Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Let’s celebrate the good times

Not too long ago, the government launched the framework to celebrate the 20th anniversary of democracy and freedom at Freedom Park.

The event was attended by a group of eminent citizens who not only embody the values enshrined in the Constitution but in their own work and life display unconditional love for the country.

Sadly, there have been marginal but hyper-critical voices making noise that there is absolutely nothing to celebrate.

They claim that very little has changed for the African majority, for instance, who continue to wallow in poverty, unemployment, racism and land dispossession.

I guess South Africa is a half-empty/full glass. Everything depends on what you want to see.

Perhaps it is time we put on rose-coloured glasses — without compromising truth and objectivity — to see the positive and beautiful things that have taken place in the last 19 years ever since Nelson Mandela became the first elected president of a democratic country.

The negative disposition of self-anointed political gurus and other government critics to the idea of celebrating the 20 years of democracy, especially their criticism of collaboration between civil society and the state generates predictable emotional heat but no enlightenment.

In a diverse society, it is expected that there will be a marginal group of individuals and organisations who are still caught up in the outdated habit of blowing out the flickering candles when everyone seems to be switching on the light. But, hey, we live in a diverse society where freedom of expression is a democratic right.

However, the Chinese say it is time that we stopped cursing the blackness (sic) to see the light at the end of two decades of democracy and freedom.

We have done a lot in the last 20 years of democracy to unravel the colonial and apartheid mess of almost four centuries.

There is no denying that a lot of things are not perfect with our state of the nation but it is not all doom and gloom. We should be encouraged that not only has civil society been aroused to be activist, again, but individuals and organisations are, increasingly, becoming agents of what they want to see happen in their country.

Perhaps it is time that we identified some of the areas we need to focus on as we prepare to celebrate. Some of the ideas to be considered include the following three pillars:

• Identifying unsung heroes and heroines in our midst who are yet to receive the acknowledgement and recognition for helping create a democratic society. It will be very important for us to begin to tell their stories. Nelson Mandela did not free this country alone!

• Mobilise all sectors of society not only to engage in discourse about how freedom was won but to focus on what can be considered the best achievements of the last 20 years. A lot has been done but a lot more still remains to be done.

• Defining our path towards Vision 2030 which will detail how the youth can be living embodiments of our constitutional values and be agents of the transformation they want to see in the society they will live in. This will entail not only expressing heart-felt gratitude to the continent and international community but embracing fellow Africans and others who live in this society.

The above points can be used as significant pointers as we move towards celebration of 20 years of democracy and freedom.

We must remind ourselves that it does not always help to just criticise the government without offering solutions. In fact, everything that happens in this country, especially the bad and ugly, is a result of what we choose to do or not to do as citizens. We have nothing to lose when we choose to be positive to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Patriotic and caring citizens will encourage closer working together between the state and civil society. The purpose is not to save the governing party but to make South Africa work effectively to be prosperous.

If gurus and critics want to destroy the governing party they can try doing the impossible but not at the expense of the country.

It is self-delusion to think that independence of thought means not only to be hostile to the state but to criticise it at every opportunity. Unfortunately, there are still some all-knowing gurus and hostile critics who entertain this nonsensical idea that there is neither democracy nor freedom worth celebrating.

Civil society can contribute to making this country better without working with government, they should certainly be encouraged to do it.

We must all do what we can if we believe it will contribute to making this country a more beautiful, peaceful and prosperous place — including working together with the state to do more to finding something to celebrate.

Instead of promoting a false idea of non-celebration and independence that is anti-state, the gurus and critics must use their freedom of expression to correct errors. It is time we spread a positive attitude about this country, what has made us a great nation is more than what weakens us.

We should consider the views expressed by the critical mass, if you will, no matter how misguided they are as we all different and diverse.

But our attitude and stated purpose is not to suppress or force them to be patriotic praise-singers. All that we are promoting is that we must all do what we can to save this country. The world loves South Africa and that is why the world is with us.

If it means LeadSA, Civic Movement and others, for instance, forging closer relations with the state, to mobilise society to celebrate hard-won democracy and freedom, so be it.

We all know the difference between the state and the governing party.

This democracy and freedom belongs to everyone who lives here and now!

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