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10 May 2013 00:00
'My concern is that we are not preparing ourselves, as a nation, for the time when the inevitable happens.' (John McCann)
The news bulletins we are getting about Nelson Mandela indicate that there has been a resurgence of lung trouble. I haven't been to see him – I didn't think they would want to be bothered too greatly – but I sent a text message to his wife, Graça.
My concern is that we are not preparing ourselves, as a nation, for the time when the inevitable happens.
He's 94, he's had a rough time, and God has been very, very good in sparing him for us these many years.
At present, people who might want to offer criticisms about the political dispensation may be inhibited from doing so. People who might otherwise vote for different parties are constrained by the sense that it would be a slap in the face to Mandela. These issues are going to intensify what will, in any case, be a very traumatic experience.
We should be preparing ourselves by erecting a memorial to him, but not a physical one. The best memorial to Nelson Mandela would be a democracy that was really up and running; a democracy in which every single person in South Africa knew that they mattered, and where other people knew that each person mattered.
South Africa has the capacity to be one of the most vibrant countries in the world. We have some of the most wonderful people of all races that you could imagine. Our potential is immense. And it's an ache, it is a very huge ache, for oldies like me to see our country deteriorating and slowly sliding off what we thought belonged to us – the moral high ground. It's a great pain to see that we still have the kind of disparity we used to decry under the apartheid dispensation.
No one imagined we were going to have a paradise overnight, but we imagined that by now we would have made very considerable strides in bridging the gap between the poor and the well off.
Yet today South Africa is the most unequal society in the world. We can't hold our heads up with pride when you think of the levels of violence in our country.
During the struggle I think we were rather special. There was hardly anyone who would have said that they were in the struggle for self-aggrandisement; that they were looking for a reward. People were amazing in being so altruistic, so idealistic; committing themselves to freedom and saying that they were ready to lay down their lives. We imagined that this idealism and altruism would automatically carry over into the post-apartheid period.
But now one can point to so many instances of corruption, of unaccountability. Seeing how standards have dropped is so galling because it seems to give ammunition to those who would say: "We warned you that once you had a black majority government you would see a steady decline in standards."
There are things we've done that we should be proud of. We did a wonderful job of hosting the football World Cup – even the criminals went on holiday for two months. It showed our country what we have in us to become.
I'm not a card-carrying member of any political party. I have over the years voted for the ANC, but I would very sadly not be able to vote for them after the way things have gone.
We really need a change. The ANC was very good at leading us in the struggle to be free from oppression. They were a good freedom-fighting unit. But it doesn't seem to me now that a freedom-fighting unit can easily make the transition to becoming a political party.
And, unfortunately, we do have a weakness in our Constitution. It was important for our transition that we had proportional representation, so people were voting not for a particular candidate but for a party. We still have that system. The party that wins decides who will be its representatives, so everybody wants to get on to the party list.
You do not want to jeopardise your chances by being what you ought to be as a Member of Parliament – someone who ensures that the executive is accountable to the legislature.
The first thing the next Parliament must do is change our system so that you elect on the basis of a constituency, where you are voting for an individual who would be accountable to the electorate. Those in Parliament now are accountable to their party first rather than the electorate.
China has brought a lot of benefits to Africa, with the investments it has made and the building of infrastructure, but it has come at a cost. In South Africa, a lot of people in the textile industry have been thrown out of work because the country has been flooded with cheap Chinese goods. But what has been even more distressing for me is how our country has seemed to kowtow to Beijing.
A glaring example is what they did with the Dalai Lama, when the South African government dilly-dallied with his visa so that he couldn't come to my birthday.
The other example is our performance at the United Nations. The things we have voted for or against have been a disgrace. It has been a total betrayal of our whole tradition, and that's a very sad thing.
Deliberate decisions by politicians have caused the terrible situation in Zimbabwe, our neighbour. I keep thinking how it was one of our showpiece countries. Just a few years ago it was thriving, with a vibrant democracy and a president who was generally held in high regard.
Obviously, one is longing desperately that Zimbabwe can recover the glory of those days. It seems such utter, utter madness, the things that they've done there – destroying a very profitable agricultural sector, for example, by handing over farms to people who really weren't able to run them and who let equipment go to seed, as it were.
But people are very resilient, and I'm just hoping that one day that country can recover. One has to give the people considerable credit for still being able to smile, given that they've seen a beautiful country being turned into a nightmare.
It will be costly, but I think one day we will be able to look back and say: "Yes, it was a nightmare, but the nightmare is over."
South Africa has many gifted people who could lead our country but, at the present time, a great deal of political loyalty is based on the fact that these are the people who fought for the freedom we now enjoy.
Very many people are really voting with their hearts rather than their heads. Emotionally, you need a real turnaround to get them to see that when you vote for a political party you are voting for its policies. It is no longer something you can base on the emotional links we had with the people who strove for our freedom. – © 2013 Prospect magazine, distributed by the New York Times syndicate
Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, was interviewed by Jessica Abrahams. He recently published God Is Not a Christian: Speaking the Truth in Times of Crisis
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