We are not a proud people
The central, compelling idea of a new South Africa was not merely to defeat apartheid and replace it with a new, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist order. That was merely the first step. The main step was to build a South Africa that broke comprehensively with the apartheid past and restore a "human face" to a country dehumanised by this evil system.
Without this human face, this humanism, this "ubuntu/botho", our freedom would be empty.
This is how Steve Biko summarised it in an essay in 1973: "We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize.
"Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and our brotherhood. In time, we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest possible gift - a more human face."
Nelson Mandela, the first president of our democratic republic, knew this too. In his first state of the nation speech in May 1994, he said: "My government's commitment to create a people-centred society of liberty binds us to the pursuit of the goals of freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from deprivation, freedom from ignorance, freedom from suppression and freedom from fear."
I was reminded of these ideas on humanity - and our responsibility as a people - last week by a heartbreaking case in Limpopo. Hanyani Thomo Secondary School has not had textbooks since the beginning of the year.
With the aid of nongovernmental organisations Section 27, Equal Education and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, the school took Basic Education minister and the provincial government to court to demand that it be given textbooks.
The Pretoria High Court ruled on Thursday that the failure of the government to provide textbooks to pupils in Limpopo for the start of the school year was a violation of their constitutional right to education. Judge Jody Kollapen ordered the government to supply the pupils with textbooks by June 15.
Tell me this: what kind of government, one that claims to be a true representative of the people of this country, allows pupils to sit for half the year without books? South Africa, with its vast resources marshalled towards education, cannot get it together to supply children with education?
Thousands of children in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo still do not have textbooks.
Where is the "human face" of this government when it can condemn those children to a life of squalor, a life without opportunities by denying them an education? This is a violation not just of human rights, but of everything we have fought for in this country. The politician who is not stirred by the plight of these children has lost his or her humanity. The lack of humanity stretches from citizen to politician.
Do you remember the heartbreaking story of a child named Jackpot? This is the mentally disabled child who was gang-raped, her ordeal filmed on a cellphone and the gory clip distributed across the country.
Men and women watched that clip of a child being raped and said nothing. Police who had been told of this child's previous rapes had done nothing. The neighbourhood knew she was called a sexual jackpot and they did nothing.
Now that her plight hogged our headlines for a week, we don't even know where she is and we don't care to ask. A child was raped in our midst and we say nothing.
This is the "human face" of the new South Africa. This is the human face of a country that was broken by apartheid - which apparently wasn't too bad, according to FW de Klerk - and which is failing at finding its true self.
Examples of a humane, caring South Africa exist, of course, and they are not too hard to find. Yet there is no denying that we are going through a period in which we are experiencing a deluge of inhumanity: a government whose actions show a lack of humanity towards its citizens and a citizenry descending into savagery.
One cannot always blame citizens. When one considers the extraordinary corruption and looting that goes on among the ruling elite, the shocking displays of callousness by government officials at hospitals and state offices towards citizens, then one can understand why human life has become meaningless to the ordinary man and woman.
"You are either alive and proud or you are dead," Biko told an interviewer months before he was murdered by the apartheid government in 1977. In this inhumane country today, we are not a proud people. We wake up every morning, rape and death and hunger in our midst, and we go to our offices and we laugh and we pray and we work. We are not proud. We are not alive.