28 October 2019
Now, more than ever before, South Africa needs non-racialism and selfless service to combat the threats of racist populism and corruption that has engulfed the nation, said Durban historian and author, Professor Goolam Vahed.
Delivering the sixth annual Dr Chota Motala Memorial Lecture hosted by MANCOSA, Vahed said Pietermaritzburg political activist Dr Chota Motala and his comrades like Walter Sisulu and Albert Luthuli embraced non-racialism and selfless service from the 1950s until the end of their lives.
“These twin values must become part of the national psyche and the defining future of the body politic if we are to progress as a nation.
“The worth of a person is not measurable in material terms only, but also takes account of moral, political, and spiritual values, and how people relate to others.
“Those who want to achieve true greatness, need to display a high quality of service, to help others climb as they themselves climb,” he said.
The annual lecture which is a highlight on MANCOSA’s events calendar brought together not only the esteemed family of the late activist but like-minded souls, community and thought leaders, academics, executives and researchers.
Vahed said the struggle that brought freedom was one of the epic journeys of the long 20th century.
He said the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first democratic president was a watershed moment for the country. However, sight must not be lost of the tremendous sacrifices, the intense debates and courageous and imaginative leaps that activists made, especially in the years that brought into being the Congress Alliance of the 1950s.
“It was in this crucible of struggle that the gospels that were to animate the next four decades were born. Crucial was the figure of Albert Luthuli who, in many senses, pioneered the drive for an inclusive nationalism and a practising non-racialism as the driving forces of a new South Africa.
“Dr Motala was a contemporary of Chief Luthuli, a close comrade of Nelson Mandela, and an imaginative and innovative thinker who was prepared to act on his beliefs and pay a price for them.
“These ideals and hopes are in danger of being overwhelmed by a growing authoritarian populism which is a power grab rather than a genuine attempt to deliver to the poor. It is a disguise for personal enrichment that, if allowed to succeed, will make the present revelations of state capture seem like a kindergarten party.
“Dr Motala and Chief Luthuli were of like mind in their vision of a future South Africa. Dr Motala used every public appearance to speak directly and clearly that the struggle was to achieve an economically just and non-racial democratic society and he spoke eloquently about the Congress movement’s long history in pursuing this.”
Vahed said while Luthuli was usually associated with peace and non-violence, one of his important theoretical contributions was his embracing of non-racialism, a term he first coined around 1960 when he was President of the ANC.
He said Mandela engaged in “suturing of racial wounds into the healing embrace” of the “Rainbow Nation”, comprising a unity in diversity of apartheid’s four race groups.
“Fast forward to 2019. The ANC has been in power for a quarter of a century. But it is riven in two and the defeated camp of former president Jacob Zuma has its daggers drawn.
“This is because new president of the ANC and the country, Cyril Ramaphosa, has promised prosecutions for the alleged systematic and pervasive corruption of the Zuma years, and which is currently the subject of the Zondo Commission.
“While one can bemoan the apartheid hangover, race cannot be wished away as it has become a leitmotif for a myriad of issues that creates the conditions for advancement from the right to own land, access to tenders and ownership of businesses. Race is as much a strategy for redress as it is for capital accumulation.
“While President Ramaphosa kindles hopes of a new dawn, growing socio-economic disparities provide fertile ground for authoritarian populists to stoke the racial fires of hate.”
Vahed suggested that perhaps it was time for a new generation to breathe life into the ideals of the 1950s which preached a society that would reach “beyond the prison house of race”.
“We can choose to be part of that tradition. History will not be as kind to those who turn their backs on the ideals that powered the imagination and actions of people who were their mothers and fathers.
“While we must find new ways of organising, new languages and targets of dissent, even be critical of roads travelled in the past, the memories and lessons of what went before should be heeded even though conditions are different,” Vahed said.
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