Are we honouring Madiba’s legacy 21 years into democracy?

By Mariette Pittaway, DA MPL in the Free State Provincial Legislature:

The below speech was delivered by Mariette Pittaway (MPL) during the International Nelson Mandela Day debate at a sitting of the Free State Provincial Legislature on Thursday 30 July 2015.

This year marks 21 years of a free and democratic South-Africa. We have come of age and we have reached a critical crossroads on the road towards a matured democracy.

While we celebrate the life, leadership and legacy of our first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, we also have to take stock with how far we have come as a nation to realise Madiba’s dream of a truly free, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and more equal society.

Although we are all politically free, this democracy itself was not free.  It was paid for with sacrifice, bloodshed and tears.  Our democracy became a reality because an icon in the likes of Nelson Mandela believed in it and fought for it.  He believed in South Africa and all her people living in it.  He believed in nation building, love, respect, reconciliation, opportunities, growth and he wholeheartedly believed in the ideals of a rainbow nation.

Nelson Mandela’s legacy serves as an inspiration for people all over the world. His legacy transcends race, religion, gender, nationality, and creed. It is Madiba’s magnanimity that endears him to people regardless of the social barriers that always seek to separate them.

Mandela dedicated most of his life to fighting Apartheid. He played a pivotal role in breaking the chains of oppression. His contribution during the early years after his release from prison ensured that South Africa could hold its first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, after which he became our first democratically elected president.

Madiba believed in the Constitution and he was committed to its ideals.

Honourable Speaker,

I believe we can all agree that Nelson Mandela was not only a son of the soil, he was also a giant amongst men.

Throughout Mandela’s life he regularly inspired us with his numerous words of wisdom.

Madiba knew that it will take an effort from everyone in South Africa to ensure that freedom is not just a right, but that freedom also means responsibility.

During Madiba’s inauguration speech on 5 October 1994, he said:

“We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.”

A democratic South Africa has done much over the last 21 years in an attempt to live up to this ideal.

But Madam Speaker,

Too many of our people are waiting in vain for those words to become a reality in their lives.

Today as we speak, the majority of our people are living in a vicious cycle of absolute poverty. Especially here in the Free State.

Of the 1,8 million people in the Free State that are of working age only 755 000 are employed.

The Free State’s economy is stagnant and as a result an increasing number of people in the province have become dependent on the State through the payment of social grants.

Half of our able-bodied working age population in the Free State are completely dependent on social grants.

Madam Speaker,

The DA supports the use of grants to assist those who are trapped in poverty. However, most people in the Free State would like a job so that they can help support their families themselves.

The government’s current economic policies are not conducive to economic growth. We can see that Free State’s long term unemployment trends clearly show that our economy is on a steep decline.

In order to bring about a fair economy that creates opportunities, economic growth of between 6% and 8% is needed if we want to eliminate unemployment and create prosperity.

The reality is that much needs to be done to honour Mandela’s economic ideals for our people.

The DA has the economic policies to make Madiba’s dream a reality.

Honourable Speaker,

In Madiba’s autobiographical work, Long Walk to Freedom, published in 1995 Madiba writes:

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

What is very disconcerting is the fact that in this august house there is no respect for rules, and Madam Speaker, if I listen to the manner in which some members address this house and insult other parties and members, we undermine the legacy of tolerance and reconciliation left by Madiba.

Madiba always took the time to engage respectfully with opposition members, and opposition members engaged with him in a respectable manner. Respect is earned and Madiba definitely earned it. He was a true leader and president which enhanced the prestige of the Office of the Presidency.

Today we see a different dynamic at play that is destructive and bitter between the leaders of some political parties. We can learn much from the approach Madiba took. He understood the importance of a multi-party democracy as a necessity to build a united, yet diverse society.

Honourable Speaker,

Madiba’s love for children serves as an inspiration to us all.  He believed in the development of children. He was committed to building an excellent public education system where every child could be academically prepared to seize available opportunities, to become successful, responsible and productive citizens of our country.

In July 2003 Mandela said at the launch of Mindset Network, an award winning non-profit organisation that provides solutions for formal education, that:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” and Without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they will face. So it’s very important to give children education and explain that they should play a role for their country.

It is important to take accurate stock of the performance of the education system in South Africa today. The current system falls far short in capacitating our children with the knowledge and skills needed to survive and be productive in a knowledge-based economy.

Madam Speaker,

Failure to pay subsidies timeously has a negative impact on the ability of schools to function optimally and to create an environment conducive to learning. In this way this government is denying children the opportunity to receive quality education. Surely we can all agree that this is a betrayal of Madiba’s legacy.

Honourable Speaker,

Mandela was committed to the improvement of the material circumstances of our people. He adhered to the principles of Ubuntu through word and deed. Madiba said that:

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

But today as we celebrate Mandela’s life several Free State non-governmental organisations are battling for survival due to the fact that the Free State Department of Social Development has failed to pay state subsidies that help fund their social assistance programmes.

Thousands of children and the frail elderly are unsure whether they will receive a plate of food. This is a crisis.  The most vulnerable people in our province have to endure unnecessary suffering due the inability of the Department of Social Development to live up to Madiba’s legacy.

Madam Speaker,

The struggle for freedom is never finally won.  You earn it and win it in every generation.  What has this generation done to earn freedom?  What are we going to do as legislature to earn our freedom and to change the lives of the people in the Free State for the better? How do we contribute daily to building Madiba’s dream?

We must show integrity and dedication to make sure that government departments function properly in order to make Madiba’s dreams come true.

Madam Speaker,

We have a responsibility to eradicate poverty. To achieve this goal we need to establish a legislative framework on fair-free market principles that are conducive to job creation and economic development.

Honourable Speaker,

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” said Mandela during the Chief Albert Luthuli Centenary Celebrations in Kwa-Dukuza on 25 April 1998.

It is hard to see sacrifices being made by most current leaders.

Honourable Speaker,

Mandela once said:

“If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government.”

Honourable Speaker,

We see daily how government tries to limit our freedoms. We see the deprivation and desperation on the faces of our people. We see a persistent culture of self-aggrandisement in an environment that is corrupt and secretive.

Greed and selfishness by individuals in government is destroying our democracy.

Honourable Speaker,

Madiba dedicated his entire life to a cause that he, and millions of ordinary South Africans believed in.

His selflessness, his perseverance and his courage have been an inspiration for millions.

We thank Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela for his great leadership.  He remains an inspiration to us all. His legacy will live on to inspire generations to come.

Honourable Speaker,

Madiba’s legacy lives. His actions continue to inspire, not only here, but across the globe.

It is that legacy that the DA seeks to protect. It is that legacy that inspires the DA.

At the end of apartheid Madiba did not stop his work.  His work had only begun. He started bringing a country together that had been torn apart by an oppressive Apartheid Regime.

That project continues today. Building a prosperous, non-racist, non-sexist, free and equal society is what the DA fights for every day. It encapsulates our Vision2029 ideals and is informed by the DA’s Values Charter adopted in Port Elizabeth in May this year.

Change is coming. And we will realize Madiba’s vision for South Africa in our lifetime, a society that celebrates freedom and fairness. A society that is filled with opportunity. A society that is successful, prosperous and productive. That was Madiba’s dream and that informs the DA’s programme of action.

As we celebrate Mandela’s legacy today, let us honestly reflect on the problems and challenges in our province and in our country and there causes.

It is only through such honest reflection that we can take stock of how we measure up in honouring Mandela’s universal legacy.