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A South Africa governed by values will be Nelson Mandela’s legacy – Helen Zille

Helen ZilleNote to editors: The following address by DA Leader Helen Zille was delivered as part of a commemoration of President Nelson Mandela’s legacy at Cape Town City Hall on Wednesday 3 December 2014. 

On Friday, we, and the rest of the world, will pause to remember Nelson Mandela, as we commemorate the first anniversary of his passing. In true South African style, we will do so with a unique mix of sadness and celebration; of grief and gratitude.

Grief, as we are again reminded of what we lost. And gratitude, as we reflect on everything he left behind.

As is so often the case when you look back at an event of great personal significance, the passage of time can seem unreal. One year can feel both understated and exaggerated. It seems like just the other day that Madiba was still with us, but at the same time it feels like an age has passed since the 5th of December 2013.

In the year since his death, we, as a country, have aged. We’re older and hopefully a little wiser. We’ve learnt some lessons, as our new wrinkles and battle scars show.

As we move further away from the life of Nelson Mandela, it is too easy to start remembering him in familiar sound-bites – to reduce the image of Madiba in our minds to a handful of quotes and pictures that have been repeated so often, as to almost become clichéd.

We begin to replace the real values he stood for with a two-dimensional feel-good version of him that makes us feel nostalgic, but not necessarily inspired. In doing so, we risk forgetting the real value of his contribution to the birth of our democracy, which was the result, not of a miracle as some like to think, but of great leadership and characteristic South African common sense when it really matters.

If we truly want to honour his legacy, we have to remain inspired by the values that drove him, to achieve the vision towards which he drove us. We need to recall the values not only for ourselves, but for the world that will pause with us, at 10h00 on Friday morning, to remember one of history’s greatest global citizens.

Much has been written about the many different Nelson Mandelas we’ve come to know over the years. True to his name, Rolihlala, he has been at times the trouble-maker, the revolutionary, the African nationalist, the pacifist, the pragmatist, the negotiator, the humanist, the father of a nation who never experienced the joy of raising his own biological children. His service to his country spanned many chapters of our turbulent history, and we’ve seen a different side to him in each.

The Nelson Mandela we’re probably most familiar with is our Madiba of the early 1990’s – the forgiver, the unifier, the leader. The man who could convince people who had lived all their lives as strangers and enemies, to lay down their hate, their suspicion, their fear, and replace these with trust, hope and common ground. That would have been enough to warrant his iconic status.

But that is not the Nelson Mandela I want to speak about today. I’d like to go back more than a quarter of a century earlier to the Mandela we saw in the Pretoria Supreme Court on 20 April 1964. The Mandela who stood up, calm and confident, in a white man’s court and delivered a brutal indictment of an unjust regime, knowing full well that this regime could respond by sending him to his death.

Standing as a prisoner in the dock, in a trial meticulously stage-managed to incriminate and vilify him, he did not flinch as he dismantled everything apartheid stood for, and anything his accusers could throw at him.

But he didn’t do this in a bitter tirade – this wasn’t an angry man venting his frustration. Nor did he use the platform to make a last-ditch plea for clemency, as most people would when facing the prospect of the gallows. Instead he delivered a clear and sober assessment of his country’s circumstances, to a global audience.  It was a true state of the nation address, spelling out precisely what was wrong in South Africa, and what it would take to fix it.

Of course, the momentous global events of intervening years have changed some of the political assumptions of the time. But this speech remains timeless, and appropriately propelled Nelson Mandela to global recognition, which his life sentence only served to enhance with every passing year.

This is the Madiba I’d like to turn to today. Because within the text of this seminal speech we can identify some of the values that guided him then and, three decades later, found their way into our Constitution.

They are key to unlocking the potential of South Africa for all its people, and we must cherish and protect them with everything we have. Otherwise our talk of his legacy is nothing more than hot air.

There are five values I’d like to talk about:

The first is Fairness and Justice.  In his speech from the dock, Mandela described the laws that deliberately prevented black people from advancing in life. He spoke about the ordinary daily routines denied to black South Africans, like parents living together and raising their children to aspire to a better life.

The struggle, he said, was about everyone getting a fair deal, a stake in society and the chance to work for a better future.

The second value we find in his speech is that of Service. Service to both his country and its citizens.  His specific focus is the African people, denied their rights in the country of their birth.

Recalling stories told during his youth by the elders of his clan – stories about Dingane, Bambata, Moshoeshoe and others – Mandela spoke of his dream to one day also be of service to his people.

Little could he have known, as a young man in the rural Eastern Cape, just how important his service would one day be, not only to his people and his country, but to humanity.

Standing in the dock in 1964, he performed perhaps the biggest act of selfless service imaginable, by espousing these values as a foundation for his country’s future, even though it might come at the cost of his own life.

The third value is Dignity – both his concern for the dignity of the people he was representing, and his own dignity in standing up to his accusers in court.

In his speech, he identified lack of human dignity as the hallmark of African life in a country built on racial oppression. He spoke of the slave-like treatment of labourers, the deliberate denial of education, the imprisonment of people through a policy that forcibly removed them from their land and confined them to remote areas against their will, and the poverty, starvation and disease that crippled once self-sufficient communities.

And yet, despite all of this, the fourth value that radiates from his speech is Non Racialism. He never transferred the evil of apartheid into a hatred for whites. There are many famous passages in this speech.  But the one that, for me, reflects his generosity of spirit the most, comes near the end when he addresses his white compatriots and seeks to allay their fears.

He says:

“It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another.”

Exactly thirty years later, at his inauguration as our first democratically elected president, he repeated this same commitment to a non-racial South Africa when he said:

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

These are values that must be internalised every day by every South African in our interactions with each other. The ghastly acts of racism and indignity that people still perpetrate and suffer every day are an insult to Nelson Mandela and shame us all.

The entire speech is drawn together by one overriding value that Nelson Mandela defines as FREEDOM, a word that he uses, in different contexts, 21 times in his speech from the dock.

His definition of freedom is contained in the speech’s most famous passage, that we know so well. It is the final, crowning paragraph that reverberated around the world when he spoke it, and continues to do so now:

“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 live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

When he delivered that closing line, he still believed that he was likely to be sentenced to death. Freedom for all South Africans was more important to him than his own life.

This paragraph gives us a good insight into what Mandela understood by freedom.  He understood that freedom was just a word unless people can use it to live lives they value.  And this cannot happen without opportunity.  Nor can it last without the institutions of democracy, through which people can hold their leaders to account, and prevent corruption and power abuse.

I have often marvelled at the fact that, fifty years ago, espousing democracy and equal opportunity earned people the label of communist.

And today, far too often these same ideas attract opprobrium and insults because they do not automatically guarantee the outcomes that some people demand as their due.

South Africans today need to spend much more time in serious debate about what we mean by Freedom.

Last month I spent a fascinating time in Germany, as part of celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It was intriguing to hear the perspectives of those who had personally experienced this historical watershed.

They spoke about the communist system in East Berlin that guaranteed everyone a job, and a house, and food to eat;  a place that could not be sustained without a huge secret police network, bounded by an unscalable wall that turned half of the City into a prison, guarded by sharp shooters who regularly killed people trying to escape to a place where none of these comforts were guaranteed.  And for every individual trying to escape, there were 100s of 1000s who wanted to follow.

Why would they want to do this?

It was because they wanted Freedom. Freedom to use their opportunities, to make their own choices, speak their own truth, chart their own path, take their own risks, face either success or failure, accept the consequences of their mistakes, reap the rewards of their efforts, and pursue their own path to happiness.

It was equally fascinating to hear former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, whose attempts to introduce more freedoms for the people of the Soviet Union ultimately failed, explain why state control, euphemistically called democratic centralism, could never succeed. The real problem, as he discovered during the course of his political life, was communism’s fatal flaw:  its incapacity to call power abuse to account, or create incentives for people to improve their lives.

In his speech from the dock, it is clear that Mandela had already grasped this insight. He clearly distinguishes the concept of freedom from the constraints of communist ideology, so popular in several quarters at the time.

In 1994, there was little doubt that the more than 12 million people who voted for the African National Congress, did so because the party symbolised the values espoused by Nelson Mandela in the dock, and exemplified by his life.

How could a party grounded in these values not provide the freedom they, and their children could use to transform their lives?

On that first freedom day in 1994, that we now celebrate on April 27th each year, we felt anything was possible. In our collective euphoria, having defied the predictions of the world’s doomsayers, we believed anything was possible: that Madiba’s values would become the bedrock of a new nation; that we would build a shared future, cognisant of our divided past, so that with the right opportunities and support, each person would be free to live a life they value.

We believed that the state would fulfill its role of providing each citizen with the opportunities, and the means to use these opportunities, so that everyone would take responsibility for charting their course in life, caring for their families, pursuing their own ends without harming others, facing the consequences of their decisions, for better or worse, in success or failure, and following their own path in the search for happiness and fulfillment. That is how Mandela understood the Freedom he fought for. And we assumed that, through the years of struggle, these values had become embedded into South Africa’s DNA.

But we’re not in 1994 anymore. Twenty years on, we must now take a closer look at where we are, measured against these values. And we remember the prophetic words of Martin Luther King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, who said: “Freedom is never finally won. It must be fought for and won anew in every generation.”

If we are honest, we will have to admit that we are falling increasingly short on every one of the values that make up Mandela’s legacy.

What is Fair about a political system built on patronage – where positions, jobs and contracts are the outcome not of effort, ability, hard work and service, but rewards for protecting the privileges of the powerful, no matter how corrupt they may be?

What is fair about a system called Black Economic Empowerment becoming a mere fig-leaf to benefit a politically connected few, while thousands are shut out of a shrinking economy?  What is fair about an equity system which ignores those whose past and present disadvantages warrant real opportunities and support, so that they can also use their freedoms to build better lives?  What is fair about the appointment of teachers based on their membership to a certain union?   Does this give a fair chance to the children whose opportunities they are supposed to shape?

And what about Service? Today, we have allowed public service to become a source of private wealth generation. While many of our “public servants” still do an outstanding job against all odds, all too often this designation has an Orwellian ring to it. For far too many public servants their first priority is to serve the interests of powerful politicians, and shield them from accountability. The unspoken contract is that they will watch out for each other. If you look after me, I’ll look after you. It is a perverse inversion of the famous proverb. Isandla sihlamba esinye. The one hand should wash the other. In the original it is meant as a symbol of Ubuntu. Today, it has come to mean collusion to cover corruption.

For many South Africans Dignity is still a distant dream.

Dignity is destroyed by corrupt rulers who curtail people’s freedom to serve themselves. Like spending a trillion Rand of public money on nuclear power stations that we cannot afford and don’t need, and which could be much better spent investing in sectors of the economy that will create jobs and energy security.

As Mandela so powerfully articulated, Freedom is the cause and the consequence of Opportunity. In the modern world, the opportunity of a quality education is the key to the opportunity of a decent job, in a growing economy. All of these are the result of good policies and strong leadership. The failure of values-based and vision-led leadership is, arguably, the greatest betrayal of Nelson Mandela.

Finally, there is Non-Racialism. Rather than confront the reality of leadership failure, our leaders seek scape-goats and diversions.

Accusing a person of racism in South Africa, is the gravest of indictments, given the tragedy of our past. We must face the truth: there is still deep racism and no shortage of racists in our country, but they are not confined to a single group or a single city or a single province. Tragically, they exist everywhere. We unequivocally condemn any act of racism wherever it occurs, and because I am premier of the Western Cape, I particularly condemn such despicable acts that occur in this province. Each one of them is a violation of the memory of Nelson Mandela.

But we must also condemn unsubstantiated allegations of racism that are meant to divert attention from other substantive issues. This is known as “playing the race card”. It is meant to silence legitimate criticism, or mobilise voters, or divide people from each other for ulterior motives. This abuse of identity politics is a cul-de-sac and also betrays Mandela’s values.

Although racists and race cards are still far too prevalent in our society, I have no doubt that they are vastly outnumbered by the South Africans who do indeed share the values of Nelson Mandela and wish to live up to them. It is these South Africans who, together, will stop us drifting along with the current of power abuse and corruption, so we can make our nation great again.

By far the majority of the South Africans we speak to, in all walks of life everywhere, want nothing more than a fair reward for honest effort and hard work. South Africans generally are not free-loaders. We want to live in a country which offers each person a ladder of opportunity that enables them to climb out of poverty. That is how things work in all successful countries, and there is no reason why South Africans should subject ourselves to a system that promotes anything less.

I mentioned earlier that, as a nation, we have aged since the death of Nelson Mandela. But perhaps I should rather say that we have matured. If you want to know whether a democracy is maturing, you need only look at why its citizens choose who they choose at the ballot box.

In the years following the struggle for liberation, the emotional bond to a party that “owns” the struggle is always very strong. In the absence of a credible governance record, this bond is everything.

But as the dust of liberation politics begins to settle and the grace period for delivering the opportunities of freedom runs out, voters begin to reassess the reasons for their choices.

The emotional connection to the liberation party – the party of their parents’ parents – is filtered through two other funnels: A track record of delivering opportunity and, perhaps more importantly, a set of values people can identify with once more.

As we commemorate the passing of Nelson Mandela, the voices of South Africans who share his values and who have become disillusioned with our current trajectory, have reached a crescendo.

People are turning their backs on leaders who create an inner circle defined by a “bling culture” – the antithesis of what Mandela stood for. Instead they are looking for ways that will include everyone in a growing economy that offers real opportunities for all. They are looking for leaders whose values once more resonate with their own.

They’re looking for a South Africa in which a Capable State, bound by the Rule of Law and the Constitution, strives to ensure dignity, opportunity, fairness and inclusion for all its citizens.

These people will find a home in the Democratic Alliance. And here, they will also find the only party where we truly try to live Mandela’s values.

The DA’s vision for South Africa of an Open Opportunity Society for All is not just a slogan. It is the best way we know of capturing the idea of Freedom, and it guides everything we do.

In this Open Opportunity Society for All, a caring government will form a formidable partnership with a responsible individual, from the cradle to the grave, to ensure that he or she lives a life of meaning and value.

In this society, a baby girl born in, say, the township of Botshabelo outside Bloemfontein, will receive her vaccinations and medical care through a well-staffed and equipped clinic nearby.

She will enjoy the enormous benefits of early childhood development, and will attend a primary school where teachers are not only present, punctual and prepared, but qualified and passionate. Her parents will continue this at home, reading for her daily until she loves books and can read books on her own. She will feel safe in her community because everyone defends her rights and opportunities.

By the time she sets off for high school, she will have a literacy and numeracy skillset equivalent to any child anywhere. Through the encouragement of her parents, the commitment of her teachers, and her own discipline and effort, she will qualify for tertiary education, making use of government funding if they cannot afford the tuition fees.

She will take care not to fall pregnant while she is studying, so that she can graduate and know that her efforts will result in a rewarding job. This will enable her to put down a deposit on a flat or a first home, make a wise choice of life partner, and start a family of her own, raising her children with the same care and nurture that she received when she was growing up. Parents who care and sacrifice for their children are the bedrock of any free society and no state can compensate for failed parenthood.

This is what we understand by the Open Opportunity Society for All. A society in which we can unleash the enormous potential of all South Africans, and in so doing make South Africa the free, prosperous country it can be.

Our vision of this society is not just a faraway pipedream. Where we govern, we are working hard to achieve it, despite the limitations of provincial and municipal power.

Since 2009, we’ve managed to increase the number of learners from poorer schools in the Western Cape who pass matric by 25%. In Khayelitsha alone, the number of candidates passing matric has gone up by 1000 learners per year since we came into office.

We have implemented the most successful land reform programme in the country through our 83 equity-share scheme projects.

We’re the only provincial government that has laws preventing government employees from doing business with the state, the source of most corruption, and we’re also the only provincial government to consistently receive clean audits from the Auditor General.

We don’t tolerate corruption. We don’t have time for “bling culture”. We believe that public service should be just that. We’re guided by our values.

Although we are very clear about what we stand for – and remember, these values sustained us in the fight against apartheid – we have not always done enough to tell people exactly what this is.

In the process, we left the door open for others to define the DA. Naturally, there have been many who jumped at the opportunity to do just this. And there have been no shortage of those who abuse the race card to do so. This in itself, is a display of racism that would have been anathema to Nelson Mandela.

But as we continue to communicate our vision we will offer the alternative that so many are looking for.

And we are not going to wait around for the inevitable implosion of the governing party either. We’re already building a new majority: a strong nucleus towards which those who share our values – and the values of Nelson Mandela – are increasingly attracted, and through which the enormous potential of all South Africans will be released.

We’ve set our course, and are well on our way. We will, over the course of the next year, redouble our efforts to communicate our offer to the people of South Africa, to show them that we share their values, and that ultimately we can create the kind of South Africa to which they aspire.

Many others have their eyes set on a similar destination and are heading in the same direction as we are. Initially we don’t always see each other, as we walk separately, side-by-side.

But once we realise that we’re on the same road – that we share common values and a common destination – we can join forces and our numbers will keep growing as they have in every election since 1994.

And ultimately, when the DA forms the core of a new national government based on values and not race, we will have succeeded in building the South Africa that Nelson Mandela spent his whole life pursuing.

On the first anniversary of his death, we make that commitment. We will rebuild his legacy.  Ungandinwa Nangomso.  Moenie more moeg raak nie.  Daar le baie werk voor. Sinomsebenzi omkhulu.

Ndiyabulela!

Issued by the DA

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