20 Years of Freedom – 29 April 2014

Message from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

We celebrate the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s freedom with a bittersweet taste in our mouths.

“Bittersweet,” because if we are honest we will agree that adolescent South Africa has notfulfilled its potential – particularly when you consider the start we had under the stewardship of Nelson Mandela and his generation of extraordinary leaders.

It is almost with a sense of relief that we put our teenage years behind us.

There are just three brief points I’d like to raise with you this evening:

The fact that we are about to go to the polls – and that the air is thick with the rhetoric and bluster of politicians – should not cloud the enormity of our achievement in overcoming apartheid in the relatively peaceful manner that we did.

South Africa today is in many respects unrecognisable from the South Africa of yesterday.

Our country is a functional democracy with a functional judicial system and a functional economy; this will be our fifth election. We have a first-rate constitution and bill of rights, and have successfully consigned discriminatory legislation of the past to the past. Government has rightly used a high proportion of our taxes to deliver basic services to the poor.

South Africans have freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom to worship where, and marry whom, they wish…

When I see children of various degrees of pigmentation happily playing together at the schools in our neighbourhood, I sometimes stop for a moment just to ponder its glory. I see a mixed race couple of lovingly pushing a pram containing a baby of indeterminate hue… I catch myself looking up and, yes, the sky is still in place.

Wow. We did it!

Much as we celebrate our achievements of the past 20 years, we acknowledge the mistakes we have made along the way. We know that we should have been significantly further down our Freedom Road.

We lament the trappings of power that our politicians vote themselves – whether or not they are technically in compliance with the ministerial handbook. Under their watch public service has too often become a quick route to tenders and riches.

We lament the fact that Madiba could not serve a second term as President because hisdeparture signalled a departure from magnanimity and accountability. His successors failed to implement recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the recommendation of a once-off wealth tax as a mechanism for the transfer of resources. Had this proposal been implementedSouth Africa would today not be sitting with the world’s biggest gap between riches and poorest citizens.

We lament the violence that is committed in our communities, especially against women and children. We lament the quality of life that our poor citizens endure.

South Africa is a fantastic country, with incredible resources and people –especially our younger people!

When we look around the world – at Syria, the Central African Republic and Ukraine, for example – and when we consider the events that occurred in emerging countries such as Chechnya and Bosnia, we can see that we have much to be grateful for.

Please. Do not give up the dream we had in 1994 of politicians and bureaucrats motivated by the pure desire to serve their people.

Do not give our dream of a new kind of fair and compassionate country that cares for all of its people.

Humans are naturally moral beings. We are able to reason, to disagree, to argue, to reconcile and to love. It’s what sets us apart.

Please do not give up our dream.