Johannesburg - Next year we will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of our democratic statehood. Surprisingly, a debate about whether we should continue to blame apartheid for our failures to deliver has erupted.
This is a debate that is intellectually stimulating. Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel feels it is high time that South Africans move with the times, stop putting the blame on apartheid and deliver for our masses.
On the other hand, some are of the opinion that we must continue to blame the brutal system of apartheid for our failures to deliver.
It is disappointing that some people reacted to Manuel’s way of seeing things with their hearts and not with their heads. The man was grossly interpreted out of context.
It reminds me of the liberal days of Helen Suzman, who once came out for the legalisation of marijuana. Hell nearly broke loose but at least, even if her idea did not win the day, she did get everyone’s attention.
The same thing should have happened with Manuel. In a true democracy, every idea has the right to be heard. We should agree to differ and differ in order to agree.
I acknowledge that apartheid is part of South Africa’s history and what happened in that era has been archived for us and posterity, and that its psychological effects will be with us for some time to come.
We use this history to know where we come from as a country so that we can know where we are, as well as where we are going.
We use this history to interpret the behaviour of some of us who are still displaying tendencies of living in the past.
But really at this stage, having been in power for 19 years, we should not blame apartheid for failing to deliver for our people because doing so is like a dog barking at its own shadow at night.
For example, how do you blame apartheid when a municipality gets eight disclaimers in a row from the auditor-general?
How do you blame apartheid when a newly tarred road lasts only two years?
How do you blame apartheid when budgets are not spent but the masses continue to lack basic services such as water?
How do you blame apartheid when the government does double employment – employing an official without capacity and then appointing a consultant to do the same job, resulting in the squandering of billions of rand?
And when the consultant wants to honour his contractual obligation of transferring skills, the officer is nowhere to be found, intentionally so.
He just does not want to learn.
We should always recall that we are not the only country in the world which has gone through a bad patch.
Europe has gone through two world wars but through the Marshall Plan, a positive attitude, strong work ethic, dynamic leadership and incorruptible spirit, it only took them a few years to stand on their feet once again.
And when Estonia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country’s economy was wrecked after almost 50 years of centralised control. But the team of young, reform-minded politicians who came to power along with President Lennart Meri wasted no time in getting to work.
The new government quickly eliminated almost all tariffs, cut agricultural subsidies, began privatising state-owned enterprises and introduced a flat income tax and a balanced budget amendment, all in the space of a few years.
They did their work so well that seven years later, in 1998, Estonia enjoyed a stunning 11.4 percent growth in GDP.
In Africa, Rwanda is a case in point. In the same year that South Africa got its independence, Rwanda experienced genocide.
And because the Rwandans did not allow themselves to languish in self-pity like ourselves, today the country has a growing economy, and its women constitute almost half of its parliament – one of the highest percentages in the world.
Misfortune has strengthened their human spirit and this enables them to survive even in a forest of hyenas.
For them, from dust rises hope, from rubble rises stylish skyscrapers and from forest ashes rises reforestation.
For them, civilisation as well as forests can be destroyed by devastating fires but in their aftermath, those very ashes nourish the soil and a vigorous new growth arises.
It is the corrosive mentality of excuses and self-pity that has set some parts of our continent back and continues to make us the laughing stock of the world.
It was painful to read the message that was found on the bodies of two Guinean teenagers, Yaguine Koita and Fode Tounkara, stowaways who died attempting to reach Europe in the landing gear of an airliner.
The message reads: “To the Excellencies and officials of Europe: We suffer enormously in Africa. Help us. We have problems in Africa. We lack rights as children. We have war and illness, we lack food… We want to study, and we ask you to help us to study so we can be like you, in Africa.”
The pair are two of the many victims of the culture of excuses in Africa.
If we had learnt lessons of the scientific calculation of time when the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi addressed African leaders at the AU summit on July 4-6, 2005, in Sitre, we would not even be mentioning apartheid as an excuse for our failures after 19 years.
He said: “Dear brothers, we cannot compare the age in which we live with past ages because the missions we are able to undertake now take less time than before. A year in the past now equals 24 days because scientific calculations say that what could be done in a year can now be done in 24 days.
“So, a month equals two days, and a day equals one and a half hours. What you can do in a day you should do in an hour.
“So what you could carry for a distance of 1km in the past, be it something solid, liquid or even human beings, something that needed a year to transport can now be done in 24 days.
“In the past, if you were travelling from Sitre to Cape Town, it took 10 to 12 months on foot. Now you can do it in 10 hours.
“Our brother Mbeki arrived from South Africa in 10 hours.
“If that distance was done by old calculations, he would have arrived in Sitre after one year.
“In the field of communications, a year equals two minutes.”
So blaming apartheid for our failures to deliver shows that we don’t take the scientific calculations of time into account.
We should stop seeing 19 years as 19 years. We need to stand up and not walk, but run.
* Abe Mokoena is an independent commentator based in Polokwane