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Real conversation is what national dialogue's agenda should be

Opinion
SA needs to look at failings since the 1994 settlement, writes Lebo Keswa.

Last week’s national dialogue brought former President De Klerk out of the woodwork and invoked some heated conversations at many a dinner table with people asking the question why the need to bring back the ghosts of our past to discuss the future of our nation.

The EFF was at the forefront of the rage, even trying to recreate history either of the AWB storming the Codesa talks those many years ago or typically wanting to create a hyperbolic storming-of-the-bastille scenario by trying to disrupt the launch of the dialogue last week.

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Former presidents FW de Klerk, Kgalema Motlanthe and Thabo Mbeki at the national dialogue.

All of it is really just a lot of grandstanding. Building of nations from a war-like situation as we had under colonial and apartheid rule will always be a delicate negotiation that involves both the oppressed and oppresso.

The reality of the South African story is that there was no insurrection or total victory but a negotiated settlement with its typical give and take, resulting in compromises.

While most of these youngsters know how to recite the historical conjecture described as a “colonialism of a special type”, they seem to fail dismally to appreciate the consequences of such a reality that manifested in the 1994 settlement and the subsequent government of national unity. Every generation has to decide on a path and pursue it to the end.

The reality is that South Africa did not choose a path of Nuremberg trials but a path of healing and reconciliation – with all its flaws.

Calls for an approach that ignores the TRC path are meaningless and should be condemned as an attempt to relive a moment in history that has long passed.

To demonise De Klerk or any South African for that matter from partaking in a conversation to build a new nation on the basis of the ground already traversed is most hypocritical.

Are the other presidents on the panel perfect beings that did nothing that would equally disqualify them? Should Mbeki not be disqualified for his less than sterling leadership on HIV-Aids for example? Should Motlanthe not be disqualified for his failures under Zuma? If so why pick on De Klerk? Or are we back to comparing the atrocities of the two sides of the war?

The real conversation we need to be having is what the agenda of a national dialogue should be and such an agenda must be the business of every citizen, black and white.

It is clear that after 23 years of freedom there is an urgent need to answer the question of why the freedom dividend has not flowed to the most oppressed and marginalised? That dividend included the issue of landlessness and inequality. Once we answer this question the flowery issues of a rainbow nation will unravel.

The time to be content in a superficial set-up of a rainbow nation is clearly over.

Black people can no longer be content in simply reconciling with poverty. White people equally cannot be content in washing their hands of what they consider sins of their fathers. So the dialogue has to interrogate why wealth has remained in white hands while blacks remain with crumbs.

This is the difficult conversation we should allow all South Africans to face and not create a climate where some are excused from facing that conversation because of their past or our prejudices towards them.

The second key conversation is to allow an objective introduction of the two decades of freedom and answer the question of how those who have held power for 23 years have created a foundation, or have squandered that power to allow the condemnation of the economy to a no-growth trajectory and the festering of corruption as a way of doing business.

The scourge of corruption in the public and private sectors cannot go unchallenged. This is clearly something that has come to define conversations about how public officials relate with the limited resources of the people.

There is fundamental conversation that must also take place about racism. Recent events that show a flare-up of racial incidents surely indicate that after 23 years of freedom there is still a need to stop and attend to the scourge of racism. Reckless pronouncements by leaders on all sides of the debate show that there is a need to arrest this matter once and for all.

It is clear that the mere notion of a rainbow nation was not enough to actually make us such a nation.

In her book, Why we are not a nation, Christine Qunta says “South Africa is a dishevelled society in which two groups with disparate goals share one geographical space. It is a country where forgiveness is overrated and justice underrated.

“For these reasons, South Africans are perhaps as far from being a nation in 2016 as they were in 1994”.

As if anticipating this debate about the national dialogue Qunta opens her book by saying: “Because we did not ask the questions we should have asked in 1994, because we did not have the conversations we should have had then, we have arrived at a place of profound danger. The sparks are everywhere and sparks can ignite a raging inferno”.

In avoiding the inferno that Qunta alludes to we need to be honest in assessing what has changed and what has not changed sine 1994.

A wrong diagnosis that seeks to paint everything with a doomsday brush or paint everything in glowing terms will not take us forward in that dialogue and will create resentment that we don’t need.

No one can ignore that the legislative framework that characterised apartheid governance has been removed. At the same time it is crucial to realise that the mere removal of this terrible legislation has not for millions of people translated into economic emancipation.The story of land deprivation alone paints a terrible picture of a people that were expected to reconcile on a hungry stomach.

This is crucial to acknowledge in order to identify propellors of a conversation that can build a new society without pretence and prejudice.

I wish the pioneers of the dialogue well – let a thousand flowers bloom!

* Keswa is a businesswoman. She writes in her personal capacity. Follow her on Twitter:@lebokeswa

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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