after struggle stalwart Winnie Mandela (as demanded by the EFF) or the Khoisan historical figure Krotoa (as proposed by Khoisan groups) is not the issue here.

In this case, the question is whether it is in the interests of nation building for Africans as a majority national group to overrule at will numerically smaller groups, such as the Khoisan or coloured people in general.

The ancillary question is whether “minorities” do, in fact, have equal rights with the majority group in the country.

Do their voices count for less because they do not command the demographic numbers?

One of the great lessons of history is that the suppression of any group in a nation invariably sows the seeds of future political and social instability.

It should be a no brainer then that, to build a united and peaceful nation, all sections of the population must feel that their concerns are taken on board in national life and they also have the proverbial place in the sun.

Perhaps the most visible 1994 symbol to come under increasing attack is the national anthem.

Just last week I saw on several platforms people I consider patriotic South Africans boasting about how they refuse to sing the Afrikaans part of the anthem.

As we go down this slippery slope, a challenge to the flag cannot be far behind.

With increasing disaffection, attacks on the new dispensation will intensify among the majority of citizens, especially the youth – who bear the brunt of economic hardship, including unemployment.

The country needs leaders who understand the need to redress the wrongs of the past and their present-day consequences.

But also who see the urgency and imperative of building a new, more just and egalitarian society in one united nation.

Amid all the noise that passes for debate and engagement, the great mystery lies in the silence of the architects of the 1994 dispensation.

Chief among these is the ANC, which happens to also be the governing party. In the market place of ideas, it has, in effect, gone missing in action.

In the meantime the 1994 deal stands like an abandoned house. And brick by brick, it is being taken apart.

Eventually, the entire structure will collapse into rubble – with dire consequences for all South Africans of this and the following generations.

Siluma is a veteran journalist and host of Karibu on Kaya FM 95.9

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April 5 2020