Born frees must make SA great

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INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Russel Botman says its time for the younger generation to step up to the plate and build an SA Nelson Mandela would be proud of. Picture: Cara Viereckl

Russel Botman says it’s time for the younger generation to step up to the plate and build a South Africa Nelson Mandela would be proud of.

Cape Town - What a year 2013 has been for South Africa’s born-free generation. It started with the first representatives from their ranks enrolling at higher education institutions across the country, and is coming to an end with the funeral of the man who made it all possible, Nelson Mandela.

These two moments encapsulate the biggest challenge we now face as a nation - how to ensure we take the best from our past as we head towards an uncertain future.

With the passing of our nation’s founding president, the baton has symbolically been handed to the next generation of South Africans.

Are they ready for the long road stretching out ahead of them?

The best thing they can do is to look at the example of Madiba, who gave our nation courage in its darkest hours. He stood for democracy and justice, even when it was to his own detriment.

His life was characterised by respect and tolerance for the viewpoints, language, culture and religion of others.

The greatest tribute to Madiba, better than any monument or street name, is the constitution our country received in 1996. One could describe it as Madiba’s constitution.

It was he who led South Africa in the transition from apartheid to democracy and who shaped a new and free South Africa. The constitution embodies his values, his viewpoint, and his respect for diversity and for the universal rights of every person in this country.

The best way to honour Madiba’s legacy is to protect and uphold the constitution.

Our country would be a far better place if the constitution were applied more extensively.

In this regard one thinks particularly of the socio-economic provisions of the Bill of Rights – regarding housing, employment and food, among other things – that may help to restore our broken humanity in South Africa.

The right to basic and further education forms part of the constitution, and in this regard, too, Mandela set the example. His commitment to education makes him a role model for all lecturers and students, teachers and pupils.

It is this conviction that made him say on occasion, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

It is this conviction that Stellenbosch University recognised in 1996 by awarding Madiba an honorary doctorate. At the time, Maties said that he had become a symbol of empowerment through study, of peace and reconciliation through negotiation, and of respect for those values that make for a just and human society.

He gave us yet another great gift: the stature and calibre of his leadership, which will remain a model for generations to come. Leadership of the calibre that Madiba consistently displayed, made him stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Madiba remained steadfast during 27 years in a prison cell in his pursuit of freedom and dignity for all people.

When one thinks back to the stormy period during the run-up to the 1994 elections – those moments when our country hovered on the precipice following the Boipatong massacre and the assassination of Chris Hani – it was Madiba who succeeded in calming troubled waters and preserving the fragile peace on all sides.

His strong leadership was the reason why he could persuade opposing groups to make concessions.

That is why all South Africans in general, and not only one particular group, held him in high esteem.

At a time when young people are searching for good leadership, they only have to look to Madiba for inspiration and an inclusive vision of the future, which our country needs so desperately.

While we are mourning the loss of Madiba, those who know apartheid by hearsay only, should take a moment to reflect on the values of the man who devoted his life to ensuring that they inherit a better future. It is up to them to build the tomorrow that he would have been proud of.

* Professor Botman is the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Indepent Newspapers.

The Star


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