From pieces to peace

With the re-election of Thabo Mbeki on 14 April 2004, South Africans celebrated the tenth anniversary of democracy. Among the host of events to mark this momentous event was a musical commemorating the achievements of the past ten years.

New Day included a tribute to the World Cup rugby victory in 1995, an interpretive dance of the elections (which to Australian audiences may seem comical but which local audiences saw as reverent) and scenes of those who have been brought ‘into the fold’ by the constitution of the ‘new’ South Africa. In one scene a refreshingly camp character celebrates the inclusion of his right to equal treatment in spite of his sexual orientation. His question at the end of one scene drew a mixed response from the audience, ‘Why didn’t the new South Africa come with instructions?’ The question was, for me, revelatory.

In the lead up to the election, campaign posters identified the problems facing this new democracy: ‘A better South Africa for all; A million real jobs; 150,000 new police; Ten years of unemployment is undermining the peoples’ freedom.’ These are the cries of the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance and those of the New Nationalist Party, the party once synonymous with apartheid; a system at the forefront of the national political consciousness even now.

During my stay in Soweto, I was cross-examined by local residents. ‘What were the key issues and challenges I saw as an outsider for the “new” South Africa?’ I suggested five: HIV/AIDs; crime and poverty; recovery from past injustices; the startling ignorance of the rich South Africa about the poor; and moving beyond the Mandela legacy. As long as South Africans retained their commitment to bridge gaps and rebuild their society, the new South Africa could be a model for other states—especially other African states—to follow.

‘The apartheid museum just opened by your government says it all’, I said. ‘It makes no apologies, owes no apologies and embraces everyone in the Mandelian spirit of forgiveness.’

I left with one overriding question of my own. If the new South Africa had come with instructions, what would they be? The answer: the question. What better way is there for this nation to move into a new era than to be self-reflective; where asking the hard questions is not only accepted but expected? As South Africa heads boldly into its second decade of democracy, the collective act of questioning should be its chief source of pride. There are many places in the world, not least Australia, that could profit from such honesty. As a sign painted on a primary school in Cape Town put it, the new South Africa is moving ‘from pieces to peace.’ 



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