A statue of Nelson Mandela stands outside the gates of Drakenstein Correctional Centre. Lorenzo Davids asks why are we allowing our dream of a great country to remain unfulfilled by the 400 representatives of political parties in Parliament? Picture: Finbarr O'Reilly/REUTERS
A statue of Nelson Mandela stands outside the gates of Drakenstein Correctional Centre. Lorenzo Davids asks why are we allowing our dream of a great country to remain unfulfilled by the 400 representatives of political parties in Parliament? Picture: Finbarr O'Reilly/REUTERS

#changethestory: Democracy’s 27 year-long dream deferred

By Opinion Time of article published Jan 26, 2021

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by Lorenzo A Davids

US President Joe Biden’s inauguration speech made me think back to that moment on May 10, 1994, when we listened to President Nelson Mandela deliver the first inauguration speech of a democratic South Africa.

The speech was premised on the vision of a great country with a shining future. In it, he stated that “Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.

“Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all.

“All this we owe to ourselves and to the peoples of the world who are so well represented here today.”

It is disheartening to look at these words from the reality of January 25, 2021. On April 27, 2021, it will be 27 years since I cast my first ballot as a black South African. Almost 27 years later, we have all but failed to birth that “society that all of humanity should be proud of”.

What Mandela went to prison for 27 years we have all but destroyed in 27 years. From state-owned enterprises, to service delivery to social security, we see the slow march towards the erosion of the Mandela dream everywhere.

As a society, we no longer reinforce our own and the rest of humanity’s belief in justice. We put up with racial vitriol spewed forth by divisive factions of the body politic. We fail to censure utterances that are against the spirit of the Constitution.

In allowing this, we dash the hopes of a glorious life for our parents and grandparents who had dreams of spending their last years in a glorious democracy and not in a Sassa queue being sprayed with water cannons from an apartheid-era police Casspir.

President Mandela said we owed this bright future to ourselves and the world. Instead of paving the way for this to become our legacy, we have capitulated to the worst – to who we really are and not to who we should aspire to become. We lived out the corrupt, racist, reactionary, abusive reality we were reared in. We inserted every narrative that would divide us from colonialism to corruption, from violent protests to vicious insults – we did everything to build an obnoxious political party culture instead of a proud culture of nationhood.

Today, our yearnings for a celebratory nation are trapped in the hands of three political parties that won a total of 14.8 million votes from the 26.3 million eligible voters and now determine what nationhood is for 57 million people.

Why are we allowing our dream of a great country, and the aspirations of a great people, to remain unfulfilled by the 400 representatives of political parties in Parliament?

As Biden leads America out of the Trump abyss, I cast my eyes over the past 27 years and see Mandela’s hopes dashed and the “dream deferred”, to quote Langston Hughes.

South African politicians have no vision of nationhood. They do not have the skills to inspire us to rise to better things each day and go to bed dreaming of what great things await us in the morning. They have filled our days with dread and burdened our souls with fear. They sell us their diminutive visions for how their political party can remain or get to the feeding through. They have denied us our dreams. Out of this place of pain and anger, a new movement must arise that does not seek seats in Parliament but enters our minds and fuels our values and aspirations. It’s not about political parties that factionalise us. It’s about values that unite us.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

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

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