28 November 2014
Nation Building: Beyond the Flag and National Anthem
Isithwalandwe Seaparankoe Ahmed Kathrada,
Minister Derek Hanekom,
Stalwart Sophie Williams de Bruyn,
Stalwart Laloo Isu Chiba,
MEC Ismail Vadi,
Chief Whip for City of Johannesburg Prema Naidoo,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour and privilege to present the 5th Annual Ahmed Kathrada Lecture.
The subject of this lecture – nation building, redress and reconciliation – lies at the heart of our historical national imperative.
To build a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society requires that we attend in a meaningful and concerted way to each of these interrelated tasks.
The subject of this lecture neatly encapsulates a central theme of the life and work of Ahmed Kathrada.
As one of the greatest sons of our soil, and also one of the most unassuming, Cde Kathy has dedicated his life to the achievement of a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
This lecture not only pays tribute to his contribution to our struggle. But in its own way, it also advances that struggle.
For it draws our attention to what is essential for our progress as a nation.
It challenges us to reflect on how far we have come and what we are required still to do.
Next year we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter.
This occasion has far more than mere historical value.
For the Freedom Charter remains to this day the most impressive articulation of the means by which we will advance nation building, redress and reconciliation.
Just as it has defined our struggle over the last 60 years, so too must it define our future.
When the delegates to the Congress of the People said:
“We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white…”
…they were making a powerful call for a united nation, for a non-racial nation and for a nation that is reconciled and at peace.
The delegates at the Congress of the People also made a fundamental statement about the nature of reconciliation in South Africa.
They said that reconciliation necessarily depends on the redress of past injustices and the eradication of inequality.
They said ‘The people shall share in the country’s wealth’ and that ‘The land shall be shared among those who work it’.
They said ‘The doors of learning and culture shall be opened’ and that ‘There shall be houses, security and comfort’.
The understanding of those who drafted the Freedom Charter was that a nation is not defined by a flag or a national anthem.
It is defined by the extent to which each citizen enjoys equal rights, opportunities and material security.
It is defined by a sense of a common purpose and a shared future.
Twenty years into our democracy, we are called upon to reflect on the progress we have made in realising the vision of the Freedom Charter.
We are called upon to reflect on the progress we have made in building a non-racial society and promoting reconciliation.
There is much that we have achieved.
We have adopted a democratic Constitution that contains within it many of the freedoms articulated in the Freedom Charter.
The Constitution is a bold declaration by all South Africans that the injustices of the past should not be allowed to continue into the present.
It places the achievement of equality among the values on which our new democratic state is founded. It promotes healing and reconciliation.
Another significant act in the process of reconciliation was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The Commission arose from a recognition that reconciliation would not be possible unless we confronted the atrocities of the past directly and honestly.
We sought to make a decisive break with the human rights violations of our past, offering amnesty to those who committed such crimes and providing a platform for those who were the victims of such crimes.
The TRC process, though deeply painful, was valuable and necessary.
It was a remarkable act of courage for a country that had been in a state of civil war barely a few years before.
It affirmed the values and the conduct that should define relations among our people. It promoted reconciliation.
The sense of a common nationhood is made manifest in ways that are both symbolic and practical.
South Africans take great pride in their flag, in their national anthem, and, at least most of the time, in their national sports teams.
A year ago, they came together as one to mourn the passing of our beloved founding President, and each year, on his birthday, they undertake acts of generosity and social solidarity in his name.
There is a very real sense, through these symbols and on these occasions, that all our people live in brotherhood and sisterhood.
We are one nation, united in diversity.
And yet, though we may be one nation, we are in many ways still a divided country.
We should be concerned, for example, by recent reports that the level of trust between blacks and whites in South Africa is deteriorating.
A survey by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory found that the proportion of Africans saying they would never trust whites increased from 68 percent in 2009 to 73 percent in 2013.
The proportion of whites who expressed a similar sentiment increased from 40 percent to 44 percent over the same period.
The fault lines in our society are not only racial.
In 2011, National Planning Commission produced a Diagnostic Report, which said:
“Opportunity is not only defined by race; it also differs for men and women, and for rural and urban dwellers. Language and ethnic background continue to divide South Africa, as does economic participation, because those who have work have access to income and opportunities that the unemployed do not have.”
The report underlines the fact that the human cost – and the social cost – of apartheid is still firmly with us.
We are reminded daily by the lived experiences of our people of the devastation of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
The material conditions under which our people live represent the greatest challenge to nation building and social cohesion.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have made significant progress since the dawn of democracy to respond to the injunction that “there shall be houses, security and comfort”.
The 2011 Census shows, for example, that between 1996 and 2011 the proportion of South Africans living in formal dwellings increased from 58 percent to 77 percent.
The proportion of households with water and electricity increased by similar amounts.
This represents a marked improvement in the living conditions of millions of South Africans.
Yet there is so much more that we need to do.
To quote again from the Diagnostic Report of the National Planning Commission:
“Our successes so far are significant given both our history and international comparisons. These successes should in no way be underestimated or glossed over.
“Despite these successes, our conclusion is that on a business-as-usual basis, we are likely to fall short in meeting our objectives of a prosperous, united, non-racial and democratic South Africa with opportunity for everyone, irrespective of race or gender.
“Our task is to identify the weaknesses and challenges that we confront and to explain the underlying causes of these challenges.
“For those South Africans who are excluded from the formal economy, live in informal settlements, depend on social services which are either absent or of very poor quality; the political transition is yet to translate into a better life.”
For while we can declare that indeed the people do govern, we cannot claim that the people share in the country’s wealth.
For as long as the people do not share in the country’s wealth, our effort to build a new nation will be incomplete.
Meaningful reconciliation will remain elusive.
At the centre of the challenge we face in ensuring that the people share in the country’s wealth is the simple reality that too many of our people are unemployed.
There was a deliberate effort to keep black South Africans out of the mainstream of the economy, deny them the opportunity to run businesses, and prevent them from gaining the skills, assets and experience that would enable them to advance beyond a certain level of manual labour.
While the economy has changed to some extent over the last 20 years, it still bears many of the features of its apartheid past.
Ownership remains largely in white hands. Without an established capital base, few black South Africans have been able to become owners.
The higher echelons of management, particularly in the private sector, remain dominated by white men.
There are still massive differences in income and skills levels between white and black South Africans.
This situation does not lend itself to simple solutions. It needs to be tackled on several fronts at once.
We need to accelerate the rate of economic growth. The moderate growth rates that we are currently achieving are simply not sufficient to meaningfully reduce levels of unemployment.
To promote faster economic growth, we need to leverage our massive investment in infrastructure not only to create jobs, but also to expand the capacity of our economy.
This includes investment in logistics, telecommunications, power generation and distribution, and social infrastructure.
We need to reduce the costs of doing business in South Africa, and make it easier for people to start and sustain new businesses.
We need to pay particular attention to the regulatory environment, streamlining processes and achieving greater efficiencies.
We need to remove the obstacles to small business development, and help emerging entrepreneurs to access finance, support and, importantly, markets for their products.
These are the nuts and bolts of nation building.
These are some of the practical steps we need to take to narrow the economic divide between black and white and between men and women.
Unless our economy expands, unless it creates jobs, unless it creates opportunities for those who have been marginalised, our efforts to redress the injustices of the past will be forever constrained.
At the core of our efforts to tackle unemployment must be an unwavering focus on developing the skills of our people.
Of all the iniquities of apartheid, the neglect of education has perhaps been the most devastating – and most enduring.
We have done much to improve access to education for all, including the poorest.
However, the progress we have seen in access has not been matched by similar progress in educational outcomes.
Our schools are performing far below their peers in countries at a similar level of development, and are certainly not meeting the requirements for a growing and thriving economy.
There are still massive inequalities within our education system.
There is still a significant gap between those who learn in the suburbs and those who learn in townships, in villages and on farms.
Yet our schools, colleges and universities can become critical sites for nation building and reconciliation.
They can become places where black and white interact as equals, where they learn and develop together, and where they imbibe the values of respect, generosity and industry.
The fate of any nation turns on the extent to which its education dispensation responds to the challenges of development.
Investment in education produces the greatest yield. It builds a new generation of citizens equal, not only in rights, but also in access to opportunities.
We need to build a capable generation that is armed with the knowledge, skills, cognitive ability and drive to elevate our productivity and improve our competitiveness.
We need to build a generation that can transcend the animosity and mistrust of the past, that appreciates the equal value of every individual, and that celebrates both the diversity and cohesion of our people.
As we undertake this task, we are inspired by the generation represented here today by Ahmed Kathrada.
It was that generation that saw – in the midst of one of the most oppressive, repressive and exploitative systems – the possibility of a united, free and democratic South Africa.
They imagined a country at peace with itself and the world.
Like them, let us too pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until all our people are free, equal and secure.
Let us strive together to build a nation that belongs to all who live in it.
Allow me to conclude, as I so often do, where the National Development Plan begins.
In its vision statement, the NDP imagines our country in 20 years time. It says:
We, the people of South Africa, have journeyed
far since the long lines of our first democratic
election on 27 April 1994, when
we elected a government for us all.
Now in 2030 we live in a country
which we have remade…
Once, we uttered the dream of a rainbow.
Now we see it, living it. It does not curve over the sky.
It is refracted in each one of us at home, in
the community, in the city, and across the
land, in an abundance of colour.
When we see it in the faces of our children,
we know: there will always be, for us, a worthy
I thank you.