This terminology is becoming common parlance in contemporary South Africa. It is quickly replacing notions like nation-building, social cohesion, accountability, transparency, justice and public interest, to name a few.

The response from most South Africans to the current state of crisis is one of grave concern – that the country of our dreams is rapidly descending into a nightmare. A nightmare that has witnessed a considered strategy to deflect, disrupt and divert attention away from the values so eloquently laid bare in the Preamble to the Constitution. Values which are worth re-iterating time and time again:

We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the republic so as to –
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
May God protect our people.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.

The promise, to build together and better is so movingly captured in President Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech where he spoke about entering a new era for our country and its people. He went on to speak of the need “…to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination” and to “build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself…”.

Fast forward to 2017.  The country is being torn asunder by revelation after revelation of corruption and state capture (the Gupta emails), firmly pointing in the direction of the President. The South African Council of Churches Report, Unburdening Panel Process and the most recent study by the State Capacity Research Project, Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is being Stolen, highlight systematic corruption and capture. The response from the Zuma faction, aided by the Gupta media machine, is to redirect attention to issues and slogans that directly intend to ratchet up racial tensions. White monopoly capital, radical socio-economic transformation and land expropriation all have, at their heart, attempts to drive divisions, dissent and fear.

This political strategy and set of tactics to heighten racial tensions, stymie the process of nation-building and social cohesion. They deflect – as opposed to building on – the values embodied in the Constitution. They are a source of deep anxiety for every South African concerned with our country and its national fabric. Case in point, in his recent opening address to the Indaba of Indigenous and Traditional Leaders on the morning of the 29 May, President Zuma said, “Government is keen to engage traditional leaders on the radical socio-economic programme and its implementation in rural areas. You will discuss economic matters that are close to the institution of traditional leadership, such as land redistribution. I have advised traditional leaders that they must appoint attorneys to handle the issues of land and they indicated that the National House was engaging the Black Lawyers Association to assist”.

Attempts to stare down a leader solely concerned with private interest is failing and the polity is in crisis. With an overwhelming majority in the legislature, despite a robust opposition, there appears to be little appetite from within the ANC to dislodge President Zuma, leaving the courts to step in and serve as a bastion for our constitutional democracy.

Like fake news, attempts to create a counter narrative about judicial over-reach, white monopoly capital and land expropriation serve to deflect and redirect the attention of the nation and crucially to subvert core constitutional provisions.

Demands for clean government and accountable leadership enjoin every South African to strive harder and longer to earnestly build a nation, prize our capacity to be united in our diversity, and address the fundamental needs and aspirations of fellow South Africans. The task of nation-building, social cohesion, redressing the legacies of the past, and economic inequality are present, and these remain work in progress. A clean, accountable, efficient and effective government can, however, go a long way in creating an architecture for upward mobility and aspirations. A government studiously growing the size of the economic cake, as opposed to creating the conditions for downgrade after downgrade, enjoins us as South Africans.

The task facing South Africans is to keep the dream of a non-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, tolerant and open society alive, even under the most trying of times, such as we confront currently. To do otherwise is to nullify the very essence of the supreme law of the land and make a mockery of the Constitution and its values. We have to collectively shape a future together so that successive generations build on a rich legacy of compassion, trust and respect.

By Ms Zohra Dawood: Director, Centre for Unity in Diversity

Photo credit: aldodeandrea via / CC BY-NC-SA 

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