It’s not uncommon to hear people asking whether as South Africans are we ‘really’ free in a post Apartheid State? The answers vary from person to person but the general consensus is that the social conditions are much better than those of the previous repressive regime. It is quite easy for people to say “life was better under Apartheid” but I would like to think otherwise, even though I was born in the latter years of National Party governance. People’s longing for the past is inspired by a plethora of reasons chief amongst them is usually their inability to negotiate a more meaningful way of attain personal and national aspirations that accompany a new governing order. Such deficiency, whether as a result of individual or State restrictions, shouldn’t be allowed to flourish and negate the sacrifices, whether minuet or grand, that led to April 27 1994 being the epoch that it has become.
Democratic South Africa at its 16th year of existence has similarities that mirror a teenager who thoughts and actions are influenced by raging hormones and is finding it hard to adjust to processes of maturity that are required for the future. A little under- two decades of democratic governance and the country has progressed fairly well and it’s a fact that we have to acknowledge. In acknowledging the milestones that have been achieved through the ANC led government doesn’t mean that we are turning a blind eye to the Mount Everest of promises that still have to be fulfilled. It would gravely be naive to say that nothing of substance has occurred in the material and social conditions of many South Africans since May 10th when Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president.
We now have running water, electricity and sanitation in many households across the country. The social security net has been cast even further by the administration of President Jacob Zuma with the aim to assist those who need it most. An unambiguous policy for HIV AIDS has been formulated and is being implemented to try and mitigate and eventually annihilate one of the biggest threats to our democracy, if not the biggest yet. We have held four successful general elections. A deed rarely exhibited on the African continent.
In as much as we have a lot to be content about in South Africa, we also have sleepless nights because we are said to be the most unequal society on earth. The cleavage between the affluent strata and the working class has been yawning since 1994 and is one of the reasons for the social unrest that engulfed the republic and exhibits itself in gruesome murders of toddlers and the aged alike and other violent crimes that are swallowing the country whole. History teaches us that the general trend in Africa is that the post liberation experience is one characterised by the arrogant and perfuse display of crude cronyism and materialistic tendencies. New money it’s called.
Political Scientist Prince Mashele, in an article published in The Thinker, says the following about the parvenus: “Those who occupy positions power begin to view themselves as little kings worthy of worship.” And we have seen conduct particularly from people who hold public office. The unnecessary expenditure on luxurious vehicle in recessionary times. Although the purchase of those vehicle wasn’t illegal it was, however, being insensitive as far as the politics of solidarity are concerned. During his delivery of the Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture in 2006, former President Thabo Mbeki, quotes financial guru, George Soros as saying this of a lost society:”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.”
Such conduct isn’t alien to the South African experience. How else would you explain bread making companies namely Pioneer, Tiger Brands and Premier Foods fixing bread prices all in pursuit of maximum returns without scant regard for people to whom bread is a necessary, if not only means of negotiate with hunger? The sacrificing national good at the altar of cadre deployment has done injustices to any efforts that sincerely sought to redress the imbalances of our bloodstained past. The immoral and unethical practices in the government’s tender procurement procedures manifest themselves in the desperation that immerses South Africans who are in dire need of those funds. The many people in the public service sector must be aware that for every required duty that isn’t duly carried- out, there lies a sullen price to pay because when the government doesn’t fulfil its Constitutional duties then social upheavals take root.
More resources must be invested in public institutions such as schools, hospitals, libraries and so forth because the unfortunate reality is that the majority of South Africans can’t afford such services from the private sector. Empty political slogans won’t dupe the electorate forever. The country has to chart a refreshed path. True transformation of the judiciary must take place and by transformation I mean putting capable people and not people loyal to the governing party. The issue of affirmative action which also includes gender parity must be given sufficient attention along with the rather critical land question. For as long as we sweep these germane issues under the carpet they will not disappear. Mature discussions regarding racial and cultural tolerance and respect are needed because it is through communication that we can avoid assumptions and errors. As uncertain as the future may be it has to be faced. So, 16 years into democracy, is our country in a better state than before 94? Yes, it is. Is there a lot to be done? Yes, there is. Through decent paying jobs people will be able to make a better and dignified life for themselves. Steve Biko says, “You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway.”
While delivering a Lecture in the memory of the late Helen Suzman, Dr Mamphela Ramphele was of the view that: “ All signs in our society point to the need for us to take stock and ask ourselves fundamental questions about how we have been able to discharge our responsibilities to honour the ideals we enshrined in our founding Constitution. We stand at a crossroads yet again as a society struggling to emerge from the growing pains of being a young democracy.”So, let’s halt the celebrations and get to work!