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We have another opportunity as citizens of our constitutional democracy to use the power of our votes to elect leaders who have the courage, ethics, creativity and accountability to restore our trust in a future fit for our great grandchildren.

Our country is bleeding from self-inflicted wounds of transactional politics at all levels of our society by leaders who do not know that to lead is to serve.  We have forgotten that the essence of being human is to be interconnected and interdependent within the web of life on Mother Earth.  Our wellbeing depends directly on the quality of our relationships at the personal, professional and national levels.  To the extent that we treat others as we would like to be treated: with respect, compassion, and empathy, our society would be characterised by trust, peace, law and order and prosperity for all.

Our first mistake post-1994 was to retain "racial categories" as a basis for the promotion of access to opportunities to those previously excluded in both the public and private sectors in the name of black economic empowerment (BEE or BBEE).  Thirty years of experimentation with BEE has demonstrated that transforming our socio-economic system from its colonial racist origins cannot be done successfully by using the same divisive racial categorisations that installed it. BEE has simply led to the weaponisation of skin colour as a transactional tool perpetuating the angry divides of our society and giving licence to state capturers to run riot.

South Africa is the only country in Africa that has bought into the myth of "different colour-coded races" as a basis of its public policies.  African people are the majority in our country as in all other countries.  The fundamental transformation of the structure of our iniquitous socio-economic system would logically benefit the majority population who are indigenous Africans.  President Nyerere of Tanzania knew this and went on to banish ethnic divide and conquer politics to build a proud country that became the leader of the frontline countries that contributed enormously to the struggle for freedom in our country. Botswana is a country for all Batswana whatever their skin colour, including its First Lady under Seretse Khama.

What is needed is to tackle the fundamental transformation of our inherited socio-economic system designed to enrich a few at the expense of many.  Our socio-economic system was designed for the benefit of state capture by less than 10% of the population of elites based on skin colour, in both the private and public sectors, as all colonial economies were. It should come as no surprise that in the last thirty years, our country has been plunged into the dark horrors of state capture learnt from colonial governance that has left the majority of citizens without essential public services.  Our social housing; water & sanitation; infrastructure for quality education, health and social welfare; energy and other basic services are a disgrace given the economic muscle we have access to to address these.

The opportunity of the 29th May Elections is for South Africa to vote for new leaders with the commitment to complete the unfinished agenda of our transformation beyond the political settlement to embrace social justice in the socio-economic to transform the lived reality of the majority of citizens.  Socio-economic transformation that includes the reimagination of our economy into a wellbeing economy that works for all citizens, breaking down the walls between the haves and have-nots that continues to mark us as the most unequal society in the world. This would unleash the full potential of the talents of our youthful population to shape a future they can believe in and work to realise.

Land restoration is essential to the reconnection of the majority of indigenous African people with who they are – a deeply spiritual people who thrive only when firmly in the cycle of life where time connects the past, the present, and yet to be.  This connection was brutally severed by colonial conquerors.  Our failure as a constitutional democracy stems from the failure over the last 30 years to understand that we do not own the land. The land owns us. All indigenous people of the world know this and are reclaiming their lives as children of the soil.  

Private land ownership and the commodification of sacred common goods such as land, water and forests, violate all that is sacred about our Mother Earth.  We need to start the journey of healing the land, healing our souls and restoring of human dignity that is embedded in Ubuntu that puts into practice our interconnectedness and interdependence to re-embed us as part of the soil.  Our national Constitution provides for land restitution, but successive governments in the last thirty years have failed us as aerial views of every metro and municipality across the country display the hard wiring of spatial geography.   Elites are firmly established at the centre of cities and towns, where all the amenities are at their best, whilst the majority of indigenous people are scattered in bleak settlements furthest away.  The little that the majority of the population earns is spent on expensive transportation to places of work because our leaders don't care.

Imagine what our country could look like if all citizens had access to dignified human settlements in ecologically sound environments with high quality physical and social infrastructure that ensures wellbeing for all in healthy ecosystems. Imagine all citizens living in environments of mutual trust, interdependence and interconnectedness, that guarantee support of the weak and vulnerable and promote healthy families and communities. Imagine a society where public services such as education, health care, social welfare, and public transport,  are of the highest quality and all citizens unleash their talents to pursue their livelihood callings.  That society is possible.  That society depends on you and I choosing only leaders who are servants of the people.

Young citizens 18-50 years old constitute the majority population in our country and have the power to change the leadership of government towards more capable, ethical, courageous servant leaders.  If the 14 million unregistered voters in our society were to register and vote for change in May 2024, they would effect the change desperately needed.  We need to remember that only 10 million people voted for the ANC in 2019, and surveys tell us that many of those are deeply disaffected and feel betrayed.

There is a critical need to return to participatory relational politics with street and community activism to restore the safety, orderliness and dignity of citizens, to enhance the quality of our democracy.  The gangster state that has been installed by state capturers over the last 30 years has created a transactional culture that trades on influence peddling and abuse of state resources for personal gain. 

Take the case of the National Student Financial Aid System which has become dysfunctional. From its inception in 1996, NSFSAS was run free of charge by higher education institutions with seamless mutually beneficial interdependent relationships between the government, higher education institutions and students.  The introduction of so-called direct payment service providers in 2021, created a feeding trough for politically connected people appointed by Minister Blade Nzimande at a huge cost to the country, and causing distress to students who have been betrayed again.

Transactional politics at all levels of government has created a huge feeding scheme for tenderpreneurs and their public official partners from tendering for services that should be rendered by our overpaid, ineffectual and corrupt public servants.  We the people need to take back government from the tenderpreneur class by electing leaders who know that governance of the common property of all citizens – the state – is a sacred duty that can only be entrusted to those imbued with the values of Ubuntu.  We have the opportunity to start the journey of restoring the betrayed dream of a participatory democratic society, where prosperity and wellbeing for all are possible.

Mamphela Ramphele

Chair Archbishop Tutu Intellectual Property Trust

Chair of Global Compassion Coalition



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