Only ourselves to blame

25 September 2012 - 02:25 By ADRIENNE CARLISLE
Rev Barney Pityana, File Photo
Rev Barney Pityana, File Photo

South Africans must take responsibility for their country's failures because they insisted on electing leaders without vision, basic competence or an understanding of democracy.

Human rights activist the Rev Barney Pityana, speaking in Grahamstown at Kingswood College's annual memorial lecture to celebrate the life of anti-apartheid activist Neil Aggett, said many of South Africa's failings could not be blamed on its evil apartheid past.

"We must blame nobody but ourselves for the tragedy of our education system, a collapsing health care system, a bloated but inefficient civil service, pervasive crime, and corruption that has become endemic.

"That is because we have not only elected a government without any intelligence collectively to understand what must be done, [it cannot] draw on the resources of the entire society to fix what is wrong.

"We have a government trapped in ideological blinkers that believes and behaves like it is unaccountable."

Pityana said if South Africans continued to endorse this failed leadership the result would be "continued chaos, extending inequality, burgeoning unemployment, poverty and the social evils that have become characteristic of much of our society."

He said the ANC and its allies treated with suspicion and hostility any ideas that did not reinforce their own "stereotypical reality" and sought to silence [conflicting ideas].

"The truths they seek to present must be suppressed. But we do indeed have a president, head of state and leader of the ruling party who was charged with rape, was investigated for serious crimes of corruption and who proudly purveys as his trademark his propensity to surround himself with a multiplicity of wives."

He said no country that had an unemployment rate of more than 40% should have such a smug government.

"The government is in no hurry to deal with these matters. Instead it is reported that public resources are being manipulated to enrich the few and to build a monument to Jacob Zuma's presidency by establishing a new town on Zuma's doorstep in Nkandla.

"And through it all this nation is fast asleep."

Pityana asked what it was that made people such as Aggett, Steve Biko, Rick Turner and Nelson Mandela visionaries.

"They knew that to be human meant they had to live in the freedom they believed in and never compromise their own humanity by succumbing to fear and embracing the irrationality that engulfed society."

He said it was the likes of Aggett who gave South Africa its constitution.

"The entire structure of government should be about galvanising resources to achieve the constitutional objectives of human dignity, equality, and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.

"Only when we are progressing towards the realisation of that ideal will the deaths of the likes of Neil Aggett not be in vain," said Pityana.

Aggett, who was a pupil of Kingswood College, died in detention in 1982 aged 28.

Pityana, a former vice-chancellor of Unisa and a former chairman of the Human Rights Commission, is now rector of the College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown.