Of dignity and hope – again

On the evening of May 10 1994, hours after President Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president, I found myself in a hotel room in Pretoria, waiting to fly back to Durban the next day.

I wrote a piece about dignity, and the chance South Africans had to work for dignity, as per Section 10 of the Constitution: Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected. I love that thought. And in my heart that evening, I firmly believed South Africa would grow into its new Constitution, especially on the issue of dignity.

Those issues were close to my heart as a South African and as Political Correspondent of The Daily News. I had hope. And now I have cause to hope a second time, in the form of a second government of national unity.  

De Klerk had run out of sensible options

There are similarities between the governments of President FW de Klerk in the early 1990s and that of President Cyril Ramaphosa in the early 2024s. De Klerk had run out of sensible options and credible support as president. De Klerk’s greatest contribution to South Africa was to acknowledge that apartheid in whatever way it was defined was going nowhere, and so he bravely helped prepare the way for a negotiated constitution and a better future.

The negotiations were not easy. One of the bleakest moments was the Boipatong massacre of 45 people on June 17 1992. People supporting the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) attacked people living in the Joe Slovo squatter camp. One of the perineal criticisms of de Klerk was that he had lost control of some sections of the police and army. That was true in part.

Joe Slovo had a proposition

Negotiations in Kempton Park came to an end on the Friday evening after Boipatong. Step up Ramaphosa for his finest hour. As lead negotiator of the African National Congress (ANC), he was vital in keeping alive the hope of a negotiated settlement with other parties, along with Roelf Meyer, of the National Party (NP), who was the government’s lead negotiator. And step up Slovo, then chair comrade of the South African Communist Party. He proposed in 1992 a sunset clause. That allowed for a multi-party cabinet based on voter support in the first democratic election. There were also guarantees for civil servants, including from the 10 homelands and of the armed forces, and an amnesty process.

The wisdom in the sunset clause helped clear the way for a new Constitution, for the first government of national unity, for Mandela to become president, and for me writing about an era of dignity. There was no dignity in apartheid.

As lead negotiator for the ANC, Ramaphosa made a monumental contribution into ushering in the Constitution that today stands between South Africa and oblivion.

South Africa had a second chance

South Africa had a second chance, after the horrors of apartheid. Alas that second chance faded away on the grim streets of the land. The ANC, in my opinion, diluted its integrity and honour by accepting countless new members who put their greed and eye for a profitable opportunity before the honour of serving the people, as fallen members of the ANC had upheld.

I was filled with despair over the next 30 years as the ANC fell apart, and so did government and South Africa. I have always been haunted by a whisper I heard in the corridors of the Press Gallery, Parliament, in 1994 that the National Party had urged the ANC to introduce cadre deployment – better known as placing your party mates to positions in the new government, no matter what their talents. Imagine if there was some truth in that whisper.

R227 billion was lost due to corruption

Those deployed mates helped propel Ramaphosa now directly and deliberately into the same position as de Klerk had been. Ramaphosa has acknowledged by his deeds after the election that his party and the unemployment policies it had generated were going nowhere. Like de Klerk, Ramaphosa has endeavoured to allow a government representing a few other parties to emerge. Ramaphosa stands accused of losing control of his party and his government. Consider the words of outgoing public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan in May. He said more than R227 billion was lost due to corruption, fraud and bribery at Eskom, South African Airways and Transnet in the previous five years. That is not nicking petty cash: that is a sustained theft campaign. How did this come about? Back to Gordhan. He said such enterprises fell into ruin because people without qualifications were appointed to jobs in the enterprises. The appointed party cadres did not work, in the words of Gordhan, but instead mismanaged state resources. For mismanaged read the words stole taxpayers money for their own benefit.

“People didn’t have the skills and were concentrating on other things rather than making those enterprises work effectively and today we’ve paid the price for it,” Gordhan said. For many years, he said, officials and politicians gave tenders to their friends, for kickbacks.

Come save me from myself

The almost unchecked form of misrule led to the loss of 71 ANC seats in Parliament. Ramaphosa had no option but to say to Democratic Alliance (DA), IFP and the Patriotic Alliance; come save me from myself and the mates I previously appointed to government.

This means there are now people who think like me in government. We are liberals who promote individual rights, civil liberties, democracy and free enterprise. We respect the opinion of people who differ with us. Putin, for example, cannot say that, nor can Netanyahu. We want to uphold Section 10 and enable people to find dignity, partly through the deeds of government.

The deeds of government will be secured through sufficient consensus between the political parties. The one phrase that drove some members of the attendant Press to the free bar at the multi-party negotiations was sufficient consensus. That meant before an idea could be carried forward, the ANC and the NP had to agree on it. Now sufficient consensus means the ANC and DA must agree on the idea.

The answer is not land seizure

Hopefully by being inside government, DA members and eyes will be able to deter unscrupulous people wanting to feed off government and the poor. Hopefully the DA members will help with ways to enable more South Africans to own land. The answer is not, as the Progressive Caucus would have us believe, through the forced seizure of land. Russia tried to seize land in Ukraine and has landed in an awful mess. Russia was a few months back the most despised country in the free world. Now, Israel is the most despised country in the entire world for its murderous invasion of Gaza, which is an attempt to steal land.

Members and supporters of the Progressive Caucus should count themselves most fortunate they live in South Africa. Were they in Russia, for example, or Vietnam, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela or Iran, they would not have the freedom of speech to stand up to publicly proclaim to be in an alliance to take down the government. If they were so unwise to try, they would have disappeared into political prison cells. And quickly too. Thanks to the Constitution, to which Ramaphosa contributed, they can instead freely insult the president and the choice of voters. The Constitution and the Constitutional Court, are truly faithful servants of the people of South Africa.

What’s in a name?

Interesting choice of a name that; Progressive Caucus. The Progressive Party was formed in August 1959 by people who wanted to oppose more vigorously the apartheid policies of the NP government. The Progressive Party rejected race discrimination and advocated equal opportunities for all with a common voter’s roll. It was the grandparent of the DA, who still reject race discrimination and advocate equal opportunities for all. But, what’s in a name?

The issues that face South Africa today are the same issues that stumped the country in 1994 – poverty, employment, landlessness, despair and a paucity of hope, all made worse, however, by the R5.2 trillion debt the ANC government has run up to buy favour with its dwindling supporters. That works out at R323 437 government debt owed by each registered voter. 

John Steenhuisen, the leader of the DA, said the party’s mission in the new government of national unity was to uplift and deliver dignity to all people. That has been the desire of people in the DA since 1959.

Ramaphosa has spoken of another era of hope for South Africa. Imagine that, the leader of the ANC and I are now speaking the same language, namely the language of hope. Who would have thought? It is a privilege to be able to speak of dignity and hope again.

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