Celebrating the heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle in South Africa

14 September 2011

An opportunity to celebrate the lives and times of the heroes and heroines of our national liberation struggle is an opportunity to reflect upon and reaffirm the intrinsic roots of our nation and the continuing relevance for nation building and social cohesion.

Since Biblical and Pharaohic times, all the great nations and empires that arose and prospered were those that were founded on and preserved the history of their founding fathers and mothers, in particular, the revolutionary moral values which inspired their struggles for national liberation, freedom, equality and justice for all. Those nations who abandoned their history and revolutionary morality, declined and perished.

Honourable Speaker,

South Africa has a great history of national liberation struggle and, in particular, a rich heritage of revolutionary moral values which were born out of that struggle. Our revolutionary morality of the founders of our struggle for liberation, continue to inspire other nations and peoples who are grappling with issues of nation building and social cohesion. We have received delegations from other foreign countries who, inspired by "our miracle nation" and its foremost icon, Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela, sought to learn about our South African experience. Recently, we hosted the Angolan Parliamentary Delegation and this past Saturday, I addressed the National Conference of Sinn Fein in Belfast, and they all want to engage and learn from us.

Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, was able to spearhead our national liberation struggle because he understood and embodied the history and values which inspired a generation of heroes and heroines of our struggle. The founders of our democracy, like the French and American revolutions, were inspired by the Masonic principles of liberty, equality and brotherhood.

The Western nations which owed their birth to these noble principles, were disbelieving in their views that African and other third world peoples were also an integral part of the human family and that they too deserved to enjoy the right to self- determination, liberty and equality. The underdevelopment paradigm of the African continent today was as a result of the absolute absence of the sense of complementarism as it relates to western countries that consider themselves totally independent of others.

The founders of this Parliament and the historic designs of its historic buildings were inspired by the same Masonic heritage that inspired Prince Hall, founder of the African Masonic lodges in the US, and teacher great Pan African revolutionaries such as Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, Rev. Richard Allen, Prof. Williams B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. The founders of this Parliament and the heroines and heroes of our national liberation struggle drew their inspiration from the same revolutionary heritage.

But the founders of this Parliament, like the leaders of the French and American Revolutions, did not know that they owed their revolutionary principles which guided them, to the African people who they enslaved, colonized and forcibly deprived of land and its natural resources. When the Africans, in particular, and black people in general, stood up to fight for their right to self-determination and human rights, they were labeled terrorists and hunted down like wild animals, arrested, tortured, imprisoned or killed. The democratic breakthrough of 1994 awakened all of us, both black and white, to fact that we are, after all, members of the same human family and that we are all, inherently free, equal and are brothers and sisters. This realization did not come to us like "manna from heaven", it was born out of the national liberation struggle and the revolutionary morality that underpinned it.

Honourable Speaker,

President Nelson Mandela and all his successors preached the African Renaissance, reconciliation, nation building and social cohesion based on humanity (Ubuntu/Botho) of all South Africans, both Black and White.

Honourable Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma was applauded by all of us when she told this august House that in 2012, the ANC will celebrate 100 years of selfless struggle for freedom, equality and justice for all and that this will be a centenary of all the people of South Africa, Africa and the World. This Centenary would not be possible without the selfless sacrifices of the heroes and heroines of our national liberation struggle.

The celebration of their lives, times and revolutionary morality is long overdue.

"We are who we are because of others" and it is difficult, if not impossible, to build a new, cohesive, caring and sustainable nation without anchoring it in the revolutionary values of our heroes and heroines. Given that nearly one-third (1/3) of our population is aged younger than 15 years, it is difficult, if not impossible, to envision the sustainability of our democracy by our youth and children, unless public representatives commit themselves to teaching our democratic values and principles. How else can future generations sustain this democracy when our schools and institutions believe that teaching the history of our national liberation struggle and revolutionary morality, is the introduction of politics in institutions of learning?

Honourable Speaker,

The history of our national liberation struggle and the revolutionary morality that inspired it are the bedrock and mainstay of our heritage, nationhood and social cohesion. Every young person and child, regardless of race, class or gender, must know this history and morality, lest we build our new nation on quicksand. Every institution of learning, private or public, should teach this history and morality in the same manner that we teach about the patriarchs, Abraham, Moses and Solomon in the Bible and the Koran. Thus Parliament must ensure that the curricula in our institutions of learning are transformed in our lifetime, to reflect upon the contribution of our heroes and heroines for our freedom, democracy and civil liberties that we enjoy today.

The successful celebrations of Nelson Mandela Day in three successive years since its inception have shown that the history and revolutionary values that our icon embodies are able to bind us together and mobilise us to do good for others. It would be a great omission and tragedy of our times if we do not use this sitting to highlight the distinctive principles and values of our national liberation struggle to advance our nation building project.

The history of our national liberation struggle is not the history of a political party, but rather, the story of a people, united in their refusal to accept that they are a subhuman race and asserted their humanity and inherent values for freedom, equality and justice for all, both black and white. They did this by embodying African values that speak of a complementary framework where individuals and community need each other, and that each cannot claim to be superior to the other, but rather require harmonious interaction. The wisdom in this lies in the expression that the community is part of the individual, and by accepting the existence of the community, individuals achieve self-definition. This is abundantly evident in a number of assertions by the father of our nation, Nelson Mandela.

In an unpublished autobiographical manuscript written on Robben Island in 1973, Mandela says and I quote:

"I wish I could tell you more about the courageous band of colleagues with whom I suffer humiliation daily and who nevertheless deport themselves with dignity and determination."

Upon his release on 11 February 1990, Madiba said the following: "I call in the strongest possible way for us to act with the dignity and discipline that our just struggle for freedom deserves."

From that day on, Madiba pursued a principled and peaceful struggle that led to the 1994 democratic breakthrough. One wonders why, the month of February and the 11th February in particular, has not yet been declared "South African and African History Month" to be used to remind and teach our people, both Black and White, where we come from as a nation and what pitfalls we should avoid so that we do not forget nor return to the dark days of Apartheid Colonialism. As early as the 18th June 1990, Nelson Mandela gave notice of the kind of society he sought to build when he declared that:

"Our people have the right to hope, the right to a future, the right to life itself. No power on this earth can destroy the thirst for human dignity. Our land cries out for peace. We will only achieve it through adherence to democratic principles and respect for the rights of all."

In his first State of the Nation address, Madiba elaborated on the post-apartheid constitutional vision embodied in the Freedom Charter: "My Government`s commitment to create a people-centered society of liberty binds us to the pursuit of the goals of freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from deprivation, freedom from ignorance, freedom from suppression and freedom from fear. These freedoms are fundamental to the guarantee of human dignity. Our definition of the freedom of the individual must be instructed by the fundamental objective to restore the human dignity of each and every South African."

Our freedom fighters, both black and white, knew full well that the recovery of our humanity and restoration of the dignity of all South Africans, both Black and White, would require the transformation of the South African economy. Nelson Mandela represented the vision and mission of all generations of freedom fighters when he told the Canadian Parliament in June 1990 that: "We are also determined that the political freedom of which we have spoken should go side by side with freedom from hunger, want and suffering. It is therefore, of vital importance, that we restructure the South African economy so that its wealth is shared by all our people, Black and White, to ensure that everybody enjoys a decent and rising standard of living."

In his address to the Joint House of Congress, Madiba articulated the type of economy that is desired: "We require an economy that is able to address the needs of all the people of our country, that can provide food, houses, education, health, services, social security and everything that makes human life human, that makes life joyful and not a protracted encounter with hopelessness and despair."

Honourable Speaker,

President Zuma told this House early this year that the achievements of the five priorities of his administration would advance the recovery of the humanity of all South Africans and improve the quality of their lives. This government also understood and advanced the vision of our democracy, as articulated by Madiba. Thus in the 2011 January Statement, we said that political freedom without economic freedom is meaningless. We then went on to declare 2011 the year of job creation and transformation of the economy. The call of the ANC Youth League for economic freedom in our lifetime must be understood in this context.

The achievement of economic freedom in our life time has always been part of our national liberation struggle for the right to political, cultural, social and economic emancipation. The call for economic emancipation must be embraced by all of us to defuse the ticking time-bomb which Deputy President Motlanthe referred to in his address to the National Conference of the Board of Deputies.

Economic freedom and prosperity require a culture of learning and teaching. They require an educational system directed to the full development of the human personality. The deepening moral degeneration in our country highlights the fact that our educational system must address both, the spiritual (intrinsically moral values) and material aspects of the human personality. The pursuit of material means, mainly sacrificing at the altar for money, will not help us build a cohesive, caring and sustainable nation. Our educational system must first and foremost build the character of our youth and children, secondly, it must equip them with technical skills which are required for our development and thirdly, it must teach them to prioritise education rather than material gains and to make value choices.

Our schools should list, define, and recommend a core set of citizenship values essential to our society that need to be part of every child`s school, home, and community experiences Let us remind them at all times of the wise words of Madiba who said: "Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the Head of a mine, that the child of a farmworker can become the President of a Nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."

Let us resolve in this sitting to make human values the bedrock of our Nation building project and not leave the cultural, social and political development of our youth and children to chance, lest we destroy the very foundation on which we seek to build a new nation.

Parliament is the primary nation building and heritage institution. It cannot and should not abdicate this political responsibility. We must restructure the public education structures and programmes of this Parliament and ensure that they are driven by public representatives and that they ensure active engagement with communities, especially the youth and students.

The low turnout of voters in the last municipal elections may be an indication that our public education is wanting and that Parliament`s outreach programmes are not effective enough in reaching out to our communities. We cannot and should not fail our departed heroes and heroines within these first seventeen years of our democracy.