DA’s people-centered approach to transformation will bring redress and foster unity

By David van Vuuren, DA Chief Whip in the Free State Provincial Legislature:

The below speech was delivered by David van Vuuren (MPL) during the ‘Transformation of the Heritage Landscape’ consultative meeting held in Westdene, Bloemfontein 19 June 2015.

Ladies and gentleman,

Goeie Dag. Dumelang. Good morning.

I would like to thank MEC Leeto for inviting the DA to participate in this consultative meeting on what is a very important topic.

There is no doubt that post-Apartheid South Africa had to embark on a journey to transform our society to represent the ideals of our living Constitution to ensure representivity of all our cultures, traditions, and histories in the spaces we live, work and play in.

Our history as a nation was engineered in such a way that it physically separated the people of this country along the lines of culture, language, gender, religion, tribe, ethnicity, race and wealth. This was Apartheid’s main objective, to divide and rule. It was a method and system that the Apartheid Regime inherited and adapted from their former colonial masters. The DA acknowledges the wrongs of Apartheid and the need for redress.

In contemporary South Africa, the need to bring all our people together was paramount. We embarked on a project that would cultivate a proud, diverse and united nation.

In many respects we have succeeded, but 21 years into democracy, we find that the economic and social landscape the average South African find themselves in, has not brought about the redress that meets expectations in this regard. Indeed, the legacy of Apartheid is extenuated by the lack of redress.

But, it is very important that when we embark on an accelerated transformative agenda, specifically pertaining to geographical name changes, we should consider seriously the impact that this may have on the psyche of various sections of our community.

Though transformation is a necessity, it must be kept in mind that it is also an extremely emotive issue for all involved in the transformative process.

It is for this very reason that the DA believes that the transformative process should not be politicised to the extent where it degenerates into destructive political point scoring that may result in expanding the divisions between sections of our society any further.

It is the view of the DA that the process should be inclusive and that as far as possible be people centered, instead of being politically motivated.

Let us take the recent example of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement. Not only was this movement hijacked by political parties, it resulted in the destructive behaviour that saw many other historic sites vandalised. Including here in the Free State at Ficksburg.

The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement, at its very core was not interested in debate. Leaders of the movement resolved that the statue must be removed. The word ‘must’ closed any and all avenues of debate. We saw that the student leadership of this movement went so far as to refuse to engage with the University of Cape Town’s senate and leadership on the matter. They wanted the statue gone and that was it.

It is unfortunate that student leaders decided to adopt this absolutist approach to their protest. It made negotiating extremely difficult and due process and ultimately the Rule of Law was compromised for what can only be regarded as political expediency.

No doubt that Cecil John Rhodes was a flawed man. No doubt that he presided over a colonial system that was oppressive, racist, and imperialist and engineered solely for the exploitation of the people of Africa and her resources to enrich himself and the British Empire.

Amongst Afrikaners and amongst Africans, the name Cecil John Rhodes is a reminder of great suffering, pain, war and death and disease in concentration camps; during what could be regarded as an attempted genocide. The fundamental question here is whether the removal of that statue will bring healing, or does it serve to attempt at eradicating the impact Rhodes had on this country and her people?

The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement degenerated to the extent where EFF members necklaced a South African War Memorial statue in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. Imagine! It was a violent act seeking to inflame, divide, and whip up negative nationalist sentiment. Again, this kind of action sought to close any form of debate, and as such, an opportunity was missed to interrogate the meaning of the statue and how it came to represent the deaths and sacrifices and hardship war has brought not only on the Afrikaaners, but also the suffering of black communities who were embroiled in what was regarded by many to be “a white man’s war”.

When Paul Kruger’s statue in Pretoria was defaced with green paint, we saw a small minority of white extremists under the banner of the FF+ came to blows with extremists representing the EFF. Racist slurs were hurled back and forth. How does one begin a transformative process in such a racially divided and emotional climate? It is impossible. One can’t build a nation on a platform of extremism. We must ensure that extremism never become central to our interactions with one another.

So what is the alternative? How should we as leaders then move forward with the very important task of initiating and guiding and nurturing transformation?

The DA believes that the transformative process must be inclusive. This is a prerequisite. The process must be public and thorough engagement with affected communities should take place.

Recently there was a proposal to change the name of one of South Africa’s oldest towns, Harrismith, here in the Free State. The process was flawed from the beginning. It was not transparent, it did not engage in meaningful public participation, and it did not consider that the communities of both Intabazwe and Greater Harrismith were jointly opposed to any name change as far back as 2005.  One will have to ask whether changing the name of this town will transform in anyway the legacy of Apartheid’s spatial planning, or tangibly improve the lives of all the people of Maluti-A-Phofung? I think not.

This brings me to a very important point.

The DA agrees that in some instances geographical name changes are important, especially where names are offensive or hurtful.

However, there is a very thin line to affecting name changes purely for cosmetic and party political purposes. This approach is not only anti-transformative, it is financially costly to communities that can ill afford such luxuries.

The transformative process should rather be extended to recognise South Africans who enriched our national heritage through the arts and sciences, like Miriam Makeba, Athol Fugard, Alfred Kumalo, Gerard Sekoto, Johny Clegg or notable philosophers like Morena Mhlomi. There are many South Africans across all fields that are worthy of celebration and recognition, not only politicians. We should also seriously consider indigenous geographical features and fauna and flora in our search for names.

But we can’t talk about transformation without talking about real transformation of the lives of our people. Slapping a new name on a town, a suburb or street, does little to address the real areas of society in need of tangible and sustainable redress and transformation.

The real statues that must fall are not that of Rhodes, the real statues of colonialism and Apartheid that must fall are the legacy of inequality, poverty, unemployment, and poor quality education.

It is much easier to change the name of a town than it is to integrate communities and reverse the impact of Apartheid’s spatial planning.

It is much easier to destroy than it is to build.

The DA’s approach to transformation is a comprehensive and dedicated approach that would actively, tangibly and directly begin to dismantle the legacy of Apartheid and bring about true, real transformation in people’s lives.

Our policies are designed to ensure the delivery of quality education and the creation of an environment geared towards economic growth and opportunities. This will result in sustainable and decent job creation reducing unemployment establishing prosperous and productive communities.

At a local level, the way the DA governs and manages the towns and cities under its curatorship, will not only reflect the diversity of our people through renaming streets, suburbs and towns, but the DA will see the establishment of new suburbs, economic centres and even new towns. This will not only integrate communities separated by the injustices of Apartheid, it will establish new integrated communities of all races, religions, traditions and cultures, living in harmony, working together to make South Africa great.

In conclusion, when we talk about transformation, real transformation, we need to do thorough research, communicate with affected communities, and make informed responsible decisions that will improve the lives of our people. We all have to keep an open mind and be willing to talk to each other.

I would like to leave you with a quote made by the Former Chief Justice Puis Langa, on transformation he said:

“There is no right way to deal with the immense violation that was apartheid. But, as a society, we must keep alive the hope that we can move beyond our past. That requires both a remembering and a forgetting. We must remember what it is that brought us here. But at the same time we must forget the hate and anger that fuelled some of our activities if we are to avoid returning to the same cycle of violence and oppression.”

And with these wise words, I thank you.