Sharlene Swartz
Sharlene Swartz

The Mandela moment: Now it’s time to move forward South Africa

The past few weeks have been a milestone in our country’s history — there’s no doubt about that. We’ve made huge pronouncements about how we are so very thankful for all that Madiba has done for us, how we pledge to continue and honour his legacy, how so much still needs to change. But what now? I’m sure many of us are asking ourselves this question. Sure we’ve made progress since 1994 and sure many of us are already hard at work moving our beloved country forward. But this week of reflection — both of our history and what still needs to be done — has given many of us renewed energy for the road ahead. What do we need to do to make things right for the past in our country? How does what we do depend on where we were located in the past? As an architect of apartheid injustice or as architect of resistance to injustice; as an implementer of apartheid injustice or as an implementer of resistance to injustice; as someone dishonoured by apartheid injustice or dishonoured in the act of resisting or perpetrating apartheid injustice; as a beneficiary of apartheid injustice or as a beneficiary of resistance to injustice; or as a young inheritor of apartheid injustice or as an inheritor of resistance to injustice. Definitely loads to discuss on this point — but the real point is wherever we were locate our history is complex and not uncomplicated — all of us need to participate in actions to move us forward as a country.

These actions of restitution — “doing sorry” rather than just “saying sorry” and “receiving sorry” rather than believing “sorry is not enough” — need to happen urgently and on multiple levels. Not only in the large institutional, legal and structural ways — by government through affirmative action, black economic empowerment, land restitution and our past truth and reconciliation commission but also in everyday ways — where people can contribute to making things right at individual, interpersonal and community levels — where everybody has a role to play, and does so not out of the largesse of charity (that makes us feel good but not obligated to doing our part) but out of a duty to moving forward.

So what can we do to move forward South Africa?

As an academic (at the Human Sciences Research Council and the University of Cape Town) and as a practitioner (the current Chair of the Restitution Foundation, a small Cape based NGO) I have a few ideas (that I’m sure not everyone will agree with, but at least they are ideas for action). I think, however, that together we can all come up with many more creative and everyday actions. As a new year begins and as we live in the moment Nelson Mandela’s passing has given us to reflect, refocus and renew our efforts to change, let’s think deeply and creatively about the actions that must be done to move forward.

Broadly speaking these actions should include helping people to remember the past so our actions are motivated by duty; to recover lost dignity and to dismiss feelings of shame associated with poverty or undue senses of superiority; to experience a sense of belonging and equality no matter who we are; and to have access to a decent life through opportunities for fair work and useful education. Some will cost money; all will cost time and effort.

In practical terms here are a few I have thought about:

  1. Inheritance of personal wealth: Change your will today to include someone who does not own property rather than just pass on your inherited wealth to your kids. Remember that your inherited wealth was only possible through apartheid’s unjust laws (job reservation, land ownership, differential education).
  2. Education of another: Pay for another young South African to get a great high school education and go to university. Include in your financial sponsorship the mentoring and social capital that your own kids will receive because you know how to help them access jobs, helpful networks and make good personal decisions along the way.
  3. Look people in the eyes: When someone asks for work, money or any other help, no matter how you respond materially, look them in the eye and talk to them with dignity and respect.
  4. Living wages: Beginning with the people you employ at home or in business, sit down and do a job and personal needs assessment. Then pay the person a living wage (rather than a minimum wage).
  5. Public holidays: Make each of our public holidays (Human Rights Day, Youth Day, Women’s Day, Heritage Day and Reconciliation Day) an opportunity to share a meal and a chat about its significance. Do so with a small group of people of who at least half come from a different history in the South African community as you. Tell each other your stories of growing up in South Africa, and listen intently. Repeat frequently.
  6. Cross “racial” adoption: Adopt a child with a different history to yours. And live your family life in such a way that celebrates all of your historical heritages, which may mean learning another language and celebrating different customs.
  7. Religious groups: Change the colour of Sunday mornings or Friday evenings/afternoons. This may mean starting something new, or intentionally gathering a diverse group of people in a mid-week prayer, study or discussion group. So many of us in this country are religious that this action alone could really help us to move forward.
  8. Learn/teach a language different to yours: Works both ways. Ask someone to help you learn to speak isiZulu, isiXhosa or seSotho. Help someone become proficient in business or academic English.
  9. Vote: It doesn’t matter who for but don’t just stay at home. Become active in insisting that people in power deliver on their promises for the benefit of those most excluded. Don’t let your opposition only be heard as a grumble over a beer or over supper. Support the ruling party if you like but hold them accountable to good governance at every turn (booing included!). Strengthen the opposition parties if you like but insist they come up with viable alternatives rather than just complaining about existing polices or looking after the interests of their local constituencies (potholes be damned!). This is the democracy we wanted after all.

Please send your ideas to [email protected] or post a response here. Please also share this post widely to your networks via Facebook or on email. Written submissions can be made to: SA Moving Forward, Private Bag X9182, Cape Town, 8000. Please include a short paragraph about who you are in your submission. I’m planning to make the outcome widely known in the coming few months, while we are still living in this Mandela Moment!

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    • Call for Honesty

      What this woman took over 1000 words to say could have been said clearly and concisely in 50 words. However, this would have made it clear to the reader that she had little of substance to say.

    • aim for the culprits

      Great ideas. Remember some people also made their money by being paid-off BEE recipients of wealth post-1994 or having positions in the old Bantu-stans or getting cushy civil service jobs.

    • bernpm

      Nice try but a little naive or academic.
      The first few lines reminds me of our (once a week) domestic worker who told us politely “you have, thus you must give!”
      Such a statement makes me clinch my fingers on my purse. Children, send by the school, come begging for money for a “matrix farewell” or the equivalent when they leave primary school. No counteroffer of any sort. If the school would organise a performance of some sort, I would contribute with pleasure to their pleasure. And I have done so.
      People stop me on the street and ask for bread (=money). In the early days of me staying in this dorp, I did give the odd 5R, promptly followed by an increasing stream of stoppages. The 5R being the equivalent of a “drink”. A year later nobody ask me any more.
      In short: “giving” is -on the whole- not a solution.

      I have plans to organize a youth choir to perform for the tourists during the flower season (Namaqua land). The money for the school or any other purpose for the group. I expect that a successful group performance creates pride and self confidence in the individuals rather than begging for money.

      Very few things in life are for for free.

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/readerblog/2014/01/03/the-mandela-moment-now-its-time-to-move-forward-south-africa/ proactive

      …..” let’s think deeply and creatively about the actions that must be done to move forward….through opportunities for fair work and useful education”…produced by a HRC/NGO who’s main business is “academic”.

      But first:

      Q…..fair work & education is foremost a state responsibility- paid by taxpayers isn’t it? – if an issue- why, how & where has that been mismanaged in the last 20 years or never achieved- without using references like “the past injustices etc”?

      Q: a country beset with such disastrous unemployment and crime, why neglect & not protect its citizen from the flood of “economic refugees” (except UN defined- not fake political refugees or criminals on the run) – to immediately manage & create a few mio jobs for SA’s benefit?

      Q: Why are our rulers so relaxed about all its citizens’ security, its porous/corrupt borders and assumption that these millions just disappear friction less into our underdeveloped, under serviced & mismanaged townships- without using the word xenophobic or “don’t forget their contribution”?

      Q: Is SA’s economy- with COSATU/SACP etc- supposed and able to supply “fair work” to the whole African continent- & if, why?

      & just another ancient wisdom:

      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

    • xsanga

      You might be bordering on naivety. Greed, fetish over money and material wealth is a psychological dysfunction, like substance abuse and demands revolutionary change. Its main source is dopamine, serotonin and neurotransmitters. Being nice will not work. We have been begging all our lives for food and jobs, negotiating and indabas. Yet, white monopoly capital remains the main cause of our suffering. Poverty has increased and the rich get richer. Being nice or ‘waiting for hand-outs’ is not the answer. Their seems to be huge disparities of conceptualising, linking various theories to cause of dysfunction. If we consider the effects of colonialism, apartheid and white monopoly capital, they all have exploitative effects, degrading and demoralising. delinquency is produced by the struggle among the classes and can not be swept aside with being nice and hand-outs. Your myopia is somewhat discomforting and begs honest research

    • bernpm

      @xsanga: “If we consider the effects of colonialism, apartheid and white monopoly capital, they all have exploitative effects,………..”

      “Your myopia is somewhat discomforting…………”…so is yours!

      What WAS cannot be changed, only the effects can be addressed. This task was given to the ANC by a massive majority of SA citizens.
      What came of it? read the daily papers and follow the comments. Read the general opinion on our current Mr No 1 and his “staff”.
      The ANC seems to behave more as the new colonizers, they re-introduced a form of apartheid: “preferential treatment based on skin color” and an ever growing monopoly of capital in the hands of the ANC elite (certainly not all white).

      You say: “Being nice will not work.” Your suggestions?? Another African country up in flames (CAR, Sudan…) or try another governing combination? SA will be given the chance soon. Do not waste it.

    • Paul S

      Good article and positive thinking goes a long way. But, more significantly, if I read through the comments from 90% of readers there isn’t a chance of anything working. Seems the collective mindset is obstructive and defeatist at best. South Africans truly are a largely negative and selfish lot and if these comments are anything to gauge the country’s chances of improving itself, there’s little to hope for. You get out what you put in and if the haves aren’t prepared to make any effort there are groups like the EFF who will step up and ‘help’. Think about it.

    • bernpm

      @Paul S: “South Africans truly are a largely negative and selfish lot”

      If I am reading your comment correct, your conclusion is based on the critical comments of 7 South Africans out of a population of 50+ million.

      Most of the critique was directed to the article itself being a little naif and academic. Many South Africans of different generations and different backgrounds are seriously disappointed and/or frustrated with the current government.

      Many are looking forward to upcoming elections later this year to vote for a change.
      Your reference to the EFF and its “help” tells me enough about the seriousness in your concern.

      Maybe you want to propose a way out for all??

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/readerblog/2014/01/03/the-mandela-moment-now-its-time-to-move-forward-south-africa/ proactive

      SA’s 2013 R 1,1 trillion budget is no more a romantic adventure:
      http://www.stanlib.com/newsatstanlib/Documents/SANationalBudget2013-2014.pdf

      “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies”.

      Many agree and happily support expenditure in “social welfare” of around 60% of total budget. 7 different grants of R 158 billion (including refugees & foreign work permit entitlements), R 122 billion on health, R 120 billion on housing, 207 billion in education plus support Minister Gordhan with his e-toll infrastructure- not Outa’s advocates- avoiding the use of social welfare for GFIP.

      In the end one is allowed and need to be critical, expect value for money, demand honesty, improved standards all round and no holy clapping. That should not exclude any Samaritan to secretly and willingly do or donate more!

      Taxpayers are “givers”, politicians just Trustees of the “wants and needs”!

      Self-righteously & boldly the “tax collector” markets his face so prominently with a huge banner- calling on all Samaritans: “give me another 5 years of me & more exclusive me & wants”- above the sky on Durban beaches during the peak X-mas holiday- in true tradition of self justice like all Pharisees…and who is clapping?

    • Paul S

      No Barry, my observations are drawn from a very long term experience of the average SA’s attitude (yes, largely white and privileged) to anything that implies change of attitude or sacrifice on their part. Years of digesting around-braai discussions, letters to editors, online comments on FB and Twitter and in response to articles like this. A pretty fair base for my view, I’d venture. I may well be way off the mark, in which case we’re all fine and have nothing to worry about, not so ?
      I have no blanket strategy for change, but the points that the writer suggests are very relevant and most are quite easy to implement. Shooting down any and all ideas for change seems to have become a national sport and I fear SA’s are entering into a stage of paralysis as far as real action goes. Yes, the gov’t is stuffed, but the individual can operate at grassroots level in his or her everyday life, and that is what the writer is trying to demonstrate. Instead of nitpicking her suggestions to pieces, SA’s should be trying to find at least some way to contribute something real. Otherwise, yes, groups like the EFF will be handed all the ammunition they need to make Zim style changes.

    • Paul S

      Sorry, @ berpm, not Barry.

    • Paul S

      Let’s consider the true difficulty and impracticality of just a couple of the writer’s suggestions:

      # 8.Learn/teach a language different to yours. Just how tough would that be ? Even a smattering of Xhosa or Zulu impresses the listener and shows that you are at least trying to bridge the language divide. It shows respect and interest in their culture and could help narrow racial polarization that is on the increase in SA.

      3.Look people in the eyes. Easy to do, but something the average SA really struggles to do across the colour gap. Stepping out of a comfort zone is all it takes.

      As for the other suggestions…if you are serious about wanting to make a difference, you can adopt or adapt an idea easily enough. E.g. Contributing to education could be as simple as teaching someone a basic skill you have, not necessarily something as big as funding their entire high school career.

      If SA is going to have a fighting chance in the years ahead, it’s going to need ordinary folk with vision and positivity, not naysayers and negativists.

    • Ihab M

      Hello Beuties!
      I sit here with my two gay friends, and we all think this article have some good spots. And of cause we think South Africa need to move forward! but one of the only ways to make sure that happens is if everybody votes! so we can make sure that we get every opinion from every individual person. Like Sharlene says we need to move on and not dwell in the past; South Africa can and will do this without Madiba. He fought many years ago for equallity and common democracy. He had a dream and he never gave up that dream; he even spent 27 years in prison for that dream. Now it is your time to keep on his legacy
      PEACE OUT !!!