Speech by Mamphela Ramphele
Fellow South African citizens, I am here today to invite you to join me on a journey to build the country of our dreams. I ask those of you of my generation: let us cast our minds back to the run up to 1994 and the moments immediately following the dawn of our freedom. Do you remember our patience and quiet dignity as we waited in long queues to cast our very first votes as citizens of a free South Africa? Do you remember how you choked with emotion and had goose bumps as you made your very first cross on the ballot? Do you remember the tears of joy and relief when we watched our first President, Rolihlahla Mandela, being honoured with a fly-past by the air-force that was to have its first democratically elected commander in chief? Do you remember how Madiba inspired us to action in these words of his inaugural address?
“Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all.”
Do you remember the dream we embraced to build ours into a great society – a prosperous constitutional democracy united in its diversity? Do you remember our commitment to promote human dignity (Ubuntu) and banish humiliation and disrespect of our apartheid past? Do you remember our vow to promote transparency and accountability in public life? Do you remember that we agreed that our democracy would be known for being responsive to the social and economic needs of all citizens? Do you remember?
As a daughter of Limpopo, a rural province, and an adopted resident of the Eastern Cape, another rural province, I have seen both the high points and low points of our imagined future. I have had to overcome the high barriers to opportunity confronting many black people, especially black rural women, to become a student activist, a medical doctor, a community development activist, a researcher, a university executive, a global public servant at the World Bank and now an active citizen in both the public and private sectors. Key to my success is the support and encouragement I received from my family, my teachers, my friends and fellow citizens. My journey is the journey of a searcher who never gives up dreaming of a better tomorrow.
The country of our dreams has unfortunately faded for many of my fellow South Africans. The dream has faded for my sisters and brothers in rural areas who live under the threat of being again made subjects of traditional chiefs and other unelected traditional leaders through proposed acts of our own Parliament. The dream has faded for the many living in poverty and destitution in our increasingly unequal society. And perhaps worst of all, my generation has to confess to the young people of our country: we have failed you. We have failed to build for you an education and training system to prepare you for life in the 21st century. As a result the dream has faded for young people in both urban and rural areas.
I am here today to invite you, young and old, to re-imagine the country of our dreams and to commit to building it into a reality in the lives of every South African. I have said that I am no messiah. No single individual acting on their own can build our nation into the country of our dreams. But I am willing to be a bridge between my generation – those of us who fought for freedom who remember not only with their minds but also with their hearts – and that of my children. For us the dream remains alive as a link between those who sacrificed their lives for freedom to be born and those who live in the hope of seeing the reality of the dream come alive in their own life time.
Today I announce that I am working with a group of fellow citizens to form a party political platform that will focus on rekindling hope that building the country of our dreams is possible in our lifetime. Our consultations and conversations across the lengths and breadths of our country have confirmed a hunger for a new beginning. Young and old, poor and rich, men and women, urban and rural people are yearning for a political platform that can put our country first. A platform that will be open to all South Africans of good will who want to build the country of our dreams. This will be a platform that will capture the best in us and enable us to transcend our divided past and work together as a society united in our diversity. It is a platform that will seek to work with others to reduce the fragmentation in the political landscape and to realign politics towards a focus on putting the country first. We launch this initiative under the name Agang, or in the Nguni languages of our country, Akhani, which can be interpreted in English as “Build South Africa”.
The decision to enter party politics has not come easily. I have never been a member of a political party nor aspired to political office. I however feel called to lead the efforts of many South Africans who increasingly fear that we are missing too many opportunities to become that which we have the potential to become – a great society. I have no illusions about the difficult road ahead. Bridges get trampled on. But I trust my fellow South Africans’ capacity to come together at critical times to do what others believe is impossible. I believe in our potential for greatness. I believe that greatness is within our grasp if only we can reach out across divisions and self-interests and put the country first.
Our country is at risk because self-interest has become the driver of many of those in positions of authority who should be focussed on serving the public. The great society to which we committed ourselves following our relatively peaceful political transition is rapidly unravelling before our eyes. The impressive achievements of the past eighteen years are being undermined by poor governance at all levels of society. An unchecked culture of impunity and the abuse of power as well as public resources rob children, young people, rural and urban poor people of the fruits of freedom.
Corruption, nepotism and patronage have become the hallmarks of the conduct of many in public service. Corruption is theft. It steals textbooks from our school children. It steals drugs from sick people. It steals social grants from old people and poor children. It robs citizens of hope and destroys dreams. This party political platform will declare war on corruption. It will work with all those in civil society as well as individual citizens and dedicated public servants who share our concerns to fight this scourge.
Why has the Dream Faded and What Can We Do Now?
Mind-set Change from Subjects to Citizens
We have seriously under-estimated what it would take to walk the journey from being subjects of undemocratic governments, denied the right to make our own choices, to become citizens of a constitutional democracy, reclaiming control over our lives. We did not stop and take the time at the beginning of our journey in 1994 to work on shifting our mind-sets from those of compliant subjects to those of dignified citizens. It is not surprising that despair and hopelessness is driving many decent people to violence in both the domestic and public spaces. The majority of citizens feel excluded and disrespected at all levels of their daily lives. Violence is the weapon of those who feel powerless. The risks to the enormous potential for a great future are becoming obvious to even the most optimistic amongst us.
We have not invested adequately in educating for democracy. Civic education, a cornerstone of all thriving democracies, is absent in our homes, schools, places of worship, work places and communities. Citizens must be given the opportunity to share in supportive conversations about the fears and insecurities that make them prisoners of the past. The most troubling example of our failure to shift our mindsets and take ownership of our country is that less than 10% of South Africans – young and old – self-identify as South Africans first. Ethnicity, religion and economic class come first to mind for the majority of citizens. How can we build the country of our dreams if we do not identify intimately with it and make it what defines us? How can we build a country united in its diversity if we do not put the country first in our souls and hearts?
We must build a sense of common South African citizenship. We must promote healing circles across the lengths and breadths of our society to free our souls from the fear of the unknown and dependencies on authority figures that undermine our ability to shape our future with confidence. We will work with those in civil society who are drafting a Citizen Charter to help guide us on our journey to the country of our dreams.
Empowering the People to Govern
Our society’s greatness is being fundamentally undermined by a massive failure of governance. Our rallying cry during the struggle for freedom was for the people to govern, yet the system of choosing Members of Parliament from lists drawn up by political parties gives disproportionate power to party bosses at the expense of ordinary citizens. We should be able to vote for the person in our own area we want to represent us in Parliament, so we can hold them accountable for the electoral promises they make. We want an MP for Marikana, an MP for De Doorns, and an MP for Sasolburg, so if the people are unhappy and the MP is not responsive enough, they will be voted out at the next election. South Africa’s people are effectively being prevented from governing by the country’s electoral system. We will be working with fellow citizens to launch a million signature campaign for electoral reform. Electoral reform must be the first order of business of the post-2014 election parliament.
Governance failure is also reflected in the manner in which powerful vested interests have undermined key decision making and proper management of assets of the state. This is reflected by the seamless manner in which the party, the government, the president and the state have merged into a monolith of impunity. The ANC’s Chancellor House investment arm represents the most blatant example of how the governing party has abused the state to benefit its loyalists and to sustain itself in power. The most troubling aspect of Chancellor House investments is the lack of transparency of its deals. What we do know is that the participation of Chancellor House as a BEE partner of Hitachi, a supplier of Eskom’s Medupi Power Station, makes a mockery of the ANC’s claim to accountable and transparent governance. Poor people are the biggest losers as a result of the unholy business-government alliances designed to aggressively pursue commercial interests for political elites.
Workers and poor people are also the victims of the interests of privileged union leaders becoming too closely tied to those of government. We will defend the right of workers to unionize and protect their rights at all times. We also work to enable unions and other worker representatives to participate fully in the promotion of opportunities for workers to be trained and enjoy modern quality of life benefits. The distance that has developed between workers and union leaders undermines not only good labour relations but also productivity that comes from job satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment by all workers. Our platform will promote full engagement of workers in shaping a prosperous society for all, and the strengthening of the role of government in serving all citizens equally.
Building a Competent Public Service
The poor performance of our public service is a major obstacle to providing citizens with quality public services. Lack of competence in public service seriously undermines competitiveness, economic growth, job creation and the general improvement of living standards in South Africa. Our failure to create a competent, professional and non-partisan public service undermines the quality of governance at all levels. Public service failures and corruption hurt poor people most.
We are committed to establishing a competent, performance managed and professional state bureaucracy that serves the public. Co-ordination and collaboration must be at the heart of the culture of public service to ensure efficiency and effectiveness at all levels of government. Public service must become a desirable career option for committed patriots. South Africa has the necessary depth of expertise and experience to run a modern democracy. We need to depoliticize the public service beyond agreed levels where political deployment of competent dedicated professionals is desirable.
We are determined to promote the development of technical and specialist professional skills among public servants, improving relations between national, provincial and local government. We do have good and competent public servants who try their best to serve with integrity. But too many of us are not treated with the dignity we expect and deserve. We need to build a humane, caring public service.
Building a Restructured Economy
Our nation’s progress is hampered by an economy that does not work for every South African. There is no justification for so much poverty in the midst of so much opulence in our society. The tragic events at Marikana and the revolt by farm workers in the Western Cape Boland area have underscored the urgent need for restructuring the foundations of our economy. The legacy of the exclusionary economic and political systems that continue to characterise the primary sectors of mining and agriculture undermines our present and future economic prospects.
It is appalling to learn that an estimated 71 percent of South Africans in the 15-34 age group who make up 60 percent of our population, are not participating in the economy, and are instead forced to accept the humiliating substitute of social grants. How can we build the country of our dreams when the most energetic and innovative segment of the population is unable to participate in the economy of their own country? We have failed to transform our economy to become one that gives everyone opportunities to live in dignity as contributors to building our country.
We must create an environment that creates incentives for job creation and opportunities for livelihoods for all. The mining sector’s business model based on reliance on the migrant labour system and large numbers of low-cost, low-skilled labour is unsustainable. The mining and agricultural industries have to migrate to a business model that invests in skills of its workers, uses innovative technologies to remain competitive and create new type of jobs and opportunities for all. Another important test for our country is how to improve the skills of the rapidly increasing pool of unskilled and semi-skilled labour to give them jobs in an economy that is dominated by the services sector. We have to become much more focussed on productivity and competitiveness in our areas of strength and become a desirable investment destination and supplier of choice internationally.
Building Education and Training Systems for the 21st century
The alarming collapse of education in our public schools represents a grave threat to our future. It is woeful, shameful that we should have such low expectations of young South Africans that we are prepared to accept thirty percent as a pass mark for school leavers. What nation can expect to succeed in the 21st century with such low levels of standards of education?
Restructuring our economy to meet today’s challenges requires a concerted focus on turning around the public education and training system that is failing the majority of young South Africans. The fight against poverty and inequality cannot be won without radical transformation of our education and training system into one that promotes and rewards excellence at all levels. Teaching should once again become a proud profession for all teachers who are entrusted with the future of our children. Investment in adequate infrastructure including access to information technology teaching and learning support should be the entitlement of every child and teacher. Our children deserve better. Our teachers deserve better.
The time has come for us to work together to establish an education and training system that re-ignites the self-confidence and hopes of young South Africans to be part of the shaping of the country of our dreams. This requires a bold national leadership that can unite South Africans in the promotion of excellent education for all citizens. Ours must be a society in which every child matters and their talents are nurtured to enable them to become the best that they can be.
Raising South Africa’s Standing in the World
Our country has lost the moral authority and international respect it enjoyed when it became a democracy. This has largely to do with our failure to understand the complexity of formulating foreign policy positions in our inter-connected world. We have also not utilized the expertise that resides amongst South Africans of goodwill beyond those in government. The most serious flaw in our foreign policy stances is our failure to consistently align our policies with the human rights principles of our Constitution. We have taken positions in the multilateral arena in recent years on vexed issues such as Zimbabwe, Darfur and Myanmar that are at variance with our human rights principles.
South Africa’s global standing has also been diminished by the surrender of our country’s national sovereignty to appease foreign powers such as China, as the case of the Dalai Lama’s unsuccessful visa application to visit our shores showed. Moreover, South Africa’s international influence has been undercut by a foreign policy that has failed to define a coherent strategy for our country’s external engagements.
We need to provide greater clarity on our foreign policy objectives and ensure that these are in tune with our economic diplomacy efforts. The structural shifts in the global economy – reflected in the rapid rise of developing and emerging economies and a redirection of trade and investment towards Asia, Latin America and Africa – present our country with abundant opportunities to advance its national economic interests. We have not exploited these opportunities adequately. We have also not sufficiently used our strong position as an African country to provide leadership, especially on regional integration processes, and to forge strong mutually beneficial relationships in a continent that is set to out-perform others in a struggling global economy.
The lack of a strategic approach to migration and our failure to articulate policies that attract and retain skills for our competitiveness has left us in a situation where we have the worst of all sides of migration. Our failure to protect our borders has created a huge burden of uncontrolled economic and political refugees. This burden has generated a virulent xenophobic response from poor people who are forced to compete with much more determined migrants and refugees. We should be the magnet for Africa’s most talented skilled people and be able to respond systematically to deserving political refugees.
Restoring our country’s standing in the global arena and articulating a clear strategy for international political, diplomatic and economic engagements, in an increasingly complex global environment, must become an overarching priority of our foreign policy.
Rekindling the dream
We are here to invite people of my generation to rekindle the South Africa of our dreams. We are here to invite people of my sons’ generation to experience for themselves the thrill of living in an age of excitement and possibility. We are here to mobilize to build a world-beating 21st century democracy. We are here to invite you all to rediscover and live the values that made us a great nation. We are here to make sure that Ubuntu becomes again a way of life and ensure that every South African feels valued because they are human. We are here to ensure that being human must again become the most important status. We are here to invite all citizens to help turn our country away from the road to ruin that it seems to be set on.
We have been here before. We managed to pull ourselves from the brink of disaster before and surprised those who under-estimated our resolve as a people. The political party platform we are working on forming is an opportunity for all citizens to join hands in shaping it to ensure that it responds to the yearnings of citizens who have largely stood on the sidelines for lack of an appropriate political home. This is an opportunity for citizens to take ownership of their own country’s destiny and shape it. We need to have the courage of our convictions and not let fear imprison us.
I invite all compatriots to work with us to build a South Africa we can all be proud of. We owe it to you, our children, and your children to leave them a legacy of a great country. I have put up my hand. I ask you all to join this effort. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less. Our mothers and grandmothers deserve nothing less. All South Africans deserve nothing less.