Mac Maharaj: In Confidence Published:Jul 11, 2009 Sunday Times
What is worrying today is the heightening race consciousness and dissatisfaction. There seems to be increasing racial polarisation
July 18 — the 91st birthday of Nelson Mandela — marks the first international Mandela Day as an occasion when each of us takes a step, through some act of community service, to realise the power in us to change the world.
University and urban life deepened Madiba’s pride in his people into a militant African nationalism. Experience taught him that this was not unique to Africans. He learnt in the trenches of struggle that, although colour and race were critical instruments in mobilising against white minority rule, they were inadequate measures of the quality of one’s fellow combatants. His horizon widened with each experience and his nationalism found an anchor in nonracism.
In 1955 he was involved in drafting the Freedom Charter, whose preamble captured the inclusiveness that stemmed from nonracism: “We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.”
He never wavered from this position, save to ground his nonracism in the realities of South Africa, which demanded that the lynchpin was the struggle of the African people. The attendant elimination of the oppression of all other groups rested on this proposition. Nonracism also enabled other communities to put their faith in this assumption. This was the fuel that powered the engine of our freedom train.
Mandela was president of democratic South Africa when, in 1996, nonracism came to be embodied in our fundamental law — the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
Now it was time to undo the ravages of race rule, to unlock the talents of all our people and to undertake a systematic programme that would lead us to a society where equality prevailed and race ceased to define one’s opportunities in life.
This is a historic agenda — one we dare not allow to disappear from our sights in the course of the hurly-burly of party politicking.
We have created many instruments aimed at eliminating racist conduct and ensuring that the ownership and distribution of resources, opportunities and power are broadly in line with our demographics.
Sometimes the outcomes do not square with our intentions. There are, however, positive signs of a willingness to scrutinise some of these measures in the light of this.
There is also the danger that representivity, which is important in its own right, is being conflated with nonracism. Equating representivity with transformation strips racism of its behavioural and ideological dimensions. We have made significant progress. But we are a long way from an inclusive society.
The ANC goal of “the liberation of the black people in general, and the African people in particular” shaped the strategy of the struggle. The results were evident in the way in which Africans, coloureds, Indians and a sprinkling of whites came together against apartheid. What is worrying today is the heightening race consciousness and dissatisfaction. The unity in action of the ’80s has broken down. There seems to be increasing racial polarisation.
The coloured and Indian communities are questioning whether their welfare is linked to that of the African population. White activists of the struggle period are demotivated.
The optimism among the African community is to be expected because they bore the brunt of oppression. The impact of the provision of basic amenities is greater on them.
The period 1994-1999 was the bridge that took us to majority rule. Political power is now vested in the majority of our people, and therefore the African people. In terms of the vision articulated by Mandela, this should lead to a greater sense of inclusivity.
Our different communities increasingly are looking inwards and over their shoulders to see who is likely to threaten their position.
A community looking at itself is important; equally, a community looking beyond itself.
Should we not be creating an environment where as a society we agree to look periodically at the most vulnerable of the communities among us — say, the San people — with the perspective that if, in the mix of all we are doing, they view the future with hope and feel that life is getting better, then we are on the right track?
We need our measures of houses built, jobs created, homes electrified and so forth. Do we also not need an additional barometer that tells us whether the sense of cohesion is growing, that nonracism is taking root?
To return to Madiba and adapt a song we sang, Rolihlahla Mandela, you showed us the way to freedom. You did not tell us how challenging it would be to build the new South Africa! Happy birthday, Madiba! We love you!