June 11, 2013 § 15 Comments
Old people die because they are old not because they are sick. On January 27 2011, after Nelson Mandela’s hospitalization, he released the following statement, “I am not sick, I am old.”
His most recent hospitalization reminded me of old people within my family. My mother’s side of the family has been blessed with longevity. My grandfather, Alfred Kaiser Boyce, had four siblings, all of them died over the age of 85 bar one who lived a short life of 66 years. To the rest of her siblings, it was like she died a mere teenager. The oldest was 98 when she passed on, although I have even heard that she was 108 according to some accounts because there was no birth certificate. My grandfather was 87 when he finally made the curtain call.
I remember one of his siblings, Nofour Boyce (yes, that was her name), who got married into the Dandalas, who passed away at the ripe old age of 94, was old as far back as I can remember. She was always old, always had a walking stick, always wore glasses and her hair was always grey. She was never young in eyes.
My grandfather, Kaiser Boyce, would visit her every single day. They lived in the same village some 3 kilometers apart. They would sit on her veranda all day talking, sometimes my grandfather would leave in a huff and get on his horse because of some argument they might have had. Yet he’d be back the next day.
After his wife, Victoria Boyce, passed on, he’d get on one of his horses to visit his sister more frequently than before. More often than not, the horse he rode was Commando, his favourite one. I remember how mad he would get if he gave one of his horses to someone for one errand or another and it was returned with sweat stains. That always told him that whoever rode the horse rode it hard and didn’t much care for it. The culprit would never ever be given one of his horses ever again.
I was not in the village when he passed away a few years ago. He was in extreme pain from his illness for a long time. Seeing him in pain, pained us. It was as if pain was slowly taking life away from him every time he had to be rushed to hospital. When he eventually passed away, there was a sad relief that the pain had finally decided to give him rest.
Nofour was left alone when he died. Her husband had passed away in the early 70s. Perhaps my grandfather felt a brotherly responsibility towards his older sister. He was after all the only male out of all his siblings. As Xhosa culture dictates, he had to be the man of the house now.
Nofour Dandala became really lonely when Kaiser Boyce passed away. There was no one old enough to share the memories of old with. And she became very sickly. Every now and then she would be rushed to hospital after she turned 87. When she fell sick, she would ask the villagers to call a priest for her because she thought she was going to die. When the priest did eventually arrive she would chase him away.
As she advanced further in years, her memory started to fade and so did her eye sight, so much so that even the glasses did not seem to help. She began to forget her grandchildren too. Yet she never forgot me even though I was not one of her direct grandchildren, I was her brother’s grandchild. Perhaps that was because I’d visit her with my grandfather as a child.
One day while I was visiting her at the hospital in Johannesburg a few weeks before she passed away, she said to me, “You know my child, I realized my mind was not what it used to be when I asked for my brother a few years ago. I was angry because he had stopped visiting me. I was so mad at him. I wanted to know why. Then I was told that he had passed away, and that I had been at the funeral. I cannot tell you the pain I felt that day, missing my brother and realizing that my mind is also going. I know that it is time for me to go now to be with my siblings. When you are old and have no one, you just want to go because you are just tired.” A few days after that she stopped talking all together. My cousin and I would go to her bedside everyday and we’d joke amongst ourselves, every now and then, we’d see a faint smile through her closed eyes and through the pipe in her mouth.
Now, as Mandela has gone on another hospital trip, I wonder if he feels like my grandmother, or as we called her, uKhulu.
July 18, 2012 § 29 Comments
Originally appeared on my news24.com column on 2012-01-13 08:00
People like to say that Nelson Mandela is a sell-out. That he sold black people down the river. That he lived a cushy life in prison. That he turned soft in prison and decided to sell out. That he alone is to blame for the fact that black people are still talking about economic freedom today.
Saying that he sold out demonstrates a lot of people’s ignorance when it comes to the history of the ANC and the negotiation process. By claiming that he “sold out”, this crowd indirectly suggests that there was no ANC without him; that Mandela, in a miracle to rival the virgin birth, singlehandedly negotiated a free and democratic South Africa by himself. According to this heretical thinking, in the beginning was Mandela and the ANC. Through him all things were negotiated; without him, nothing that was negotiated was negotiated. These haters of Nelson Mandela do not realise that they have turned the man from a him into a Him. God. He is no God. As he said on the day of his release, “I am your servant, I am not your messiah and I am not your saviour.”
Often, those who want to raise him to the level of deity always praise him alone as though there were no other people involved in the peaceful transition. Even Mandela himself has said: “I must not be isolated from the collective who are responsible for the success.”
What about those who blame Mandela for the negotiations? Perhaps a history lesson is in order. Thabo Mbeki led the negotiations for the ANC and his deputy was Jacob Zuma. According to Mark Gevisser’s biography, Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, in the first week of August 1991, while Nelson Mandela was in Cuba, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma were in Cambridge, Cyril Ramaphosa convened the ANC’s National Working Committee (NWC) while the trio were out of the country. In that meeting, Zuma was replaced as head of ANC intelligence by Terror Lekota, “and Mbeki had been replaced as head of negotiations, by Ramaphosa himself”.
Mandela was livid upon hearing that Ramaphosa had Zuma and Mbeki replaced whilst the three of them were outside the country. Joe Slovo had lobbied hard to have Mbeki replaced by Ramaphosa as head of the negotiations team because he believed that “he was going to sell us out”.
If people want to blame someone then, they should blame Joe Slovo’s pick, Ramaphosa. But that would be just as outlandish and insanely ridiculous as blaming Mandela for the lack of economic freedom. How can we start blaming one man? No one worked in isolation. All decisions were made by the ANC’s executive. Only lazy thinking people will blame any single individual for the way things turned out. Blame the ruling party if you want to blame someone – but they had very limited choices.
“When you negotiate, you must be prepared to compromise.” Nelson Mandela.
There are some who say that he was a creation of the ANC. It is true that he was. The prisoners in Robben Island decided that he would be the one to represent their plight. In a PBS interview, Walter Sisulu said that Mandela was the best man to handle the situation.
Sisulu spoke about how the prison warders made the prisoners run when they were working at the quarry. According to Sisulu, one day, Mandela made a decision; it meant a great deal to all the prisoners when he suggested to them that they move slower than they ever had. That changed the situation because the warders didn’t know what to do. All of a sudden, the warders could no longer give them orders; they had to negotiate with them to get things done. That was the moment all the prisoners recognised his leadership.
It was for this reason that the ANC in exile decided to make him the face of the struggle against oppression. On the “creation of the Mandela myth”, Joe Matthews said: “I was one of those who worked out the policy.”
The people who knew him, like Oliver Tambo, held him in high esteem. Adelaide Tambo, Oliver’s wife, spoke about how her husband spoke about Mandela, “When Chief Luthuli was still president of the ANC, Nelson had made a speech – that speech sometimes appears on television…. And Oliver said to me, ‘This is the president of South Africa.’”
If people like Walter Sisulu, who knew Mdiba better than any of us ever will, can speak so glowingly about him, who are we to say some of the things we say about him? If Oliver Tambo, the most revered man in the ANC, could point to Nelson Mandela while Chief Albert Luthuli was still president of the ANC, and call him the president of South Africa who are we to say some of the things we say about him? On Christmas day in exile, Oliver Tambo would leave an empty chair at the head of the table. He would say that chair was for the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela and the other prisoners on Robben Island.
If we want to talk about selling out, then we should be honest. The only people who have sold out is us. The bravest thing we do is open our mouths and blame them while we enjoy the freedom they fought for. They played their part; now fix what you’re complaining about.
They have set a task for us. It is to make things increasingly perfect. As Mandela put it, “Freedom can never be taken for granted. Each generation must safeguard it and extend it. Your parents and elders sacrificed much so that you should have freedom without suffering what they did. Use this precious right to ensure that the darkness of the past never returns.”
September 5, 2011 § 5 Comments
“I have said it so often, but want to repeat it here at what must certainly be the last time that parliament will bend its own rules to allow me to address it: no President or Prime Minister in the history of this country can claim to have done more for the people and the country than has been achieved by President Thabo Mbeki.
He is a modest man and I know he would prefer that I do not sing his personal praises, but his achievement as President and national leader is the embodiment of what our nation is capable of. Public acknowledgement of his achievements is to affirm ourselves as a nation, to assert the confidence with which we face our national future
and conduct ourselves on the international stage.
Thank you, Mister President, for leading us with such vision and dedication to your task.
— The full quote by Nelson Mandela during a joint sitting of parliament to mark 10 years of democracy in South Africa, Monday 10 May 2004, Cape Town.
July 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
*originally made an appearance in the Cape Times on the 31st of January 2011 when Mandela was hospitalised.
The media feeding frenzy that went on the last week surrounding the rumours of the demise of Nelson Mandela was profoundly disturbing. I was not disturbed because I think the man is immortal. I call him a man because he is that – a man, and all that befalls any man must befall him too, for he is only but a man. He was born a mere man but when he dies he will die an immortal.
Unlike other men though, he has achieved immortality not by living forever, for he will not, but because of what he has achieved in his lifetime. He managed to fit in a hundred lifetimes in one. That is the true mark of his immortality.
The truth is Nelson Mandela will never die. Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo and countless other heroes who lived their lives for others. Yes, his human flaws will come flying when he eventually departs, just as some tried, unsuccessfully to tarnish those of the likes of Gandhi and MLK after they were deceased and could no longer defend themselves.
The world’s media descended upon Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg and waited to hear that Mandela was dead. It is as if they were hoping that he was dead so that they could have something big to break. The feeding frenzy made me wish for something I dreaded to wish. I wished that he would die in his sleep so that the circus we witnessed this past week doesn’t happen again.
I understand that many people complain about the media blackout. It is a legitimate cry nonetheless. I suspect though that the media would still have carried on with it’s frantic coverage even if the health concerns had been addressed timeously because the media is sceptical, as it should be.
It is time we left him alone. Mandela’s family gave him up to us for most of his life. The least we can do at this time is to give him back to them. They deserve him and we should at least give them that. The constant speculation deprives them of enjoying these last few months or years of his life with him.
Yes, he is the nation’s treasure, but he is also a husband, father, great grandfather and an uncle amongst other things. Yes we own him, let us not try to own his last moments, let his family do that. This is not Big Brother where we have to see every single detail of how he spends his last few moments before he is “evicted”. We will own him forever in history books, monuments and national holidays that will undoubtedly be made in his honour. I plead that we give his family space. Let’s not rob them again.
Of course we can wish him well and pray for his speedy recovery. Some are concerned that he will be a great loss to the nation if he dies. I don’t believe he will think that he is a great loss. What he would consider to be a loss is if we don’t fight against poverty, we stop the fight against AIDS. He would be devastated if South Africa were to return to a past he fought against. As he said during his trial, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
If these ideals are not upheld then it will be a great loss. And we as a nation would be a great disappointment for there is nothing improper about a single word he spoke on that day.
We have been blessed to have such a remarkable giant living in our lifetime. As great as it is to have him, it is a great pity that we had a society that made Nelson Mandela necessary.
June 27, 2011 § 1 Comment
*originally appeared on the Cape Times on 13 June 2006, two days after her funeral
One of the most moving moments for me at the funeral of Albertina Sisulu was the mourners spontaneously burst into song after Graca Machel read a message from Nelson Mandela who said that he would have loved to have been at the funeral but, “It would be too painful for me to watch you go.”
“The years have taken the toll on us, one-by-one friends and comrades have passed on and it feels like a part of oneself has been cut off.” He has lost many of his friends. He is seeing them pass one by one. “I want to bid farewell to a comrade and friend,” Machel read to the crowd. “You are part of my being, you and Walter…I want to express my deep gratitude to you.” This is why I think the crowds started singing about Mandela; they knew it wouldn’t be long before we miss him. When Albertina died, she was the same age as Mandela.
She never sought glory for her role in the struggle. Humility is a kind of genius. Albertina Sisulu was that kind of genius. At one point, her husband, children and a grandchild were all in prison for their fight against apartheid, yet through it all she never lost her dignity and hope in human beings. Today, many of her children and grandchildren are in public service. One could call her family the Kennedys of South Africa.
Many people solely want to associate her with the struggle against apartheid, but there is something far greater that she showed young South Africans. Love. The resilience of that cheesy insipidity thing called love. Walter and Albertina’s greatest story is their obvious and apparent love for each other. Considering how skeptical the youth are about love, the lesson we should take from the Sisulus is that love is possible under any trying circumstance.
Walter and Albertina were not just the heroes of the struggle, but they were also heroes of love. In our broken societies today there are no greater role models than these two. Perhaps that is their greatest contribution to a youth that is constantly growing cynical about love. They search for it even though they no longer believe in it. Whenever we hear the story, or we see the a picture of Makhulu Albertina Sisulu, she makes us believe in love again.
As a relatively young person, I think that it is sad that we seem to forget the heroes of the struggle. Some times we forget them whilst they are still alive. Sadly.
We are running out of true heroes whose sole purpose was to serve the people. As we run out of them, our cups runneth over with self-serving “servants” of the people. Men and women who believe that they liberated the country to line their pockets with money and power. Albertina Sisulu was not one of those people. She felt that her duty was to teach her children to contribute to the nation. The duty of every grateful South African is to look for ways in which to serve the country. Let not those who struggled, have struggled in vain.
I love heroes. And I don’t mean the TV series. What I love about our heroes is the fact that they were all so human. What I love about Makhulu Albertina is that she was never trying to be hero. She was just doing what was right. It was for the right to be with her husband whom she loved so much. It was to free a country and a people which she loved so much. It was never about her, it was always about love.
She was a midwife. She delivered many children, so it was only fitting that she would also deliver a whole nation. May her memory never diminish. May we remember her always. Her quite dignity does not mean we ought to be quite about what she did for the country. There is nothing quite about it, there is every reason for us to brag about it, despite her humility.
August 10, 2010 § 3 Comments
SPEECH OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS, NELSON MANDELA, AT THE FUNERAL OF THE NATIONAL CHAIRPERSON OF THE ANC, OLIVER REGINALD TAMBO.
JOHANNESBURG, MAY 2, 1993.
Master of Ceremonies,
Our dear Adelaide, Thembi, Dali, Tselane and the rest of the Tambo family,
Esteemed international dignitaries,
A great giant who strode the globe like a colossus has fallen.
A mind whose thoughts have opened the doors to our liberty has ceased to function.
A heart whose dreams gave hope to the despised has for ever lost its beat.
The gentle voice whose measured words of reason shook the thrones of tyrants has been silenced. Peoples of the world!
Here lies before you the body of a man who is tied to me by an umbilical cord which cannot be broken.
We say he has departed. But can we allow him to depart while we live!
Can we say Oliver Tambo is no more, while we walk this solid earth!
Oliver lived not because he could breathe.
He lived not because blood flowed through his veins.
Oliver lived not because he did all the things that all of us as ordinary men and women do.
Oliver lived because he had surrendered his very being to the people.
He lived because his very being embodied love, an idea, a hope, an aspiration, a vision.
While he lived, our minds would never quite formulate the thought that this man is other than what the naked eye could see.
We could sense it, but never crystallise the thought that with us was one of the few people who inhabited our own human environment, who could be described as the jewel in our crown.
I say that Oliver Tambo has not died, because the ideals for which he sacrificed his life can never die.
I say that Oliver Tambo has not died because the ideals of freedom, human dignity and a colour-blind respect for every individual cannot perish.
I say he has not died because there are many of us who became part of his soul and therefore willingly entered into a conspiracy with him, for the victory of his cause.
While the ANC lives, Oliver Tambo cannot die!
While Umkhonto we Sizwe exists, Oliver Tambo cannot die!
Oliver Tambo cannot die while his allies in the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions remain loyal to the common purpose.
O.R. cannot cease to be, while the millions of our people gather themselves into the democratic organisations that make up our own rainbow coalition.
O.R. cannot be consigned to the past, while those who are with us today from the rest of the world remain as they have been, opponents of the apartheid crime against humanity, proponents of the common vision of justice and peace, defenders of the right of the child, the man, the woman and the beast of the forest to live, to be free and to prosper.
We all know many who have killed in defence of oppression. But we also know that some of these have themselves been victims of oppression.
We know that black and white, across the globe – the Pole, the Greek, the Ethiopian, the Cuban, the Brazilian and the Eritrean, people of all nationalities, are all united in their opposition to apartheid and injustice.
While these exist, Oliver Tambo cannot perish.
Let he or she who dares, stand up and tell us that it will happen that, while humanity survives, it will come to pass that O.R. Tambo will cease to be.
All tyrants, whatever their colour and their shape and their garments, come today and are gone tomorrow. The people, the victims of their tyranny, live on.
All tyrannical systems, whatever the name they give themselves – nazism, colonialism, apartheid, racism are some of their names – all, without exception, come today and tomorrow are no more than a bad memory.
The opponents of tyranny –
the South African, Oliver Tambo,
the South African, Chris Hani,
the South African, Albert Luthuli,
the Indian. Indira Gandhi,
the Indian, Rajiv Gandhi,
the Grenadian, Maurice Bishop,
the Zimbabweans, Herbert Chitepo, Jason Moyo and Josiah Tongogara,
the Mozambican, Samora Machel,
the Swede. Olof Palme,
the Americans, Martin Luther King Jr, John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X,
the Angolan, Aghostino Neto,
the Guinean. Amilcar Cabral,
the Nigerian, Murtala Mohamed,
the Chilean, Salvador Allende,
the Ghanaian, Kwame Nkrumah,
the Egyptian, Abdul Gamal Nasser,
the Motswana, Seretse Khama,
the Swazi, King Sobhuza II,
the woman, the man, the son, the daughter, the unknown soldier, the nameless heroes and heroines for whom no songs of praise are sung
all of them continue, still, to speak to us because they live.
You set yourself a task which only the brave would dare. Somewhere in the mystery of your essence, you heard the call that you must devote your life to the creation of a new South African nation.
And having heard that call, you did not hesitate to act.
It may be that all of us – your dear wife, Adelaide, your children, those of us who are proud to count ourselves among your friends, your closest comrades – it may be that all of us will never be able to discover what it was in your essence which convinced you that you, and us, could, by our conscious and deliberate actions, so heal our fractured society that out of the terrible heritage, there could be born a nation.
All humanity knows what you had to do to create the conditions for all of us to reach this glorious end.
The are many who did not understand that to heal we had to lance the boil.
There are many who still do not understand that the obedient silence of the enslaved is not the reward of Peace which is our due.
There are some who cannot comprehend that the right to rebellion against tyranny is the very guarantee of the permanence of freedom.
We demand answers from all those who have set themselves up as your critics, but still dare to call themselves democrats.
We want to know – if life itself was threatened, as apartheid threatened the very existence of those who are black, was it not imperative that everything be done to end apartheid~ and if necessary by force of arms!
We want to know – if a crime against humanity was being perpetrated, as did the apartheid system, was it not necessary to ensure that the criminals were isolated and quarantined, and if necessary by the imposition of sanctions!
We want to know – if a social system was established whose central pillars were racial oppression and exploitation, such as the apartheid system was, would it not be correct that such a system be rendered unworkable and such a society ungovernable!
We want to know – when powerful, arrogant and brutal men deliberately close their ears to reason, and reply to the petitions of the dispossessed with the thunder of the guns, the crack of the whip and the rattle of the jail keys, is it not right to bring down the walls of Jericho!
Dear brother, dear friend, dear comrade:
You did all this and continued to maintain tolerance for your detractors and a healthy scorn for your enemies.
Today we stand watching the dawn of a new day.
We can see that we have it in our power to remake South Africa into what you wanted it to be – free, just, prosperous, at peace with itself and with the world.
Let all who value peace say together – long live Oliver Tambo!
Let all who love freedom say together – long live Oliver Tambo!
Let all who uphold the dignity of all human beings say together – long live Oliver Tambo!
Let all who stand for friendship among the peoples say together – long live Oliver Tambo!
Let all of us who live say that while we live, the ideals for which Oliver Tambo lived, sacrificed and died will not die!
Let all of us who live, say that while we live, Oliver Tambo will not die!
May he, for his part, rest in peace.
Go well, my brother and farewell, dear friend.
As you instructed, we will bring peace to our tormented land.
As you directed, we will bring freedom to the oppressed and liberation to the oppressor.
As you strived, we will restore the dignity of the dehumanised.
As you commanded, we will defend the option of a peaceful resolution of our problems.
As you prayed, we will respond to the cries of the wretched of the earth. As you loved them, we will, always, stretch out a hand of endearment to those who are your flesh and blood.
In all this, we will not fail you.
February 22, 2010 § 27 Comments
This is one of my favourite speeches by Thabo Mbeki as he addressed the dangers of the pursuit of wealth at all costs. The lecture was televised. I recall seeing Tokyo Sexwale smilling and shifting uncomfortably as Mbeki spoke.
*you can watch the video below if you want
I believe I know this as a matter of fact, that the great masses of our country everyday pray that the new South Africa that is being born will be a good, a moral, a humane and a caring South Africa, which, as it matures, will progressively guarantee the happiness of all its citizens.
I say this as I begin this Lecture to warn you about my intentions, which are about trying to convince you that because of the infancy of our brand new society, we have the possibility to act in ways that would, for the foreseeable future, infuse the values of Ubuntu into our very being as a people.
But what is it that constitutes Ubuntu – beyond the standard and yet correct rendition – Motho ke motho ka motho yo mongoe: Umuntu ngumuntu
The Book of Poverbs in the Holy Bible contains some injunctions that capture a number of elements of what I believe constitute important features of the
Spirit of Ubuntu, which we should strive to implant in the very bosom of the new South Africa that is being born – the food of the soul that would inspire all our people to say that they are proud to be South African!
The Proverbs say:
“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.
“Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm. Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.”
The Book of Proverbs assumes that as human beings, we have the human capacity to do as it says – not to withhold the good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of (our) hand to do it, and not to say NO to our neighbour, come again, and we will give you something tomorrow, even when we can give the necessary help today.
It assumes that we can be encouraged not to devise evil against our neighbours, with whom we otherwise live in harmony.
It assumes that we are capable of responding to the injunction that we should not declare war against anybody without cause, especially those who have not caused us any harm.
It urges that in our actions, we should not seek to emulate the demeanour of our oppressors, nor adopt their evil practices.
I am conscious of the fact that to the cynics, all this sounds truly like the behaviour we would expect and demand of angels. I am also certain that all of us are convinced that, most unfortunately, we would find it difficult to find such angels in our country, who would number more than the fingers on two hands!
It may indeed very well be that, as against coming across those we can honestly describe as good people, we would find it easier to identify not only evil-doers, but also those who intentionally set out to do evil. In this regard, we would not be an exception in terms both of time and space.
To illustrate what I am trying to say, I will take the liberty to quote words from the world of drama. I know of none of Shakespeare’s Tragedies, except Richard III, that begins with an open declaration of villainy by the very villain of the play.
This well-known play begins with an oration by the Duke of Gloucester, who later becomes King Richard III, in which he unashamedly declares his evil intentions, in these famous words:
“Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;…
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other…”
This open proclamation of evil intent stands in direct opposition to the directive in the Proverbs, which said, “Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.”
Surely, all this tells us the naked truth that the intention to do good, however noble in its purposes, does not guarantee that such good will be done.
Nevertheless we must ask ourselves the question whether this reality of the presence of many Richards III in our midst, dictates that we should, accordingly, avoid setting ourselves the goal to do good!
Many years ago now, Nelson Mandela made bold to say that our country needs an “RDP of the soul”, the Reconstruction and Development if its soul.
He made this call as our country, in the aftermath of our liberation in 1994, was immersed in an effort to understand the elements of the Reconstruction and
Development Programme that had constituted the core of the Election Manifesto of the ANC in our first democratic elections.
That RDP was eminently about changing the material conditions of the lives of our people. It made no reference to matters of the soul, except indirectly. For instance, the RDP document said:
“The RDP integrates (economic) growth, development, reconstruction and redistribution into a unified programme. The key to this link is an infrastructural programme that will provide access to modern and effective services like electricity, water, telecommunications, transport, health, education and training for all our people…This will lead to an increased output in all sectors of the economy, and by modernising our infrastructure and human resource development, we will also enhance export capacity. Success in linking reconstruction and development is essential if we are to achieve peace and security for all.”
All of these were, and remain critically important and eminently correct objectives that we must continue to pursue. Indeed, in every election since 1994, our contending parties have vied for the favours of our people on the basis of statistics that are about all these things.
All revolutions, which, by definition, seek to replace one social order with another, are, in the end, and in essence, concerned with human beings and the improvement of the human condition. This is also true of our Democratic Revolution of 1994.
Assuming this assertion to be true, we must also say that human fulfillment consists of more than “access to modern and effective services like electricity, water, telecommunications, transport, health, education and training for all our people”, to use the words in the RDP document.
As distinct from other species of the animal world, human beings also have spiritual needs. It might perhaps be more accurate and less arrogant to say that these needs are more elevated and have a more defining impact on human beings than they do on other citizens of the animal world.
Thus do all of us, and not merely the religious leaders, speak of the intangible element that is immanent in all human beings – the soul!
Acceptance of this proposition as a fact must necessarily mean that we have to accept the related assertion that, consequently, all human societies also have a soul!
To deny this would demand that we argue in a convincing manner, and therefore with all due logical coherence, that the fact that individual human beings might have a soul does not necessarily mean that the human societies they combine to constitute will themselves, in consequence, also have a soul!
I dare say that this would prove to be an impossible task. Nevertheless, we must accept that, as in the contrast provided by the Proverbs and Richard III, and with regard to the construction of a humane and caring society, we must accept that this entails a struggle, rather than any self-evident and inevitable victory of good over evil.
The question must therefore arise – for those among us who believe that we represent the good, what must we do to succeed in our purposes!
Since no human action takes place outside of established objective reality, and since we want to achieve our objectives, necessarily we must strive to understand the social conditions that would help to determine whether we succeed or fail.
What I have said relates directly to what needed and needs to be done to achieve the objective that Nelson Mandela set the nation, to accomplish the RDP of its soul.
In this regard, I will take the liberty to quote what I said in 1978 in a Lecture delivered in Canada, reflecting on the formation of South African society, which was later reproduced in the ANC journal, “Sechaba”, under the title “The Historical Injustice”.
“The historic compromise of 1910 has therefore this significance that in granting the vanquished Boer equal political and social status with the British victor, it imposed on both the duty to defend the status quo against especially those whom that status quo defined as the dominated. The capitalist class, to whom everything has a cash value, has never considered moral incentives as very dependable. As part of the arrangement, it therefore decided that material incentives must play a prominent part.
“It consequently bought out the whole white population. It offered a price to the white workers and the Afrikaner farmers in exchange for an undertaking that they would shed their blood in defence of capital. Both worker and farmer, like Faustus, took the devil’s offering and, like Faustus, they will have to pay on the appointed day.
“The workers took the offering in monthly cash grants and reserved jobs. The farmers took their share by having black labour, including and especially prison labour directed to the farms. They also took it in the form of huge subsidies and loans to help them maintain a ‘civilised standard of living’.”
Of relevance to our purposes this evening, the critical point conveyed in these paragraphs is that, within the context of the development of capitalism in our country, individual acquisition of material wealth, produced through the oppression and exploitation of the black majority, became the defining social value in the organisation of white society.
Because the white minority was the dominant social force in our country, it entrenched in our society as a whole, including among the oppressed, the deep- seated understanding that personal wealth constituted the only true measure of individual and social success.
As we achieved our freedom in 1994, this had become the dominant social value, affecting the entirety of our population. Inevitably, as an established social norm, this manifested itself even in the democratic state machinery that had, seemingly “seamlessly”, replaced the apartheid state machinery.
I am arguing that the new order, born of the victory in 1994, inherited a well-entrenched value system that placed individual acquisition of wealth at the very centre of the value system of our society as a whole.
In practice this meant that, provided this did not threaten overt social disorder, society assumed a tolerant or permissive attitude towards such crimes as theft and corruption, especially if these related to public property.
The phenomenon we are describing, which we considered as particularly South African, was in fact symptomatic of the capitalist system in all countries. It had been analysed by all serious commentators on the capitalist political-economy, including such early analysts as Adam Smith.
Specifically, in this regard, we are speaking of the observations made by the political-economists that, since the onset of capitalism in England, the values of the capitalist market, of individual profit maximisation, had tended to displace the values of human solidarity.
In despair at this development, R. H. Tawney wrote in his famous book, “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism”:
“To argue, in the manner of Machiavelli, that there is one rule for business and another for private life, is to open the door to an orgy of unscrupulousness before which the mind recoils…(Yet) granted that I should love my neighbour as myself, the questions which, under modern conditions of large-scale (economic) organisation, remain for solution are, Who precisely is my neighbour? And, How exactly am I to make my love for him effective in practice?
“To these questions the conventional religious teaching supplied no answer, for it had not even realised that they could be put…Religion had not yet learned to console itself for the practical difficulty of applying its moral principles, by clasping the comfortable formula that for the transactions of economic life no moral principles exist.”
In his well known book, “The Great Transformation”, in a Chapter headed “Market and Man”, Karl Polanyi went on to say:
“To separate labour from other activities of life and to subject it to the laws of the market was to annihilate all organic forms of existence and to replace them by a different type of organisation, an atomistic and individualist one.
“Such a scheme of destruction was best served by the application of the principle of freedom of contract. In practice this meant that the non- contractual organisations of kinship, neighbourhood, profession, and creed were to be liquidated since they claimed the allegiance of the individual and thus restrained his freedom.
“To represent this principle as one of non- interference, as economic liberals were wont to do, was merely the expression of an ingrained prejudice in favour of a definite kind of interference, namely, such as would destroy non-contractual relations between individuals and prevent the spontaneous reformation.”
In a Foreword to a recent edition of this book, Joseph Stiglitz says: “Polanyi stresses a particular defect in the self-regulating economy that only recently has been brought back into discussion. It involves the relationship between the economy and society, with how economic systems, or reforms, can affect how individuals relate to one another. Again, as the importance of social relations has increasingly become recognised, the vocabulary has changed. We now talk, for instance, about social capital.”
With reference to this Lecture, the central point made by Polanyi is that the capitalist market destroys relations of “kinship, neighbourhood, profession, and creed”, replacing these with the pursuit of personal wealth by citizens who, as he says, have become “atomistic and individualistic.”
Thus, everyday, and during every hour of our time beyond sleep, the demons embedded in our society, that stalk us at every minute, seem always to beckon each one of us towards a realizable dream and nightmare. With every passing second, they advise, with rhythmic and hypnotic regularity – get rich! get rich! get rich!
And thus has it come about that many of us accept that our common natural instinct to escape from poverty is but the other side of the same coin on whose reverse side are written the words – at all costs, get rich!
In these circumstances, personal wealth, and the public communication of the message that we are people of wealth, becomes, at the same time, the means by which we communicate the message that we are worthy citizens of our community, the very exemplars of what defines the product of a liberated
This peculiar striving produces the particular result that manifestations of wealth, defined in specific ways, determine the individuality of each one of us who seeks to achieve happiness and self-fulfilment, given the liberty that the revolution of 1994 brought to all of us.
In these circumstances, the meaning of freedom has come to be defined not by the seemingly ethereal and therefore intangible gift of liberty, but by the designer labels on the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the spaciousness of our houses and our yards, their geographic location, the company we keep, and what we do as part of that company.
In the event that what I have said has come across as a meaningless ramble, let me state what I have been saying more directly.
It is perfectly obvious that many in our society, having absorbed the value system of the capitalist market, have come to the conclusion that, for them, personal success and fulfilment means personal enrichment at all costs, and the most theatrical and striking public display of that wealth.
What this means is that many in our society have come to accept that what is socially correct is not the proverbial expression – “manners maketh the man” – but the notion that each one of us is as excellent a human being as our demonstrated wealth suggests!
On previous occasions, I have cited statements made by the well-known financier, George Soros, which directly confront the crisis to social cohesion and human solidarity caused by what I have sought to address – the elevation of the profit motive and the personal acquisition of wealth as the principal and guiding objectives in the construction of modern societies, including our own.
With your permission, and because it is relevant to what I am trying to communicate, I will take the liberty to quote this paragraph once again, believing that it resonates with a particular sense of honesty, because it emanates from one of the iconic figures of late 20th century capitalism.
Among other things, George Soros said that in an earlier epoch, “People were guided by a set of moral principles that found expression in behaviour outside the scope of the market mechanism…
“Unsure of what they stand for, people increasingly rely on money as the criterion of value. What is more expensive is considered better…People deserve respect and admiration because they are rich. What used to be a medium of exchange has usurped the place of fundamental values, reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory. What used to be professions have turned into businesses. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles. Society has lost its anchor…
“The laissez-faire argument against income redistribution invokes the doctrine of the survival of the fittest…There is something wrong with making the survival of the fittest a guiding principle of civilised society…Cooperation is as much a part of the (economic) system as competition, and the slogan ‘survival of the fittest’ distorts this fact…
“I blame the prevailing attitude, which holds that the unhampered pursuit of self-interest will bring abou tan eventual international equilibrium (in the world economy).”
(All quotations from: George Soros: “The Capitalist
Threat”. The Atlantic Monthly, February 1997.)
The critical concern that George Soros has expressed is what he describes as “market fundamentalism”, the dominance and precedence of the capitalist motive of private profit maximisation, which has evolved into the central objective that informs the construction of modern human society in all its elements.
Nothing can come out of this except the destruction of human society, resulting from the atomisation of society into an agglomeration of individuals who pursue mutually antagonistic materialist goals.
Necessarily, and inevitably, this cannot but negate social cohesion and mutually beneficial human solidarity, and therefore the most fundamental condition of the existence of all human beings, namely, the mutually interdependent human relationships without which the individual human being cannot exist.
I am arguing that, whatever the benefit to any individual member of our nation, including all those present in this hall, we nevertheless share a fundamental objective to defeat the tendency in our society towards the deification of personal wealth as the distinguishing feature of the new citizen of the new South Africa.
With some trepidation, advisedly assuming that there is the allotted proportion of hardened cynics present here this evening, I will nevertheless make bold to quote an ancient text, which reads, in Old English:
“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
“How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.”
I know that given the level of education of our audience this evening, the overwhelming majority among us will know that I have extracted the passages I have quoted from the Book of Proverbs contained in the St James’ edition of the Holy Bible.
It may be that the scepticism of our age has dulled our collective and individual sensitivity to the messages of this Book of Faith and all the messages that it seeks to convey to all of us.
In this regard, I know that I have not served the purposes of this Book well, by exploiting the possibility it provides, to say to you and everybody else who might be listening – “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise…”
Everyday, the ant, one of the smallest inhabitants of our common animal world, goes about her ways in search of sustenance, depending on nature’s harvest in all seasons, as well as her own little ways, to provide her with meat in the hot summer months.
To consider her ways means that we too, who unknowingly squash to death the miniscule pygmies of the world, as we tread the common earth as giants of the universe, means that we must develop the wisdom that will ensure the survival and cohesion of human society.
It assumes that we have the humility to understand that “a little folding of the hands to sleep”, travel and service in the defence of the nation, might impoverish us by depriving us of our regular meals, but simultaneously make us “happy (as) the man that (finds) wisdom, and the man that (gets) understanding.”
It would be dishonest of me not to assume that what I have cited from the Book of Proverbs will, at best, evoke literary interest, and, at worst, a minor theological controversy.
My own view is that the Proverbs raise important issues that bear on what our nation is trying to do to define the soul of the new South Africa.
I believe they communicate a challenging message about how we should respond to the situation immanent in our society concerning the adulation of personal wealth, and the attendant tendency to pay little practical regard to what each one of us might do to assist our neighbour to achieve the goal of a better life.
I must also accept that many among us might very well think that, like the proverbial King Canute, I am trying to wish away the waves of self-aggrandisement that might be characteristic of global human society.
To return to the Holy Bible, the Book of Genesis says, “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return”. (Genesis 3:19).
This Biblical text suggests that of critical importance to every South African is consideration of the material conditions of life, and therefore the attendant pursuit of personal wealth. After all, what interpretation should be attached to the statementthat “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread”!
Perhaps strangely, this could be said to coincideexactly with a fundamental proposition advanced by the founders of Marxism, expressed by Friederich Engels at the funeral of Karl Marx in the followingwords:
“Just as Darwin discovered the law of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.”
Putting all this in more dramatic language, Marx had said: “Man must eat before he can think”! In this regard, Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, said: “Before we perceive, we breathe: we cannot exist without air, food and drink”.
In the context of this Lecture, and what we will say later, we must state that Marx and Engels represented a particular point of view in the evolution of the discipline of philosophy, and were not asserting any love for the private accumulation of wealth. They were “materialists”, who were militantly opposed to another philosophical tendency described as “idealism”.
One of the most famous expressions of this “idealism” was stated by the French scholar and philosopher, Rene Descartes, who wrote, in Latin: “Cogito, ergo sum.” (“I think, therefore I am”, and, in the original French rendition, “Je pense, donc je suis”.)
In the context of our own challenges, this “idealism” must serve to focus our attention on issues other than the tasks of the production and distribution of material wealth.
The philosophers in our ranks will have to engage the old debate of the relationship between mind and matter expressed in the statements, “Man must eat before he can think.”!, and “I think, therefore I am.”
I am certain that our country’s philosopher- theologians will continue to be interested in these discussions. After all, some of the earliest expression of “idealism”, as a philosophical expression, is also contained in the Holy Bible.
In this regard, for instance, St John’s Gospel says: “In the beginning was the Word…”
I am certain that many in this auditorium have been asking themselves the question why I have referred so insistently on the Christian Holy Scriptures. Let me explain.
I believe that it is obvious to all of us that economic news and our economic challenges have come to occupy a central element of our daily diet of information.
Matters relating to such important issues as unemployment and job creation, disbursements from the national budget and expenditures on such items of education, health, welfare and transport, the economic growth rate, the balance between our imports and exports, the value of the Rand, skills development, broad based black economic empowerment, and the development of the “second economy”, have all become part of our daily discourse.
Nevertheless the old intellectual debate between “materialists” and “idealists”, whatever side we take in this regard, must tell us that human life is about more than the economy, and therefore material considerations.
I believe that as a nation we must make a special effort to understand and act on this, because of what I have said already, that personal pursuit of material gain, as the beginning and end of our life purpose, is already beginning to corrode our social and national cohesion.
Clearly, what this means is that when we talk of a better life for all, within the context of a shared sense of national unity and national reconciliation, we must look beyond the undoubtedly correct economic objectives our nation has set itself.
In this context, I must say that, most unfortunately, there is much trouble in the world. Much too regularly all of us are exposed, daily, to news of human-made conflict and death, and the disasters caused by poverty and natural disasters.
In reality I must confess that I have hardly ever heard of conflicts caused merely by low economic growth rates, currency movements and balance of payments problems, except to the extent that these produce a crisis in society.
Currently, none of us can avoid being extremely concerned about what is happening in the Middle East. What is happening in this region constitutes a tinder box that has the potential to set the whole world aflame. As a country and people, we surely know that the highly negative events in the Middle
East are of direct and immediate concern to us.
It seems tragically clear that here we are confronted with an impending catastrophe that is almost out of control. Nothing that has been done and said during this period of high crisis that has produced the necessary agreement which would pull humanity back from the brink of an escalating conflict that can only feed on itself, leading to a further fanning of the terrible fires that already seem to be burning out of control.
In this regard we must pose the question whether, even in the medium term, we are not ineluctably progressing towards the situation when the centre cannot hold. I refer here not only to the serious problems in the Middle East but to the phenomenon of social conflict everywhere else in the world.
As Europe and the world sowed the seeds for the catastrophe later represented by the Second World War as in a Greek tragedy, the eminent Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, like other European thinkers, sounded alarm bells that nobody seemed to hear.
What he said survives today as outstanding poetry. Hopefully, the warning he sounded so many decades ago will be heard today, so that, by our acts of commission and omission, we do not condemn humanity to an age of extreme misery and death that could have been avoided.
In an appeal to the Muses, when all else seems to be failing, I take this opportunity humbly to summon from the grave an extraordinary human mind, to inspire the living to focus on the dangers ahead, and strive to ensure that, emanating from Jerusalem, the acre of the fountain of many faiths, no monstrous beast slouches out of Bethlehem to be born!
Thus do I appeal that all of us, the mighty and the lowly, hear the words of the poet not only with our ears, but also with our minds and our hearts, as he spoke of “The Second Coming”!
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand…
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds…
…but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at
last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I believe that for us to ensure that things do not fall apart, we must, in the first instance, never allow that the market should be the principal determinant of the nature of our society. We should firmly oppose the “market fundamentalism” which George Soros has denounced as the force that has led society to lose its anchor.
Instead, we must place at the centre of our daily activities the pursuit of the goals of social cohesion and human solidarity. We must, therefore, strive to integrate into the national consciousness the value system contained in the world outlook described as Ubuntu.
We must therefore constantly ask ourselves the question – what is it in our country that militates against social cohesion and human solidarity? I believe that none of us present here tonight would have any difficulty in answering this question.
I am therefore certain that we would all agree that to achieve the social cohesion and human solidarity we seek, we must vigorously confront the legacy of poverty, racism and sexism. At the same time, we must persist in our efforts to achieve national reconciliation.
Mere reliance on the market would never help us to achieve these outcomes. Indeed, if we were to rely on the market to produce these results, what would happen would be the exacerbation of the deep- seated problems of poverty, racism and sexism and a retreat from the realisation of the objective of national reconciliation.
Then indeed would we open the door to the demons that W.B. Yeats saw slouching towards Bethlehem to be born – emerging from the situation where the centre could not hold, in which mere anarchy would be loosed upon the world.
We must therefore say that the Biblical injunction is surely correct, that “Man cannot live by bread alone”, and therefore that the mere pursuit of individual wealth can never satisfy the need immanent in all human beings to lead lives of happiness.
The conflicts we see today and have seen in many parts of the world should themselves communicate the daily message to us that the construction of cohesive human society concerns much more than the attainment of high economic growth rates, important as this objective is.
As we agonise over the unnecessary killings of innocent people and the destruction of much- needed infrastructure in Iraq and Palestine, in Lebanon and Israel, we have to ensure that we do not slide into an era when the falcon cannot hear the falconer, when things fall apart and the centre cannot hold.
Indeed, as we, South Africans, grapple with our own challenges, billions of the poor and the marginalised across the globe see the world ever evolving into a more sinister, cold and bitter place: this is the world that is gradually defined by increasing racism, xenophobia, ethnic animosity, religious conflicts, and the scourge of terrorism.
In this context, we have seen the rise of rightwing formations, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance in France, Germany, Holland, Russia and many other European countries. This, in part, is a reaction to the relentless development of complex and varied forms that societies are ineluctably assuming due to the processes of globalisation.
It nevertheless also points to the absence of an integrative thrust – some reconciler – the institutionalised processes that would end the sense of alienation and marginalisation that leads to social conflict.
Indeed even in these developed societies, rising levels of poverty and insecurity have invariably conspired to fertilise the ground from which germinates ignorance about the ‘other’, and portend a bleak future for the prospect of what has been called a dialogue among civilisations.
In many European countries, immigration from the South is seen as an intrusive force that is bound to create ‘impurities’ in local cultures and in many instances, put a burden on available resources. In this regard, I am certain that all of us have been dismayed to see the way in which many in Europe have responded to the African economic migrants, who daily risk their lives to escape the grinding poverty in our own African countries.
Fortunately, in our case, I would say that our nation has begun to exhibit many critical common features deriving from a unified vision of a society based on non-racialism, non-sexism, shared prosperity, and peace and stability. Yet, at the same time, we still display strong traits of our divided past, with the debate about our future quite often coalescing along definite racial lines.
Despite this, and despite the advances we have made in our 12 years of freedom, we must also recognise the reality that we still have a long way to go before we can say we have eradicated the embedded impulses that militate against social cohesion, human solidarity and national reconciliation.
We should never allow ourselves the dangerous luxury of complacency, believing that we are immune to the conflicts that we see and have seen in so many parts of the world.
At the very same time as a ray of hope shone over our country and continent with the liberation of our country in 1994, and as you, Madiba, declared to the world that “the sun shall never set on so glorious a day”, our fellow Africans, the Rwandese people, engulfed in a horrific genocide, lamented in unison that: ‘the angels have left us’.
In a Foreword to the book of the same name, Archbishop Tutu said: “When we come face to face with ghastly atrocities we are appalled and want to ask: ‘But what happened to these people that they have acted in this manner? What happened to their humanity that they should become inhumane?’
“…Yes we hang our heads in shame as we witness our extraordinary capacity to be vicious, cruel and almost devoid of humanness.”
The imperative we face is that we should never permit that our country should witness the actions devoid of humanness of which Archbishop Tutu spoke, some of which were a feature of our long years of colonialism and apartheid.
Indeed, in a world that still suffers from the blight of intolerance, wars, antagonistic conflicts, racism, tribalism and marginalisation, national reconciliation and reconciliation among the nations, will remain a challenge that must occupy the entire human race continuously.
In our case we should say that we are fortunate that we had a Nelson Mandela who made bold to give us the task to attend to the “RDP of the soul”, and lent his considerable weight to the achievement of the goal of national reconciliation and the achievement of the goal of a better life for all our people.
Ten years ago, Madiba travelled to the Republic of Congo to assist the people of the then Zaire, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo, to make peace among themselves. In this regard, he was conscious of the task we share as Africans to end the conflicts on our Continent, many of which are driven by the failure to effect the RDP of the African soul, to uphold the principles of Ubuntu, consciously to strive for social cohesion, human solidarity and national reconciliation.
Tomorrow the people of the DRC will go to the polls to elect their President and Members of the National Assembly. Everything points to the happy outcome that these democratic elections, the first in more that 40 years, will produce a result that truly reflects the will of the people of the DRC.
We must therefore say that we have arrived at a proud moment of hope for the DRC and Africa, and wish the sister people of the DRC unqualified success.
Yes, the Middle East is engulfed in flames that are devouring many people in this region, and cause enormous pain to ourselves as well. But this we can also say, difficult as it may be for some fully to accept, what the people of the DRC have done and will do, is also helping to define a world of hope, radically different from the universe of despair which seems to imprison the sister peoples of the Middle East.
I can think of no better birthday present for Madiba than tomorrow’s elections in the DRC, and no better tribute to the initiative he took 10 years ago to plead with the leaders of the Congolese people that together, as Africans, we must build a society based on the noble precept that – Motho ke motho ka motho yo mongoe: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu!
Once again, happy birthday Madiba!
February 5, 2010 § Leave a comment
Julius Malema said that President Jacob Zuma is “our father”, I must admit, I half expected him to complete the statement by saying “who art in heaven”. Let’s face it, the president has never done anything wrong in the history of his existence according to the Youth League and the ANC. St Zuma is saintlier than Mandela. A man who repeatedly said he wasn’t a saint, let alone a messiah. Zuma on the other hand, very few see him as one, yet the ANC likes to present him as one. I know he has never claimed to be one. The ANC seems to have sanctified and raised him to the level of a deity. Maybe we should expect to see government offices adorned with his face in stained glass windows beaming upon us. He is infallible. Every indefensible action is defended. The public and the press are publicly ridiculed for questioning the questionable. He is beyond reproach. Again, not according to him but by those who surround him. The president has said nothing to refute implied sanctification.
When he married his third wife I did not see what the big deal was all about. Let the man have his three mothers-in-law I said. It was his democratic right. Some of us applauded him for his honesty, he sees a woman he likes, he marries her. That was admirable. That was until we found out that he had fathered a 20th child according to reports, out of wedlock. Many people have children out of wedlock. There are such people within my family.
Then the ANC tells us we are being disrespectful for asking questions. Excuse me? They tell us it is a private matter. This does not work for us. Since the taxpayers pay for his wives. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States and upon arriving in Washington before his inauguration, he said, “the truth is, I suppose I am now public property”. I know fully well that many will give the easy and lazy answer “this is not America”. Of course it’s not. The fact of the matter is that he was put in office by the public. The public foots his bills. The public pays for his spouses. Therefore the public has the right to know, especially considering what an expensive affair this will be for it. As much as the ANC would like to keep him an ANC matter, he is more than a simple ANC matter, he belongs to us, the public. Whether some of the public like him or not, he is theirs. He is a property of the state. We are concerned for his health, his well-being and how he represents us before the world’s stage.
According to News24: “The state will contribute an amount equal to 17% of his salary to a pension fund and will pay two thirds of his medical-aid contribution covering his family. He will also be insured by the state for accident and life cover. When he travels on official business, he may be accompanied by his spouses — (the handbook makes allowance for spouses in a polygamous marriage) and those dependent children who cannot remain at home are entitled to accommodation and subsistence at the expense of the state. The same arrangement applies to travel abroad.” If this is what we pay for then we have the right to know. There is nothing disrespectful about wanting find out what one is paying for.
Everyone celebrates when a child is born. It is a beautiful and good thing and adds incalculable joy to the parents. Having read the president’s statement I get the feeling that he is blaming us for having had unprotected sex with a woman who is not his wife. All of a sudden, if we talk about this issue we are questioning the right of the child to exist. Not at all, we are questioning the apology you made after the rape trial (in which he was exonerated) when you apologised for having had unprotected sex. Of course we appreciate the fact that he is taking responsibility for the child, but then again, he is supposed to take responsibility.
The birth of this child is only a reflection of a lot of men in South Africa. Men who are married and father children with other women. My own father fathered a child with another woman even though he was married to my mother. Clearly, the president is a reflection of what is happening within our society. One would expect that he would try to change this, if not, at least pretend to. Having unprotected sex with a woman who is not his wife is not sending out a positive signal to the rest of our men — particularly after he apologised a few years ago for even more dangerous behaviour, unprotected sex with a woman he knew was HIV-positive at the time. Unfortunately when it comes to his partners and sex this will follow him forever — just like Zapiro’s shower. He is a clear indication of what is wrong and broken with many men in our country. Young men have few positive role models and the president is not helping. By all intents and purposes, even though he has three wives, one can’t shake the feeling that he still cheats on his three wives. That’s what this implied.
It is a pity that we rarely debate policy positions. It’s as though he were a celebrity of sorts, not a head of state. One wonders if the press should be blamed or he should be blamed for putting himself in positions where he is treated like a celebrity. He is in danger of being a celebrity president, where his contribution to the liberation of the country is but a footnote in the books of history. Does the president want to be known for everything else other than the instrumental achievements before the 2000nds? Will he be asked about his child out of wedlock and having unprotected sex after he apologised for it when he is in Davos again? Why can’t the ANC demand discipline from the president?
The best thing about the ANC is the worst thing about it. Loyalty. Loyalty at all costs it seems. The ANC’s relativism when it comes to defending its leaders is disturbing. Senior leaders are always defended even though it is clear that they are in the wrong. I’m not suggesting that people should be thrown under the bus, recognise that something is wrong, correct it and move on. The sooner you do so in public the sooner the irrelevant headlines will disappear.
This begs the question, where does loyalty lie? Is it to party first, then to nation? Or is it because the party is so powerful that the perception is that the ANC is in fact the nation? If that is the view, doesn’t the party fall into the trap of arrogance and a sense that it can do no wrong because it is the sole party that is in fact looking after the needs of the people? The ANC needs to stop running like it is still in exile, still a banned organisation. The symptoms of a secret organisation are still alive.
The problem I have with ANC is the same one Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu had while Nelson Mandela was president. He’d said that the ANC had “stopped the gravy train long enough for it to get on it” a few months into the Mandela presidency. Madiba reprimanded him on TV for this. A few weeks later Tutu was on the phone with him and said “for goodness sake, how come you can shout at me like that in public”, Mandela laughed according to Tutu.
In conclusion, I would like to agree wholeheartedly with Tutu’s words when he said: “There are those of them who don’t actually recognise people who are basically on their side, who are critical, not because we want to see them fail. It is precisely the opposite. It is to say we want to see you succeed and that is why we mention these things … there are those who are becoming … I would say dangerously hypersensitive.”
June 18, 2009 § 85 Comments
Today, the June 18 is former president Thabo Mbeki’s birthday. Perhaps it would be prudent to famaliarise ourselves with his great speech, “I am an African”.
On 8 May 1996, then deputy president Thabo Mbeki made a speech to the people of Africa and the world. The speech tells of President Mbeki’s belief in the capacity of all people from Africa.
“On an occasion such as this, we should, perhaps, start from the beginning.
So, let me begin.
I am an African.
I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.
My body has frozen in our frosts and in our latter day snows. It has thawed in the warmth of our sunshine and melted in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightening, have been a cause both of trembling and of hope.
The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant to us as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of the veld.
The dramatic shapes of the Drakensberg, the soil-coloured waters of the Lekoa, iGqili noThukela, and the sands of the Kgalagadi, have all been panels of the set on the natural stage on which we act out the foolish deeds of the theatre of our day.
At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito.
A human presence among all these, a feature on the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare challenge me when I say – I am an African!
I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape – they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and dependence and they who, as a people, perished in the result.
Today, as a country, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live, fearful to admit the horror of a former deed, seeking to obliterate from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again.
I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still, part of me.
In my veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves who came from the East. Their proud dignity informs my bearing, their culture a part of my essence. The stripes they bore on their bodies from the lash of the slave master are a reminder embossed on my consciousness of what should not be done.
I am the grandchild of the warrior men and women that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led, the patriots that Cetshwayo and Mphephu took to battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane taught never to dishonour the cause of freedom.
My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by the victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert.
I am the grandchild who lays fresh flowers on the Boer graves at St Helena and the Bahamas, who sees in the mind’s eye and suffers the suffering of a simple peasant folk, death, concentration camps, destroyed homesteads, a dream in ruins.
I am the child of Nongqause. I am he who made it possible to trade in the world markets in diamonds, in gold, in the same food for which my stomach yearns.
I come of those who were transported from India and China, whose being resided in the fact, solely, that they were able to provide physical labour, who taught me that we could both be at home and be foreign, who taught me that human existence itself demanded that freedom was a necessary condition for that human existence.
Being part of all these people, and in the knowledge that none dare contest that assertion, I shall claim that – I am an African.
I have seen our country torn asunder as these, all of whom are my people, engaged one another in a titanic battle, the one redress a wrong that had been caused by one to another and the other, to defend the indefensible.
I have seen what happens when one person has superiority of force over another, when the stronger appropriate to themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created all men and women in His image.
I know what if signifies when race and colour are used to determine who is human and who, sub-human.
I have seen the destruction of all sense of self-esteem, the consequent striving to be what one is not, simply to acquire some of the benefits which those who had improved themselves as masters had ensured that they enjoy.
I have experience of the situation in which race and colour is used to enrich some and impoverish the rest.
I have seen the corruption of minds and souls in the pursuit of an ignoble effort to perpetrate a veritable crime against humanity.
I have seen concrete expression of the denial of the dignity of a human being emanating from the conscious, systemic and systematic oppressive and repressive activities of other human beings.
There the victims parade with no mask to hide the brutish reality – the beggars, the prostitutes, the street children, those who seek solace in substance abuse, those who have to steal to assuage hunger, those who have to lose their sanity because to be sane is to invite pain.
Perhaps the worst among these, who are my people, are those who have learnt to kill for a wage. To these the extent of death is directly proportional to their personal welfare.
And so, like pawns in the service of demented souls, they kill in furtherance of the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal. They murder the innocent in the taxi wars.
They kill slowly or quickly in order to make profits from the illegal trade in narcotics. They are available for hire when husband wants to murder wife and wife, husband.
Among us prowl the products of our immoral and amoral past – killers who have no sense of the worth of human life, rapists who have absolute disdain for the women of our country, animals who would seek to benefit from the vulnerability of the children, the disabled and the old, the rapacious who brook no obstacle in their quest for self-enrichment.
All this I know and know to be true because I am an African!
Because of that, I am also able to state this fundamental truth that I am born of a people who are heroes and heroines.
I am born of a people who would not tolerate oppression.
I am of a nation that would not allow that fear of death, torture, imprisonment, exile or persecution should result in the perpetuation of injustice.
The great masses who are our mother and father will not permit that the behaviour of the few results in the description of our country and people as barbaric.
Patient because history is on their side, these masses do not despair because today the weather is bad. Nor do they turn triumphalist when, tomorrow, the sun shines.
Whatever the circumstances they have lived through and because of that experience, they are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be.
We are assembled here today to mark their victory in acquiring and exercising their right to formulate their own definition of what it means to be African.
The constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes and unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender of historical origins.
It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
It gives concrete expression to the sentiment we share as Africans, and will defend to the death, that the people shall govern.
It recognises the fact that the dignity of the individual is both an objective which society must pursue, and is a goal which cannot be separated from the material well-being of that individual.
It seeks to create the situation in which all our people shall be free from fear, including the fear of the oppression of one national group by another, the fear of the disempowerment of one social echelon by another, the fear of the use of state power to deny anybody their fundamental human rights and the fear of tyranny.
It aims to open the doors so that those who were disadvantaged can assume their place in society as equals with their fellow human beings without regard to colour, race, gender, age or geographic dispersal.
It provides the opportunity to enable each one and all to state their views, promote them, strive for their implementation in the process of governance without fear that a contrary view will be met with repression.
It creates a law-governed society which shall be inimical to arbitrary rule.
It enables the resolution of conflicts by peaceful means rather than resort to force.
It rejoices in the diversity of our people and creates the space for all of us voluntarily to define ourselves as one people.
As an African, this is an achievement of which I am proud, proud without reservation and proud without any feeling of conceit.
Our sense of elevation at this moment also derives from the fact that this magnificent product is the unique creation of African hands and African minds.
Bit it is also constitutes a tribute to our loss of vanity that we could, despite the temptation to treat ourselves as an exceptional fragment of humanity, draw on the accumulated experience and wisdom of all humankind, to define for ourselves what we want to be.
Together with the best in the world, we too are prone to pettiness, petulance, selfishness and short-sightedness.
But it seems to have happened that we looked at ourselves and said the time had come that we make a super-human effort to be other than human, to respond to the call to create for ourselves a glorious future, to remind ourselves of the Latin saying: Gloria est consequenda – Glory must be sought after!
Today it feels good to be an African.
It feels good that I can stand here as a South African and as a foot soldier of a titanic African army, the African National Congress, to say to all the parties represented here, to the millions who made an input into the processes we are concluding, to our outstanding compatriots who have presided over the birth of our founding document, to the negotiators who pitted their wits one against the other, to the unseen stars who shone unseen as the management and administration of the Constitutional Assembly, the advisers, experts and publicists, to the mass communication media, to our friends across the globe – congratulations and well done!
I am an African.
I am born of the peoples of the continent of Africa.
The pain of the violent conflict that the peoples of Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, Burundi and Algeria is a pain I also bear.
The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of my continent is a blight that we share.
The blight on our happiness that derives from this and from our drift to the periphery of the ordering of human affairs leaves us in a persistent shadow of despair.
This is a savage road to which nobody should be condemned.
This thing that we have done today, in this small corner of a great continent that has contributed so decisively to the evolution of humanity says that Africa reaffirms that she is continuing her rise from the ashes.
Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can stop us now!
Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace!
However improbable it may sound to the sceptics, Africa will prosper!
Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say – nothing can stop us now!
February 18, 2009 § 1 Comment
A friend (cyber friend might be more appropriate) of mine made an interesting comment on facebook about Tokyo Sexwale who accused COPE of using old people to get votes. I quote, “I thought Tokyo said they don’t use old people to win votes!”
A few days ago the ANC marched and paraded Nelson Mandela before a crowd, newspapers and television cameras crowing about his endorsement. Perhaps I should quote Tokyo’s criticism of Cope, “”Our mothers are taken, house to house, they are also paraded on TV, these people are performing witchcraft with our mothers… They are liars. You can’t have respect for people who use older people in that fashion.” Does this mean we shouldn’t have respect for the ANC for using an old man who couldn’t even read his own endorsement because he is so frail, weak and tired?
Madiba was well within his rights to endorse the ANC. There was nothing wrong or right with him endorsing the party of his choosing. He was excersing his right to do what he thought was right.
Of course when mamu Epainette Mbeki, the former president’s mother came out to endorse COPE, Tokyo said using old people to get votes was witchcraft. Naturally, he hasn’t called out Jacob Zuma or the ANC for that matter for using an old person to get votes. His silence as the self appointed defender of the elderly is of course not surprising.
Tokyo should not have higher standards for other parties than he has for his own. It is a sad day when we speak of our politicians and say, “What did you expect?” That is what many have come to expect of this once respected man. ANC members have whispered to me and called him an opportunist that can’t be trusted. They have said he will go with whatever side he believes will win. They no longer recognise the comrade they fought with in the 80’s and early 90’s. As his wealth has escalated, his character as a politician has diminished. No one doubts his business acumen, it is his political opportunism that leaves one wondering. Is this just a case of man gaining the world but losing his soul in process?