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We must never forget to celebrate the gains that we have made since that historic day of political liberation 29 years ago in May 1994.

We have a constitution that is universally admired, we can all proudly bring out our vote, and we have a democratic and vibrant political system wherein opposition parties use every inch of the leeway parliamentary rules and the law afford them to keep the government on its toes. 

Strides have been made with social upliftment and — in some cases — we have created excellent infrastructure. We have struggled, however, with the maintenance of that infrastructure. 

In this context — and I paraphrase — we have to be reminded of our beloved Madiba, who said: “I dream of a South Africa at peace with itself.” 

The tragic truth is that we are not at peace with ourselves, and there are several reasons. 

The government inexplicably disputes that it has a legal duty to provide certain services and infrastructure to its citizens. To ensure that there is no ambiguity, I propose that our legislators amend the relevant sections and schedules of the constitution to reflect that it is their duty to provide, among other things, a stable, uninterrupted supply of electricity and water.

As things stand we will be involved in endless litigation as to what government’s duties are, while those we should diligently serve are cold and hungry. 

We are, sadly, again flirting with the seductive dangers of tribalism, chauvinism and racism. I am especially concerned at the signs I see of leaders seeking populist retreats into the cocoons of regional tribalism.

We seem to have shelved, in the interests of political expediency, the ideal of a rainbow nation in which we acknowledge and treasure the guiding principle that SA belongs to all who live in it, black and white.

I am reminded of the warning by the wise Pixley ka Seme, who cautioned against the demons of racialism and aberrations of tribalism. It gives birth (he philosophised) to backwardness, ignorance and woes in many shapes and forms. I share his views. 

I recently advocated for a government of national unity to help us get rid of, among other things, the cancer of corruption and other ills brought about by the spectre of a government dangerously disconnected from the vulnerable citizens they are supposed to lead towards a better life. 

We need all hands on deck to turn around a ship that is heading towards treacherous waters. Instead of looking for enemies everywhere we should be looking for friends, partners and ideas that challenge our outdated wisdoms. In our diversity lies strength, not weakness. 

I am convinced that one party cannot achieve economic growth, social cohesion and a better life for all on its own. We are in dire need of creative policy input and execution. 

The duty of academics, intellectuals and students is to speak truth to power, to challenge corruption, to expose lies and to come up with ideas to improve service delivery and stimulate jobs through a growth economy. 

Let us not hesitate to reach across divides, take hands and do good.

• Phosa, a former freedom fighter, activist, political leader and provincial premier, is an attorney and international consultant. This article is based on a speech he delivered at North-West University on May 23.

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