Onwards with Integrity
Quest for an honest society necessitates an honest struggle for it. You are the way you struggle
Amílcar Cabral, the great African revolutionary who led Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde’s struggle against Portuguese colonialism, combined a strong intellect with a deep passion for his country and its people.
Although his admirers are probably aware of the saying “tell no lies . . . claim no easy victories”, they might not be aware of the full context from which it is extracted.
“Hide nothing from the masses of our people,” begins the full quote. “Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories.”
Cabral called out to his comrades, co-creators of a new society, to alter behaviour in the process of bringing about that society. The means of struggle were inseparable from the ends intended. The quest for an honest society necessitated an honest struggle for it. The corollary suggests itself: a dishonest struggle for a dishonest society. You are the way you struggled.
Embrace the complexity that you are, is Cabral’s humanistic message. The attraction to make things seem easy (masking difficulties); the pretence to be free of error (masking mistakes); and the posture of perfection (masking failure) are the characteristics of two-dimensional heroism.
The colonial system reduced its subjects to a limited series of activities that then defined their limited functions: they lived in a township (or hostel) where they procreated; they travelled to work, where they were captive, and could not qualify for normal leave of absence; and then they returned to the township. The cycle began again.
Cabral saw that the two-dimensional hero is one from whom the third dimension, depth of feeling and intellect, has been excavated. The twodimensional hero had the prospect of leading two-dimensional subjects into the new society. The new society then becomes “new” only in appearance. Its people continue to be subjects even as they deem themselves free.
They may continue to assail an enemy they defeated and be distracted, in the process, from the harder task of finding themselves.
Faced with the objective reality of the world and the subjectivity of humans, Cabral opted not to choose between the two but to embrace both.
A truly transformative knowledge results from such an embrace and takes human understanding to newer levels. Such an embrace increases mutual understanding of the kind that builds community. At the heart of such community is public trust.
What I can see from Cabral’s insights are possibilities for a new moral identity and the shaping of a new public consciousness.
How the past haunts
The people of South Africa crave new knowledge about one another to understand the new social reality that has been evolving since 1994. What is not clear is the existence of a multidimensional leadership in all fields of human endeavour, including politics, to acknowledge the emergent genius of a complex people who are searching for a unifying quality of trust to bind them into a new national community. Such is the space for a new politics.
The old enemies have long been in retreat and are largely gone, but they are conjured up from time to time in the minds of two-dimensional politicians. There are few, if any, South Africans today who are what they were in 1994. But often they err and reflex reactions take them back.
In seeking to calibrate behaviour, many wait for the guidance of those who fought for freedom to show the way to the future that was invoked in the struggle.
But 18 years later, the national project appears to have been replaced by the self-interest of new political elites. Those who have been waiting for guidance must wait no longer. They must focus on making their contribution to the unfolding mind, spirit and imagination of a new people.
Our Constitution gave us the foundational values that Cabral long foresaw as essential prerequisites for a new society: transparency, honesty and truth. These will be at the heart of a new national community of trust.
The immense possibilities of this trust are severely tested and even assaulted each time something like the public phenomenon of Nkandla comes along, and the public is called upon to accept it despite the deepest intuitions that such acceptance is selfdemeaning and violates the integrity of self. Such feelings are shared by millions across the land, whether or not they support the party behind it all.
It is impossible to accept Nkandla without accepting to live with a violated private and public intelligence, and the conscience served by it.
This non-acceptance carries with it certain implications.
Firstly, the morality of Nkandla is clear. It is totally unacceptable. Secondly, the legal and governance issues at stake speak to the professional and ethical capability of the state for self-correction. An independent parliamentary inquiry into Nkandla is necessary and essential for this capability to be safeguarded.
This is not so much about a current leader. It is more fundamentally about the impact of current actions on the future of the integrity of government and its processes. The inquiry must determine what happened, how it happened, what players were involved and what their roles were.
And, in particular, where the head of state is involved, the inquiry must look into and recommend what actions are possible, including impeachment, to correct the situation for the future. Beyond that, it must recommend how state funds might be recovered from players found to have caused their illegal appropriation.
These interventions are vital for the evolution of jurisprudence around statecraft.
A view to the future
Earlier, I expressed an insight abstracted from Cabral’s thinking: you are the way you struggled.
It says to me that what political parties are to themselves, they will be to the nation once accorded the privilege to rule.
If they are tolerant of indiscipline, of a lack of accountability to their own constitutions, of cultivating the cult of personality, of opening instead of narrowing the threshold of what is acceptable, of being entitled without demonstrating the qualities requisite for access to rights and privileges, of not subjecting their members to the rigours of membership, of wearing heroic attributes they may not have deserved, of dwelling overly on past success, of not cultivating the courage to face the uncertain future with a deep belief in the justice of their vision.
If they are tolerant of all these, they will be tolerant of them all when they are a government in office.
Cabral enables us to visualise the new citizen: one with a new sense of self- and public awareness. The new citizen must learn first to know what he or she wants of and for the local community they live in, and then to be more demanding of those who would become politicians.
They must demand to know what mettle those politicians are made of. They must demand of those politicians to articulate clearly the contribution they intend to make to the community should they be elected. They must demand of them to show how they will exercise their accountability at all times they are in office. The new citizen has a right to know about the thoughts and feelings of politicians, whoever they are, on the key and pressing issues of the day.
There is a paradox about power worth pondering. The more a leader gives it away, the more he/she gets it back. To the extent that a leader submits to the higher public good, so does the leader gain more authority from becoming the active embodiment of the public good. It is there that the leader’s legitimacy ultimately lies.
Today we need political parties that are willing to submit themselves to the authority of the Constitution, to place themselves at its service.
The new citizen will elect them if they make this solemn commitment.
It is in this context that this citizen will know what to do with the National Development Plan and its vision for South Africa in 2030.
The public space in South Africa is in a state of constant evolution. Interpersonal relationships that are being formed every day by South Africans can no longer be predicted from past associations. That space is full of interpersonal creativities whose enormous potential can only be imagined.
Political parties that have gleaned the potential of this realisation will set aside time to prepare themselves to understand it fully and draw strategic wisdom from it. In this situation, the future is more likely to be found far more compelling than the past. Connected citizens who have overcome vast chasms of mutual strangeness are far ahead of the state of current politics.
Consider the following example. The intention to turn teaching into an essential service might be attractive, and there might be nothing fundamentally wrong with it. In the current circumstances of visionary atrophy it comes across as a tactical intervention, but a society must be visualised in which teaching and learning have a formative role in the public space.
It is here the new understandings are discovered and shared. Without this, the prescription of teaching as an essential service is to solve the problem at the level at which it was created. There will be no solution – only another issue to fight over.
We have learnt in the first decade of our democracy how to stay on track with the visionary goals that led us to 1994. In the second decade, we have learnt how easy it is to veer off course. We must now look with new eyes and discern who we have become. We are no longer who we were in 1994.
A great deal will follow from this. We can begin to redesign the educational system for a new educated and skilled citizenry, we can craft social systems supported by institutions of democracy overseen by a robust Parliament.
We will require a professional and stable public service system, maintain an independent and competent justice system, and an economic system founded on strong local and regional markets, which creates job in the process of meeting social needs.
We will require a national economy that participates fully in the global economy while carving a distinctive role for itself, a foreign policy that is an external manifestation of national values, a national security, intelligence and defence system counterintuitively founded on default openness with clearly defined areas that are strategically and operationally closed, yet thoughtful, innovative, and fully prepared and ready to defend and protect the republic.
What we wish for ourselves, we will wish for the world – everything universal is local.
We are a new people. Our challenge is clear enough: tell the truth, claim the toughest victories. We will be the products of our vigilant minds, our open and expansive sensibilities, and our caring, welcoming spirits.
» Ndebele is a research fellow in the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative, UCT, and fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study