Time for a TRC on post-apartheid  wrongs

Those of us who were over 18 in April 1994 – a long, long 29 years ago – will remember the excitement of going into the voting booths and marking the ballot paper with an “X”. The euphoria was incredible. I remember the snaking queues, the cameras, and the world singing our praises for having ended apartheid peacefully.

On April 27 1994, I sneaked out of the offices of the Sowetan newspaper, where I was managing editor, to go to the Orlando Communal Hall to cast my vote at the place where I was inducted into a political life at the age of 16. It was a heady day, and it carried our hopes and dreams.

Compare that day with Easter this year when I heard Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, head of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa and president of the South African Council of Churches, calling for a “new struggle”.

He said: “Looking around us, it is easy to despair. Too many South Africans cannot find a way out of the tomb of poverty to live lives of dignity and hope. We are experiencing a near biblical vortex of greed and corruption in which the unscrupulous steal from the poor and swallow the hope of ending inequality.

“Incompetence leads to bad governance, and money that is available to improve people’s lives goes unspent. Too many South Africans are shut up in tombs of community violence, gangsterism and fear, while others are trapped in toxic relationships and live with the horror of domestic violence perpetrated against women and children.”

And his proposed solution?

“I believe we should be urging the young people of our country to dig deep into the radical roots of the old struggle against apartheid, and to take up the new struggle – a new struggle for a new generation, a struggle to regain our moral compass, a struggle to end economic inequity, a struggle to bring about equality of opportunity and realise the promises of our constitution.”

I hope the archbishop and you the reader will see my remarks in this column as complementing rather than contradicting his.

Yes, the people who led in the struggle against apartheid were propelled by values and ethical standards such as selflessness, courage, integrity and a consuming love of one’s people. The likes of  Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Govan Mbeki, Ruth First, David Sibeko and Joe Slovo sacrificed their lives and those of their families to liberate this country.

We assumed we were doing the right thing and superficially accepted that what the Boers, what white South Africa, was doing to us was evil. We didn’t analyse the evil of owning large tracts of land while neighbours were crowded into one-roomed shacks at Mpanza’s shelters in Orlando West.

We didn’t interrogate the evil of throwing out rotten food at night when children in other families had to sip unclean water for their supper.

When apartheid “died” we took over the lifestyles of our erstwhile oppressors without a second thought. We went into our huge offices at the Union Buildings; were offered salaries we hadn’t dreamed of during the struggle; and were given huge cars and homes, bodyguards with blue lights ahead and behind us.

The accompanying music was: if we don’t give you the best, private business will snatch you and we need the best to run our country. And so, we were sucked into the world of Gucci and Louis Vuitton while our neighbours were sucked into “a near biblical vortex of greed and corruption in which the unscrupulous steal from the poor and swallow the hope of ending inequality”.

The evil structure of apartheid – poverty, inequality, and unemployment – continues, under a black political elite with a sprinkling of whites at the helm; and affluent whites with a sprinkling of blacks running the economy.

May I suggest that the first item in the new struggle is to get the veterans to examine their ethical decisions from the time we took over – to hold our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission and then pass the record to the younger generation to help them make better choices. Each of us is responsible for the state of our nation – right up to the child who drowns in a pit toilet as government defies court orders to shut all pit toilets. Just imagine the child flailing in the toilet, the classmates when the body is brought up, the parents, and the community …

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