Our dreams must not become our nightmares
Date Released: Wed, 9 October 2013 09:59 +0200
April 1994 saw an enormous continental contradiction: as one nation was being born, another was killing about 10% of its population. "Rwanda is our nightmare, SA is our dream," wrote Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka.
As South Africa set out to build a nonracial constitutional democracy, most of Rwanda’s Tutsi population — perhaps 800,000 people — were being slaughtered in a three-month genocidal bloodbath.
How both countries have fared in the past 20 years is a subject of global interest. South Africa’s government is compiling a 20-year review to be released towards the end of the year, according to the Ministry of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation. But, tellingly, it is preceded by a "20 years of freedom and democracy" communication strategy, which aims "to mobilise collective ownership of our 20 years of democracy". Accordingly, we are encouraged to wrap ourselves in the colours of the national flag every "Freedom Friday" to "engender social cohesion and a national identity".
I couldn’t find any similar plans for Rwanda. But the Royal African Society in Britain hosted a seminar at the weekend to discuss 20 years of postconflict governance in Rwanda. It summarises the country’s experience as follows: "In the nearly two decades since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has experienced substantial political, social and economic change, due mainly to the ambitious policies of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Analyses of RPF rule, especially since Paul Kagame became president in 2000, vary greatly, with some scholars characterising it as a visionary form of postconflict governance and development, and others as a destructive brand of national social engineering and the steady entrenchment of authoritarianism."
Just up the road, Oxford University is planning an conference in April next year on 20 years of democracy in South Africa. "Panels will focus on … important aspects of the South African state and its institutions. The Constitutional Court has probably played a larger role than anticipated, while Parliament has been more subdued. The state of (South Africa’s) bureaucracy is a critical issue for research and debate. The African National Congress (ANC) has come under considerable scrutiny both in recent conferences marking its centenary, and also in the run-up to Mangaung…. President (Jacob) Zuma’s re-election and the responses to Marikana both throw new light on the ANC."
One could summarise the main issues under discussion at both events as vision and leadership, or their absence.
I look forward to reading the 20-year review. It seems clear, though, that the government’s communication strategy is going to serve up a lot of patriotic razzmatazz. And while there is much to celebrate, South Africans need to ask some very tough questions about where we stand 20 years after apartheid.
For me, three issues stand out in South Africa: the failure to make meaningful headway in eliminating poverty and inequality; the growth of state violence; and the regression of initial efforts to foster national consciousness. This last element — what is often called "social cohesion" — has spawned a disturbing narrative on race and ethnic identity.
There remain plenty of recalcitrant opponents of transformation, though they tend to dress up their ideas differently today. Back in 1997, then president Nelson Mandela said such individuals "have essentially decided against the pursuit of the national agenda. Rather, they have chosen to propagate a reactionary, dangerous and opportunist position, which argues that … a normal democracy has been achieved". And of course, it hasn’t.
But South Africa’s trajectory — complete with appeals to tribal "tradition" — has also given rise to a disturbing form of ethnic identity. Such ethnic identification is often used as a defence in cases of cronyism, corruption, incompetence and general illegality. Such phony black nationalism has nothing to do with the views advanced by Steve Biko or Malcolm X.
A growing number of cars now sport stickers declaring "100% Zulu" — or "Xhosa" or "Motswana". Imagine stickers in Kigali declaring "100% Tutsi" or "100% Hutu". Somehow I don’t see it. Maybe a topic for discussion on "Freedom Friday"?
BY PALESA MORUDU
Morudu writes from Cape Town.
Article Source: Business Day