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What Would SA Look Like with Fully Liberated Citizens?

A fully free South Africa with liberated citizens would be characterised by Ubuntu values at the personal, professional, socio-economic and political levels.


The bold decision by our government to act in accordance with the human rights values embedded in our Constitution made us all proud. It gave us a glimpse of what we could be as a nation with fully liberated citizens rising to our international obligations as signatories of the UN Convention against Genocide to challenge impunity.


South Africa glimpsed the beauty of the dream espoused by Kofi Annan, the late UN SG, post the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, that the international community has a responsibility to protect those vulnerable to human rights abuses, especially against genocide. Our country rose to its responsibility to protect Palestinian citizens from the dehumanising attacks that have killed mainly women and children. The horrors of Hamas on October 7th 2023 is no justification for the unfolding catastrophe in Gaza.


The world-class Team that represented our country at the ICJ demonstrated once again demonstrated that ours is a country rich with talented, highly skilled people who complemented one another. Our Team set out a highly lauded case for cessation of war to enable the protection of civilians and the provision of basic human needs essential to sustaining life. Our country has put our best legal brains forward to lead the charge.


Imagine what could have been accomplished had governments over the last 30 years approached the transformation and governance of a post-apartheid society in the same manner! Imagine if only our best brains and experienced hands had been put to the wheel to negotiate the best deal to set the platform for a transition to a democratic just society, beyond the platitudes of a rainbow nation!


Neil Barnard, the then head of the Apartheid Intelligence, boasts in his 2015 memoir, A Secret Revolution, about how Team Free SA was outsmarted at many levels by an incumbent government machinery. The Apartheid government used its knowledge of the country and its best brains, to negotiate a deal that has effectively perpetuated the structural inequalities created over centuries by colonial conquest and apartheid. The neglect of fundamental socio-economic transformation at the negotiation table is largely due to the refusal of the ANC negotiators (mostly returning exiled and ex-prisoners) to listen to Rolihlahla Mandela’s advice to include the best policy experts as advisors. Imagine what a difference it could have made.


Former Statistician General, Pali Lehohla’s latest article details how education and training are continuing to exclude the majority of indigenous African children and young people from opportunities to liberate themselves from the legacy of humiliation and self-doubt to become the best versions of themselves. Self-liberated people are not just free people, but people emboldened with Ubuntu values: respect for the self and others, demanding being treated with dignity and fairness to enable them to treat others likewise, living their lives with compassion for themselves and all of life within the web of life.


Citizen driven initiatives around our country demonstrate how to make education the single most important liberatory tool as Madiba Rolihlahla Mandela repeatedly stated and championed throughout his life. At the core of success, as my generation experienced, is that freeing oneself from what others think of self, and focusing on defining who one is, and what one's core purpose in life is, unlocks the potential of all to become the best they are created to be.


Interventions such as Leap Schools, Extraordinary Schools Coalition; Bridges Coalition - a web-based Network of Communities of Practice; Maharishi Institute that provides higher education to poor students; and many others at the grassroots level; demonstrate just how effective shifting mindsets from fear of failure to self-liberation. At the core of self-liberation is  learning from mistakes we make thereby opening the doors to becoming our very best. 


Our nation should learn from ICJ Team SA's spirit to reimagine who we are as a people. We are at our best when we cast aside racist and sexist notions of competence and authenticity in leadership, and affirm one another. Our society is starved of values driven servant leaders with the commitment to ensure that every child, woman, and man is enabled to become the best versions of who they were created to be.


Our underperformance as a nation is not due to a lack of talent or experience. It is

the result of us embracing the framing of democracy that is foreign to the African continent. Africa's politics, like that of indigenous people elsewhere in the world, has always been consensus based. Our ancestors understood that it was worthwhile investing time and energy in conversations amongst equals to promote shared understandings of goals, and priorities and pave a way forward to shape a better future together. Colonial conquerors regarded these conversations in Makhotlas as signs of sloth because they did to understand the value of building trust amongst community members to enable collaboration and promotion of the common good.


Competitive multi party politics that have been imposed by the departing colonisers on Africa have not yielded the requisite participatory just democratic systems our struggle dreams were built on. Post-colonial competitive party politics have tended to emulate colonial governance with the incumbent political party using state resources to entrench itself in power.


Regular elections do nothing to alter the reality of the non-participation of the majority due to the capture of state power. Critics of catastrophic failures in post-colonial Africa become labelled as counter-revolutionaries as if the revolution was about supporting a corrupt elite that abuses state resources intended for the promotion of wellbeing for all. Ubuntu based governance that is inclusive and collaborative, is not visible in our country.


Recent reports from the Independent Electoral Commission indicate that our country has more than 350 political parties registered for the 2024 general election. This should give us pause. How are poor and least educated people going to make informed choices with a ballot that is as overwhelming as this? What we should all ask ourselves how can we enable politics that are less about the ego of leaders and more about the wellbeing of the majority of citizens.


The last 30 years have entrenched the notion that securing political leadership is the best route to wealth accumulation and wielding power and control. Competitive party politics continue to crowd out conversations that should enable collaboration and greater impact in shifting mindsets away from the 'Me, Myself, and I' politics that have impoverished our nation, towards relational politics that could connect us to our essence as relational beings. There is no Me without the We.


The ANC Secretary General, the highest ranking administrative and operations person, Fikile Mbalula, has recently confirmed what many citizens have always known - that the ANC as a party is prepared to lie, and appoint incompetents to disable state accountability institutions, including the Public Protector and Parliament, in order to perpetuate itself in power.


The only way forward for us ‘the people’ is to discard the model of competitive party political electoral system and coalesce around shared Values and Principles to establish participatory consensus based politics. This approach tried and tested in Switzerland where every citizen has a say on key policy issues and political leadership is rotated regularly to ensure that the people govern not individuals. suggested by many young leaders who have put up their hands to be the change they would like to see.


We made a grave error post-1994 in not building on the spirit of self-liberation to shape our political, socio-economic and cultural systems. We reverted to male dominated authoritarian multi-party politics that took their cues from so-called Western liberal economic and political systems that did not put people at the centre of governance, even in the countries of origin. Multiple political parties became the centre of our democracy at great cost to the rights of the majority of citizens as sovereigns in our Constitutional democracy.


Citizens in small and not so small towns are reclaiming and asserting their rights to shape the futures they want. Take Kroonstad, a Free State town that was a model beautiful clean segregated dorp in the 1990s. It is the home of many Afrikaans speaking people of note including activists in the struggle for freedom. Instead of the post-1994 local government desegregating the town and making it a home for all citizens, the town like many others was neglected and continued to be segregated and its infrastructure development and maintenance was completely degraded leaving it in a sorry state.


Kronstadt citizens rallied together across age, language and class to transform it into a modern town. Local farmers, retired civil engineers and ordinary housewives, young unemployed people and many others came together to reimagine Kronstadt into a model rural town. Kronstadt has become a model of citizen action and collaboration transcending to toxicity of legacy racial divisions and corrupt party politics, to affirm people as citizens and one human family who are agents of history to shape a shared future. Many other towns in Free State and beyond are learning from Kroonstad and requesting it to share lessons learnt and to support other municipalities for a national revival.


Traditional politics and socio-economic systems we are living under are alien to Africa and to many people still living in indigenous communities. It is time for South Africa to leverage its demonstrated capacity for greatness to course correct and abandon the follies of the last 30 years and embrace its African essence.


We have an opportunity to relearn what it means to be human and build institutions fit for purpose to promote the values of Ubuntu. We should abandon the copy-and-paste failed systems from the rest of our troubled world. This is the opportunity for South Africa and Africa to lead the way to promote the emergence of a world with a world with a more human face that enables wellbeing for all for a healthy planet.


Mamphela Ramphele

Co-Founder of ReimagineSA


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