BARNEY MTHOMBOTHI: SA needs to be handled with care
Our hard-won constitution seeks to unite all the country’s people under the same banner: will our politicians build on the dream of national unity or give it up for short-term political gain?
The idea of the new SA has always been to unite all the people of this country, to have them stride ahead with a common purpose while respecting each other’s differences. It is a project that’s largely been accomplished but, as in many other countries, it remains a work in progress.
The dream — and the costs involved — were summed up by Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia trial more than half a century ago: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Of course, there are those quick to pooh-pooh these sentiments even as they enjoy the fruits of what Mandela and his ilk gave so much for. They were brave words. Mandela and his comrades faced the real possibility of being sent to the gallows. Mercifully that didn’t happen, but instead they were sentenced to life on Robben Island.
Almost three decades later Mandela came out of prison to lay the foundation for the new society he told the judge about. The preamble of the constitution says in part, taken almost word for word from the Freedom Charter: “We, the people of South Africa ... Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” That’s the contract that binds us. But apartheid had other ideas. The inflection point is actually not 1948, as is often believed, but the founding of the Union — in 1910. Determined to bring about peace between Boer and Brit, Britain, the colonial power, turned a deaf ear to black aspirations, and literally left blacks in the lurch, where they were to stay for almost another century. Instead the Union government enacted a piece of legislation which was to be the bedrock of apartheid, the infamous Natives Land Act of 1913, denying black people any land rights outside the so-called reserves. The black elite responded by forming what became the Africa...