Celebrating post-apartheid SA amid morally questionable actions in our leadership requires entering into uncomfortable dialogue, writes Thabo Makgoba.
Last week I led a vigil to pray for our country and its leadership over the questions the Nkandla report throws out into the realm of discourse and reflection for our society.
Many voices in society – and within and outside the ruling party – are correctly concerned about the moral dilemma the issues surrounding the upgrades to the president’s house raises.
In a sense, the heated public debate that has arisen raises no new questions but may require some urgent and new answers.
The old question that remains not fully answered is: What is the real meaning of our freedom?
Put differently, in the face of a disappearing moral compass, where is our sense of humanity that we were deprived of by the apartheid years? To what extent has it been restored by freedom?
This is a relevant question that cries out for a new answer before the celebration of our 20 years of freedom that we will mark at the end of this month.
Twenty years ago the euphoria of celebration answered a question of the reversal of apartheid slavery and disenfranchisement to the majority of our people by extending the vote as a voice for all of us.
April 27, 1994 saw a triumph of the human spirit over adversity that had been meted out by years of colonialism and apartheid denying our people a voice to govern themselves, a voice of self-determination.
The answer to this historical tragedy of disenfranchisement was partially the vote.
This vote restored the voice of the people. Many at the time did not realise, somehow unconsciously, that the responsibility of such a voice would be perpetual – that such a voice that has been restored would bestow on us as a people a new responsibility to continue to speak to make this newly restored voice to matter in how our lives would be run.
Many of us after the restoration of such a voice continued as if that voice was not restored at all and resigned our responsibility to make that voice count to our liberators.
The hug of our liberators became seductive and we resigned our voice to them.
It is for this reason that there are some among our people who believe they can stay away from the polls.
I want to make a stern call to each and every one of our people to ensure that they honour the memories of those who died so we can have the vote, the voice that was denied us for so long.
Honour the memories of the martyrs of our freedom by voting on May 7.
The question of apathy should not be entertained – this is a moral responsibility of all of us, old and young.
Instead, we need to use this moment in our history to revive the old question of what the meaning of our freedom is.
The meaning of the voice we now have is that we can speak out against the abuse of women and children, the plundering of state resources and the denial of economic opportunities.
As we reflect on what freedom means it will be incorrect to discount the achievements the country attained on the altar of political competition.
There are many achievements that should unite us as a nation and help us build on a good foundation regardless of our differences.
Few democracies have achieved so much in such a short space of time.
The 20-year review released by the government outlines these achievements in greater detail in the areas of infrastructure, water, sanitation as well as the built environment.
In reflecting where we are as a nation it is important that we take this report seriously as it feeds into our future plan as represented aptly by the National Development Plan.
This plan helps answer partly what the meaning of our freedom will look like in a generation.
It helps answer the practical question of economic liberation – how we intend as a society to get our people out of poverty.
There must, however, be a sense of urgency in translating our people’s freedom into a concrete implementation of things that will take them out of the kind of poverty and inequality that is increasingly at cross purposes with the promise of freedom that came with the vote of liberation in 1994. The big challenges that the 20 years of freedom show us also seek new answers.
The collapse of a sense of shame across our society in various ways, be it the poor stewardship of our people’s resources or a simple collapse of morals in society, have to call on us to seek new answers for our future to complement the plans to rebuild our society.
Without this moral grounding, resources that are meant to uplift our people are being wasted in corruption as evidenced by the damning report of the auditor-general showing that billions are misspent regularly on wasteful expenditure.
Many of us have shrugged our shoulders and moved on when a report shows that R30 billion can easily be wasted in this way.
In the same breath a child dies in a latrine at a Limpopo school because of poor sanitation infrastructure and a child somewhere in our country attends a school under a tree because we are told that there are limited resources to go around and eradicate mud schools, among other ills.
There can never be moral justification for this mismatch of priorities.
The reports of the public protector, be they on Nkandla where clear wastage is pointed out, or on the Independent Electoral Commission head office lease matter where clear collusion in wrongdoing is underlined, raises these hard questions of how far we can allow our names to be misused in the name of freedom.
All of these when viewed together question the very meaning of our freedom for the majority of our people and they call for new answers and a new way as we reflect on what our 20 years of freedom really mean.
Young people, in particular, on whose behalf we as adults are managing the country’s resources for the future, need to ask deeper questions and therefore be part of finding these new answers today for the sake of their future.
If they don’t do this they are likely to find a failed state in their hands – a situation that will make a mockery of freedom.
Finally, many young people are aware of corruption happening in their communities.
In fact, some of the stories of corruption have been the subject of the many protests we see in communities across the country.
Part of exercising freedom must be to take action against corruption.
Go to your nearest police station if you know of these transgressions and lay a charge for the police to investigate.
Whether this be based on your own knowledge or that brought forth by any of the chapter nine institutions such as the auditor-general or the public protector: act today to stop the rot.
There are no easy answers and I pray that all of us must not be afraid to enter into this uncomfortable dialogue as a necessary part of reflecting on the 20-year journey of our nation.
This is certainly not the time to be coy about such dialogue, nor is it a time for veiled censorship or self-censorship.
The answers will come from a deeper reflection free of political partisanship and buoyed only by the love for our country and a concern for our 20-year-old freedom to make sense to the majority of our people.