Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pandor(a)'s pledge
The current reaction to Naledi Pandor’s youth pledge is another in a long line of negativity that seems to be infesting the white population at present. There seems to be this constant knee-jerk reaction of intense negativity that should not continue unchecked. Rational thought has to prevail in the face of seemingly mindless Pavlovian response.

First of all, let’s have a look at it. The pledge as it stands currently is as such:

“We the youth of South Africa, recognising the injustices of our past, honour those who suffered and sacrificed for justice and freedom.

“We will respect and protect the dignity of each person, and stand up for justice.

“We sincerely declare that we shall uphold the rights and values of our Constitution and promise to act in accordance with the duties and responsibilities that flow from these rights.”

Read it again, and perhaps again, and once more for luck. Please tell me what is in there that is so horrendously controversial. So far, the overwhelming number of arguments have centred on the first line, the fact that there is a call to recognise the injustices of the past, and to honour those that fought for freedom. In a plethora of written and oral arguments over our newsprint and airwaves, hundreds of almost exclusively middle-aged white respondents have deplored this line. How so, because there were no injustices in our past? Because apartheid was just? Or is it because those that fought for freedom were “terrorists” that should not be celebrated?

Many have argued that this first line “drags up the past”. I’m sorry, but if people think it’s logical to sweep 50 years of oppression under the carpet after just more than a decade, they are sadly naive. Sorting out the problems caused by apartheid is a double generational challenge, not a project completed in a few years. It is a challenge that we have to face as a country, together.

To pretend that rebuilding 80% of the country’s population that was physically, mentally and legally oppressed for half a century is something that “should have been sorted out by now” is so disingenuous it’s laughable. It constantly amazes me how this is not more obvious to many previously advantaged people. To them, apartheid was something that “they did not support”, that they “did not benefit from” and that should just be forgotten now that everyone’s free, and we should all carry on regardless as if nothing had happened.

Personally, I think most of the youth of South Africa, from every racial group, need much more respect for the battle that more than three-quarters of our population fought for freedom. It provides a significantly more empathetic view of the country that we live in than the “let’s just forget about the past and pretend like nothing happened” camp.

It seems to me that the very people who stand on soapboxes and decry the “slide into depravity” and the “destruction of morality” in our country are the same people who are now finding such adjectives as “insipid” and “racist” to describe this call to morals that the pledge represents.

In announcing the antecedents of the pledge, Naledi Pandor explained that the purpose was to try to align the youth’s vision to the values inherent in the Constitution. Our Constitution has been described as the freest in the world, and perhaps the most liberal. It strives to protects rights in a way that few other countries’ can pretend to match, and seeks to uphold values that are universal. Surely our country, and perhaps more importantly our youth, could use more of a commitment to these ideals right now?

I would be completely unfazed if the majority of the concerns over the pledge were about the fact that it is something that the government is considering making compulsory. The decision on whether your child should be taking a pledge — any pledge — is something in which I should hope parents would want a say. However, this seems to be the concern only of a vast minority of the comments carried in call-in shows and letters pages across our media. (As an aside, this pledge is not something being forced on to the public in its current form; it is something that is being presented by our education minister for 30 days of debate and comment, after which a decision will be taken on it.)

What does faze me, however, is the fact that in my experience over the past few days there has been an outcry from one section of the public, centred on one line that, in my mind, should be a given. The sooner the white population understands that this country’s population endured 50 years of racist oppression, and that this isn’t something that’s going to be forgotten with a pat on the head and a box of chocolates, the better.

[Note: This post originally appeared on Thought Leader]