Unbanned 25 years ago: The promise of the time hasn’t been fulfilled

Unbanned 25 years ago

We are a nation full of grumbles – and with good reason, too. The festering corruption and its indirect manifestations in the bewildering avalanche of suspensions of senior officials at the National Prosecuting Authority, the South African Revenue Service and the Hawks – not to mention the ongoing Nkandla debacle – have left a lot of us citizens scratching our heads.

This is our lot 25 years after the unbanning of our political organisations that fought for freedom. The unbanning was a seismic political event that set in motion a series of events that brought us to where we are today. It made negotiations for a political settlement possible and the drafting of the Constitution that now regulates our national life.

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Of course, for those segments of the liberation movement that were not part of the secret negotiations that led to the unbanning, it was a bittersweet development. But this does not remove the fact that it was a momentous occasion that changed the direction of politics in South Africa. We moved away from the politics of confrontation, detentions, torture, imprisonment, murders, hatred and danger to free and democratic activity.

There were expectations, especially in the oppressed black community, that there would be an end to their landlessness, poverty and social degradation. There was a genuine hope that the new dawn would lead to a truly nonracial society in which the wealth of the country would be shared fairly by its citizens and that the dignity of the black majority would be restored.


But, alas, 25 years later, we have been reduced to a protest society. Strikes and protests are so frequent and numerous that we have become inured to them.

Land dispossession was the cornerstone of the architecture of oppression and economic impoverishment of the black majority – a process that was sustained over centuries of settler colonialism – but the black majority government has made infinitesimal progress in the area of land reform.

This despite the fact that it was a major grievance of the black majority and therefore formed a critical element of the struggle for freedom.

Dragging our feet on land reform seems to suggest that we have lost focus on what is really important and crucial for the building of a truly equal and fairer society. A lot of us in positions of authority have been lured by shiny but small things, such as luxury cars and clothes, at the expense of what really matters, namely, the wealth of the country.

In a sense, this explains why, under a democratic government, we have become the most unequal society on the globe. One is not sure whether we are ashamed of this deplorable development or not.

Is the provision of social grants to 15-million of us a proper and adequate response to the widespread poverty in our society? It feels and sounds kind, but it is actually a measure of our failure to tackle the poverty of our people in an effective way.

Our expectations remain unfulfilled in other spheres of our lives as well. Look at the deplorable state of our education system, which wastes legions of our young people. Our health sector is similarly just limping along, prompting some to call it a death trap for the poor.

The majority of our municipalities are models of incompetence and dens of sleaze, forcing citizens to spill into the streets every now and then to vent their frustrations.

The criminal justice system is creaking under the burden of unrelenting and violent crime. Women and children are being brutalised in a manner never seen before in our society. In short, we are not doing well at all on many fronts.

Our ineptitude in various aspects of our national life produces and exacerbates some of the problems we have alluded to. For instance, the failure of the education system to give skills to our young feeds the unemployment and poverty pipelines, and that in turn feeds the crime monster.

The embarrassing attacks on, and looting of, businesses owned by foreigners in the townships are not as much a manifestation of Afrophobia as they are consequences of our ineptitude in the administration of immigration and related issues. We should ask ourselves why these attacks do not happen in Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

Besides the fact that these countries have rooted themselves firmly in their Africanness, they also implement their immigration laws and regulations effectively, efficiently and fairly.

Our slackness in this regard tends to pit the poorest in our society against foreigners. We do not see any hostility towards the many skilled foreign Africans in South Africa. All in all, we have not yet lived up to the expectations of that unbanning moment. We are still searching for most of its benefits.

Mosibudi Mangena is a former president of the Azanian People’s Organisation and a former science and technology minister

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