Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
A profile of Alan Paton hangs in my study at my home in Kwaphindangene. Beneath it is inscribed Paton’s famous definition of liberalism which he summed up in 1953: "by liberalism I don’t mean the creed of any party or any century. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism and a love of freedom."
I remembered these stirring words last week when I attended a Women’s Day Celebration in Eshowe. I believe they crisply capture the idealism and the frontier spirit of the new nation we have all been striving to build since 1994. Paton’s words may have been uttered nearly half-a-century before our first democratic election, yet they evoke the spirit of humanity and tolerance which characterises our progressive Constitution and Bill of Rights.
It is with a sense of awe that, as I have remarked before, one considers the success of our highly heterogeneous nation of many stripes (more than a two-toned zebra) in internalising a sense of what it means to be South African over the last thirteen years. Symbols such as our flag, and the rights and aspirations embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights have, somehow, snuck into the hearts and minds of "ordinary" South Africans.
Moreover, we have made considerable progress in inculcating a human rights-based culture amongst our citizenry; one which forcibly speaks out against violence against women and children. This was a constant refrain in last week’s celebrations.
I was, however, saddened to see that there were hardly any of our white or our other brothers and sisters from the minority communities represented at the Women’s Day Celebrations. There was only one male white councillor, one male white mayor, one Indian mayor and two Indian ladies present! There were no coloureds despite there being a sizeable coloured community in Eshowe. It was not the first time that I noticed it. Is this a mere question of "culture" I asked myself? On a public holiday, would my white friends rather be downing a chilled Heineken whilst barbecuing next to the pool (which, by all means, is not an unattractive proposition)? The answer, I think, is yes and no.
My fear is that black and white South Africans may be living under the same flag and anthem, but that we are still largely living separate lives. This was comically demonstrated by a theatrical incident on Reconciliation Day in 2005 which, I am sure, had the likes of my blossoming old friend, Evita Bezuidenhout, bent double in laughter.
Just as President Thabo Mbeki was giving a bleak assessment of the enduring divisions in South African society, Eugene Terreblanche arrived in Church Square in Pretoria on horseback to tell supporters, "I’ve come to gather our people, the volk, we must get together and go into a laager". A laager was the circle of wagons the Afrikaner pioneers would form to protect themselves from Black Africans as they trekked across South Africa in the nineteenth century.
I do know, of course, that most Afrikaners, in common with most whites, love this country, its fierce beauty, generosity of spirit and, when the occasion demands it, raw courage. And now, thank God, the apartheid stigma of being a white South African has gone.
But is there a danger, I wonder, that the absence of white people at public holiday events evidence that many have simply withdrawn from many areas of public life? The economy is motoring along and a substantial part of it remains in white hands, yet there is a certain pervading sense of fatalism when it comes to the political/public arena.
This would be a travesty. Once again, one must distinguish between the ruling-party’s narrowly defined political programme (which they call the national democratic revolution) and the quite different, and more enduring, quest of building a national consensus.
In order to build a genuine national consensus with an open mind and with maximum honesty, it is important that everyone participates. A national consensus means more than turning out every five years at the ballot box. It entails, for example, participating in rallies, like those held last week, against domestic violence. It means writing a common history by commemorating Human Rights Day or Youth Day together. This was the thinking when the new democratic government appropriated the commemoration of many of the country’s historical events, such as, for example, the Battle of Blood River between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus, as national public holidays.
Even on the Day of Goodwill, an odd occurrence takes place at Blood River (which in Zulu is known as Ncome). Afrikaners celebrate the day at the bronze wagon monument depicting the iconic laager of the 16th of December 1838. The Zulus celebrate the day on the other side of the river at a monument erected by the present democratic government. A few years ago, whilst we were busy with our celebrations, I received a message from the whites’ celebration to the effect that former President Mr PW Botha wanted to cross to greet our King, King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuluzulu. He was assured that he would be welcome. He duly arrived, accompanied by his wife, Barbara, and a few people to greet the King and all of us who were assembled there. I thought it was quite a historical event, but it was, alas, largely ignored by the media. I wonder if the day will come when we will celebrate the Day of Goodwill together. I wonder if it will happen in my lifetime.
Participation by all South Africans on these special days will also help to ensure that in building a national consensus, individual, regional or group concerns about identities are not imprisoned in stereotypes, or stigmatised as tribal or retrogressive. The positive flipside of my argument is the inherent recognition that blacks in today’s South Africa are not more or less important than whites. We are all sailing in the same boat together, not in separate "pontoons" to invert Edmund Burke’s conservative view of society.
As we have an idea, I said earlier in the year, as to how to go about building a national consensus, we need to find a starting point. One starting point might be you, dear reader, going along to the next public day celebration. And who knows what friendships could be sparked at such events?
So here’s hoping to see some more of my white brothers and sisters on Heritage Day next month.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 555 7144