On Friday, December 10, we celebrated the signing of the Constitution into law by President Mandela in 1996 in Sharpeville. The occasion is not marked as a sacred event in our national history and few remember the date.
The complexity of our democracy is summed up in exactly that 1996 moment.
South Africa is a country littered with battle scars. From the Battle of Blaauwberg to the Boer wars and from Sharpeville to the Battle of Thornton Road. Many stories can be told of South Africa’s political struggles.
Today, our lauded constitutionalism sits uncomfortably with the many complexities of our democracy. Many freedoms remain unattained and too many, like those in Sharpeville on March 21, 1960, still see the need to take to the streets to fight for human rights and basic services.
In 2021, we can list towns and villages that are continually being added to the list of sites of struggle for our emancipation – after December 10, 1996. There is Marikana, Strandfontein, Alexandra, Ficksburg and many more. The police registered over 900 protest actions that took place from August 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021. Many current protests mirror the protests against apartheid at the height of the Struggle.
These protests are rooted in the fact that, despite its iconic liberation actors, South Africa is being led by an insecure, fearful, and visionless cohort who are ill-equipped to manage the complexities of a modern-day democracy.
From former presidents Mbeki’s Aids fiasco to Zuma’s Saxonwold fiefdom, through to the irresponsible utterances of leaders such as Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Julius Malema, and Helen Zille, we continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to leaders who can raise the standard of day-to-day practise to the level of the appropriate constitutional standard.
Given the evidence at the Zondo Commission, we are preparing to send our leaders to jail instead of lauding their legacies.
The bravery to build a globally admired democracy is absent. Men like Fikile Mbalula and Ace Magashule, though on opposite political sides, appear to hold the same ideological positions: despite the war-like chaos in the country, they see themselves as victims of an orchestrated process, instead of as architects of this mess.
In Professor Thula Simpson’s book, History of South Africa he describes similar conditions at the end of the Second Anglo Boer War in 1902. British Imperialists, black indigenous people and Dutch settlers were all caught up in a desperate struggle for sense-making leadership.
As the Boer guerilla forces burnt down rail and telegraph connections during the war, the British responded with its scorched-earth policy of burning down Boer homes in the vicinity of the attacks, which resulted in the inhumane British concentration camps.
The British warlord Horatio Kitchener roped Lord Alfred Milner into peace talks with the Boer leaders to preserve his fragile war victory over the two Boer Republics. On the Boer side, it was Louis Botha, CR de Wet, Jan Smuts, JBM Hertzog and Koos de la Rey who led the peace talks with Kitchener, Milner and the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain.
The current ANC government would do well to study the 1902 peace talks between the Boer guerrilla forces and the British empire. The post-war outcome does tend to confirm the often-used comment that “Britain won the war but lost the peace”.
If we go 119 years into the future from 1902, the ANC is facing the exact same accusation today: it is losing the peace. In fact, it is busy destroying it.
The tragedy is that Sharpeville may now only be remembered for 1960 and not 1996. Our greatest need today is for a non-partisan, secure, fearless and visionary political leadership with strong constitutional loyalties, and not party-political conference mandates, to rise to preserve the peace we won over apartheid.
We are in danger of losing it.
* Lorenzo A Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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