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Wed Nov 26 03:34:42 SAST 2014

He gave us a road map

S'Thembiso Msomi | 03 July, 2013 01:10

Political parties across the spectrum were outraged by an article in Britain's Daily Mail on Friday that suggested that a race war could break out after Nelson Mandela dies.

The report, penned by Andrew Malone, claimed that statistics "and the savagery of the killings" suggested that South African whites were being targeted by black criminals.

A "disturbing number of whites", wrote Malone, "are terrified" that Mandela's passing "will lead to an outpouring of violence from black South Africans" who would "no longer" be "contained by the sheer power" of the former president's presence.

The ANC denounced the article as "malicious" and the DA dismissed it as "reprehensible and morally repugnant".

Even the Solidarity trade union, which styles itself as a champion of white-minority rights, viewed Malone's piece as "alarmist".

The terrible truth about Malone's article is that, despite all the achievements of the past 19 years in forging a united nation, there are South Africans who genuinely believe in this claptrap.

Take Anna, a resident of Kleinfontein - that whites-only suburb in the capital city, Pretoria - who was one of the people quoted in Malone's article: "I think there will be trouble . There might be tribal warfare first between the black races. Then they might turn on us."

Mandela has not been president for 14 years - and there are still people who believe that the 94-year-old is the only thing standing between us and a bloody race war?

They have clearly not understood his meaning and the enduring gift that he, and many of his generation, have given us.

As the ailing struggle icon nears a month as a patient at a Pretoria hospital, there is much debate about his political legacy and the negotiated settlement he and the ANC championed in the 1990s.

With growing numbers of South Africans - particularly within the ranks of the previously oppressed - getting frustrated at the slow pace of socioeconomic transformation, there are those who blame it all on Mandela and his supposed preference for national reconciliation over redress.

Land reform, workplace transformation and the redistribution of wealth, it is argued, would have happened much quicker over the past 20 years were it not for the deals Mandela and his political elite concluded with the apartheid government and big corporations back in the early 1990s.

Twenty years into democracy there is still clearly a long way to go before South Africa can become the truly non-racial society many yearned for during the dark decades of the struggle for freedom.

But to blame it all on Mandela is to absolve our own generation of responsibility.

Madiba and his peers did their part in giving us the constitutional democracy we enjoy today.

How we use this gift to bring about the prosperous future we desire is entirely up to us and future generations.

When Mandela promulgated the constitution in 1996, he was not signing a supreme law that would put the majority government under the control of, and domination by, the minority as some on the left have argued.

As Constitutional Court judge Edwin Cameron argued during his seminal speech at the Sunday Times Literary Awards on Saturday night, the constitution is not a stumbling block to socio-economic transformation.

"The reviled 'willing buyer, willing seller' principle that is said to inhibit land reform is contained nowhere in the constitution. All the constitution outlaws are arbitrary deprivations of property, and all it requires is just and equitable compensation when the government takes property," he pointed out.

If land reform and other transformative programmes are slow, it is most likely because many of the role- players lack the political will and not because of the constitution or Mandela's compromises.

Much is being made of the fact that right-leaning groups often run to court to frustrate government decisions aimed at bringing about social change. But what is stopping "the forces of change" from using the courts and the constitution to push for social justice?

"The constitution is not just a document of high aspirations and idealism," argued Cameron. "It is a practical, workable charter. And it has proved itself [to be] modestly but practically effective as a basis for the democratic exercise of power in our half-broken country."

This is the gift that Mandela and his generation are leaving us. We ought to use the document to shape the kind of South Africa we want instead of blaming Madiba and his generation for not delivering us to paradise in one go.

To honour Mandela is to recognise the role he and his fellow travellers played, at great personal sacrifice, to get us to where we are today. It is entirely up to the current generation to take the country even further.

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