Are we worthy successors?
Justice Malala | 08 June, 2011 12:33
The great ones. well, they are dying now. The
elders of the struggle, the ones who raised a fist of defiance and shouted
“Amandla!” even as they were bundled into police vans to be sentenced
to years, decades even, in jail – they are leaving us now, at a faster rate.
When Joe Slovo died in the 1990s it was a shock. He was still so new to us. This name
that had been whispered at meetings and shouted from podiums – suddenly,
quickly, it was gone.
Now the frequency is increasing. This week it was Albertina Sisulu, a gentle, courageous,
dignified political leader who seemed to possess the ability to fight the
apartheid system at every turn while, seemingly effortlessly, raising bright,
talented and committed children.
In times of anger, she kept her cool. When there were calls for absolute destruction,
she reminded angry young people that they had a country to inherit from their
oppressors. When she faced up to her oppressors while leading the United
Democratic Front in the 1980s she was uncompromising, calm and accommodating
while unbending on principle.
She was not the only one. There were women and men like her all over the country, and
in jails and in exile. The roll call could be heard at political rallies.
They are going now. I do not know how to handle the deaths of these old ones, these
people who were names in the night in the 1980s. Theirs were names that triggered a
sense of bravery, of defiance, of rectitude. Their deaths signify not just their passing,
but the end of an era. Do we, the “young ones”, know what is lost, what is passing on?
Death is not new to us, the people of my generation. There was a time in the late 1990s
and early 2000s when there was so much dying of people my age because of Aids
that we became inured to death. We lived with memories of the dead nearby, the
dying wasting away in our midst. Denial of the HIV-Aids pandemic was so rampant
but, when probably the two most prominent ANC Youth League leaders succumbed to
the disease, no one said a word.
Except these elders.
It was Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and others who kept the flame alive. They made us
hope; they reminded us of our ability to use our voice to bring about change.
They spoke up about Aids.
Change did come. Today we have a health minister who makes you want to weep with
pride, a man who embraces his job and his challenges with a gusto and openness
of mind and heart that you look at him and think: This is what the elders would
have wanted us to become.
It was in the first parliament of our democratic dispensation, between 1994 and 1995,
that the work of these elders can best be seen.
It was this parliament and the Constituent Assembly that gave us what is probably the
finest constitution in the world. They reminded us that it is acceptable and
admirable for Africans to aim high, that we can bench-mark ourselves against
the very best in the world.
This constitution set up the chapter9 institutions that today help us protect the
freedom these elders so valiantly fought for.
An Albertina Sisulu would be proud of the work, for example, of the current Public
Protector. Taking on power, without fear or favour, are what the institutions
of the apartheid state failed to do. The Public Protector is beginning to show
that this is not necessarily so in the new South Africa.
Another institution to be proud of is the Independent Electoral Commission, a body that
has done spectacularly well in the past 17 years and which, in the future, will
It will come under pressure to be partisan, but on the basis of its track record I
believe it will stake its claim to be a proud South African institution.
What about us, though? The adversity of apartheid blessed us with men and women
whose moral courage and commitment to values is unparalleled. Can we claim to
be worthy successors of these people?
Soon there will be no Sisulus, Mandelas and Tutus among us. They will be gone. We
will look around and realise that it is now up to us to protect the gains they
lived – and many died – fighting for.
Will we be up to the challenge? Will we keep quiet when the Protection of Information
Bill is being pushed through parliament despite its undemocratic, secretive
nature? Will we, 10 years from now, say proudly that our country is the one
that these elders fought for?