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Unhealed wounds and divisions from South Africa’s past fatally combined with the reigning climate of political intolerance to trigger the appalling events at Lonmin’s mine in Marikana last week.
As a country, we are failing to build on the foundations of magnanimity, caring, pride and hope embodied in the presidency of our extraordinary Tata Nelson Mandela.
We have created a small handful of mega-rich beneficiaries of a black economic empowerment policy while spectacularly failing to narrow the gap in living standards between rich and poor South Africans. Instead, we have allowed the gap to widen.
We created a constitution and inclusive political dispensation that are the envy of the world, but the corridors of power are characterised by consumptiveness and corruption.
The powerful appear more concerned with preserving their power than leading the country or alleviating the plight of the poor. Under apartheid, we faced daily battles for the right to gather, to protest and to march. Now that these rights are enshrined in our law, we abuse them.
When we march, we demand, we destroy and we loot. We care not whether our demands are reasonable, or what actions we take.
When we consigned apartheid to history, we said never again would it happen that our police and our soldiers would massacre our people.
These were our police, and never again would we suffer the pain of a Sharpeville, Boipatong, or Ciskei Massacre.
But our police appear powerless to stop tidal waves of violent crime and what we euphemistically refer to as “service delivery protests”, the latter regularly accompanied by violence and destruction committed with utter impunity.
While we rightfully condemn the police for massacring 34 mine workers last week, and demand the use of non-lethal methods of crowd control, we also sympathise with the vast majority of good policemen and women who have battled to do their very difficult jobs while making sense of corruption scandals in the highest ranks – not to mention being exhorted by their leader to “shoot to kill”.
We are a deeply wounded people who are custodians of a very special country with people and resources that are second to none. There is enough for all South Africans to share.
But those who thought we could breathe a sigh of relief at the entrance to nirvana when we voted in April 1994 were sadly mistaken. Our job of building a caring society only began in April 1994.
We have failed to dent our high unemployment figures, and of course it does not help that we are presently in the grips of an extended global financial depression.
Our “haves” have largely failed to share, our “have-nots” are feeling increasingly frustrated, and our leaders are locked in seemingly endless contestation for political and economic power.
As we pay our condolences to the families of those massacred at Marikana, and sympathise with the scores of wounded, we should also draw a line in the sand.
Let us commit ourselves to rebuilding the foundations of magnanimity, caring, pride and hope. South Africa is our home.
* Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a civil rights activist and was the first black South African Archbishop of Cape Town.