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I am one of the few South Africans who believe that South Africans do not celebrate their achievements and successes enough. Instead there is a tendency to dig for the negatives when we must be celebrating.
Volumes and volumes of books have been written on Mandela the person, the revolutionary, the international icon and the great leader. Any attempt to write about Nelson Mandela will never match the work done by many authors who have researched the man from birth to the leader of the revolution, the prisoner and the leader of this great country to freedom.
Many memorial lectures have been organized in honour of Nelson Mandela giving the country time to give meaning to the life of Nelson Mandela. Comrade Nelson Mandela is also my father and therefore I cannot be an authority on talking about the life and times of Nelson Mandela.
There is also a serious attempt by liberal forces to divorce comrade Mandela from his movement, the African National Congress, and project him as an icon who emerged from the blue and therefore the property of everybody including the most backward and reactionary sections of society. This is against the regularly expressed position of this great revolutionary and stalwart of our movement.
We can find volumes of speeches where comrade Mandela talked strongly against any attempts to drive a wedge between him as a person and the ANC. As we are talking about the 16 years of democracy we decided to take few direct quotations from what he said after the ANC was declared the winner of the first democratic election in 1994.
“South Africa's heroes are legend across the generations. But it is you, the people, who are true heroes”. He goes on to say; “I am personally indebted and pay tribute to some of South Africa's greatest leaders including John Dube, Josiah Gumede, GM Naiker, Dr Abdurahman, Chief Luthuli, Lilian Ngoyi, Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Kotane, Chris hani, and Oliver Tambo. They should have been here to celebrate with us, for this is their achievement too.
Tomorrow, the entire ANC leadership and I will be back at our desks. We are rolling up our sleeves to begin tackling the problems our country faces. We ask you all to join us- go back to your jobs in the morning. Let's get South Africa working”.
These passages make a few important points that: -
It is the masses of our people who make history. The contribution of many heroes of our struggle must never be downplayed and ignored. Mandela has always been part of leadership collectives of the ANC. It is the duty of every South African to get South Africa working.
He further committed the ANC government to serving all the people of South Africa, and not just ANC members. Mandela has always been and will continue to be a source of inspiration for many generations. Many other great leaders of our movement will equally serve the purpose of inspiring our people and generations of leaders into the future.
The role played by Comrade Nelson Mandela in our revolution, alongside many great heroes of our movement can be given meaning by celebrating the progress made, gains and achievements of the revolution. The fact that the ANC will be celebrating its centenary in one year and one month's time is evidence of the quality and role of many generations of leaders who guided the ANC through the various phases of the revolution.
Coming to celebrating 16 years of our democracy, it is important that we always remind ourselves that the ANC is the oldest liberation movement in the continent and yet South Africa is the youngest democracy. This tells a story of a resilient people and a determined nation. It is these characteristics that must be rekindled to carry us through the difficult phases of transformation of society. What is worth celebrating, however, is the progress we are making in transforming society.
Few weeks ago my comrade, the General Secretary of COSATU complained that we cannot celebrate that 1,7million households do not have proper houses, and that 17% of our population has no access to electricity, 12% our population has no access to clean drinking water and that in many areas there is still a serious backlog of basic services. My response was that we agree on that but the emphasis cannot be on that aspect, we must celebrate that: -
We have succeeded in taking the number of people with access to electricity from 49% to 83% in 16 years.
We have succeeded in taking the number with access to clean drinking water to 88% and that
3,2 million houses have been built and 2,8 million thereof given to poor households at no cost.
We celebrate that 98% of children between the ages of 7 and 15 years are at school, which takes us close to universal access to education. The challenge then becomes the quality of our education.
We are a constitutional democracy, with our constitution protecting the basic rights that have accrued to our people. We must celebrate that we have a governing party that does not pose any threat to the constitution. It is the ANC that defends the constitution from those who shout the loudest about defending the constitution but propose many constitutional amendments like changing the presidential election system and the electoral system.
It is the ANC that acknowledges that proportional representation, as opposed to the constituency system, give voice even to the smallest party possible. In the constituency system the likelihood is that parties that currently have up to 4 representatives in the national assembly would not gain a single representative in parliament. In this case the ANC is protecting the interests of other parties and the vibrancy of our democracy.
The independence of the judiciary is protected. Judges pass judgements without looking over their shoulders. It is the opposition parties that appeal almost all the judgements that do not favour them, even when it does not make sense. It is the DA that appealed the judgement against them on the dissolution of the Overberg District Municipality.
We regard this as a punitive effort that has one intention only, that of depriving councillors of the right to earn. We appreciated the decision of the court to grant the DA the right to appeal but granted an implementation order, and thus taking out the sting on the intention of the DA. On the other hand we have subjected our movement and its cadres to the rule of law. We must therefore celebrate the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
The implementation of both the BBBEE and the Employment Equity with all the weaknesses in the system must be celebrated. The fact that we are making slow progress in changing the ownership patterns in the economy must be encouraged rather than being vilified as sinful to see the emergence of a few black millionaires and billionaires.
The fact that we are fast changing the situation from absolute dependence on a few skilled white workers will only be appreciated in twenty years to come. We must be bold in ensuring that we deploy the limited black skills and confront the argument that equates the appointment of black people to lowering of standards.
We must confront this for what it is, creating an opportunity for minorities to hold us ransom and retain skilled positions for longer. The ANC will not succumb to the pressure that seeks to dissuade it from pursuing the noble cause of giving our people the opportunity to apply their skills and accumulate experience in the process. We must celebrate progress made thus far.
The role of sport in building and strengthening cohesion in our society is understated. The early signs were visible when South Africa hosted the rugby world cup in 1995, when the country rallied behind the national team. The hosting of the African Cup of nations took this forward to a level where the support of football among white South Africans began to take shape.
The world cup unified society to a level where the respect for national symbols took root. The society was mobilized behind the event and continued to adopt a team up to the final match. The infrastructure rolled out in preparation for this global event will be a feature of our economy and country. Since then the spectators in all the matches reflect progress made in building a non-racial and non-sexist society.
Australia can provide a living example of how sport can contribute in building a country into a winning nation. Building on the disastrous performance in the 1972 Olympic games Australia elevated sport into an effective tool of nation building. In our case losing one match leads to calls for the sacking of the coach. Our society does not show the patience required for building a team let alone the nation.
Let me conclude by emphasizing the importance of clarity of purpose. The fact that government is transparent should never be projected as a disadvantage. High level reporting on crime and corruption must been appreciated instead of being seen as a tool used to discredit government.
The freedom to speak about these problems, in itself, is something worth celebrating. Freedom of speech, of the media, of association and freedom to criticize anybody without fear or favour is worth celebrating. It is the appreciation of how fortunate we are that these rights have been acquired and continue to be protected that will give meaning to the life of and what Nelson Mandela stood for.