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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

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Home > Nations & Nationalism > The Strength of an Idea > Liberation, Civil Rights & Democracy

Liberation, Civil Rights & Democracy
The Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial Lecture

N Barney Pityana
Principal and Vice Chancellor
University of South Africa
Pretoria, South Africa.
22 January 2004

Nelson Mandela"...Movements for justice throughout the world and throughout history always begin with and are sustained by a moral statement, a value idea. ... It often begins with the notion that all human beings are equal regardless of race or colour and that the achievement of equality was in itself the pursuit of justice. But for such a notion to become sustainable one must have worked with a theological tradition, a philosophical construct, a historical interpretation and a social and cultural context. Movements are sustained when there are enough people whose imagination is captivated by a vision that lifts them beyond wherever they may be and which encourages them to have a better idea of themselves and their history into what they might or could become. In other words an expansive view of history and a range of possibilities are critical to capture the imagination. ... Values are the essential principles of life without which life would be without meaning - things would fall apart, and the centre cannot hold. They are agents of social cohesion.... in (Martin Luther King's) words 'people cannot devote themselves to a great cause without finding someone who becomes the personification of the cause'... revolutions succeed best and their objectives achieved and sustained most where the moral legitimacy resides not just in terms of the end-product but also in the manner of the execution of the struggle...if intellectuals do not hold the flag of analysis high, it is not likely that others will. And if an analytic understanding of the real historical choices are not at the forefront of our reasoning, our moral choices will be defective, and above all our political strength will be undermined.... "

[ see also Reflections of the Leader - Quotes by Veluppillai Pirapakaran - Translation by Peter Schalk and Alvappillai Velupillai, 2007 Published by Uppasala University, Sweden]

.... Today, we mark the commemoration of the late Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. We recall his gigantic contribution as a leader of a movement dedicated to the transformation of American society. He became, by dint of fortune and by mark of history, the 'conscience' of the nation, a moral force that called this nation back to its founding values. In doing so, of course, he reinterpreted American history and stretched the imagination of many of his time to a meaning beyond anything that might have been foreseeable to the founding fathers of America. He understood, and he lived the American dream. He was not dismissive of it but re-created it in order for it to become the rallying cry for the values that a modern nation that saw itself as the first among many could embrace.

But I am here today not because Dr Martin Luther King, Jr was just an American. He was a world figure. He awakened Americans to their world responsibilities and the struggle for civil rights in the United States to the anti-colonial movement the world over; and that of the African Americans to the liberation struggles and the liberation movement in Africa. He was not simply overawed by walking in the footsteps of the late Chief Albert Luthuli when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he embraced the honour. In his sermon at Memphis, Tennessee on 3 April 1968, the night before he was assassinated, he talks about "the masses of the people rising up" and among this invisible cord that bound people who were in the struggle for freedom and justice, he recalled the plight of the victims of apartheid in Johannesburg, South Africa. He declared that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and in a sense became the pioneer of the anti-apartheid movement in the United States.

Perhaps, James M Washington captures best Martin Luther King Jr's international dimension when he observes

"He was indeed a world historical figure. He captured the spotlight of history precisely at the right time, and responded with a blueprint for what America could become if it trusted its democratic legacy...(1991:xix)"

I begin this address with these remarks on Martin Luther King Jr because I readily acknowledge the inspiration of one person in life-changing, history-making events. He had to take on the mantle of being the personification of the civil rights struggle because, in his own words,

"... people cannot devote themselves to a great cause without finding someone who becomes the personification of the cause."

South Africans know this only too well.

The presumed consensus about American values, the common consciousness crafted by the pioneers of America's constitutional system, was shattered when Martin Luther King, Jr demonstrated just how hollow they always were. He fully understood, in my view, that the negro was never a participant in the creation of the new America. The 'consensus' collapsed under King's close scrutiny.

As Washington puts it,

"consensus faded when the nation sought to unpack the contents of its national moral creed" (1991;xviii).

King appealed to the same values that may have been intended to exclude their inclusive meaning. He sought to give effect to the moral code that gave legitimacy to the American Civil War and the decolonisation of the New World. For King, the promise of liberty enshrined in the Constitution was universal. The point of the civil rights movement was to enforce fidelity to those ideals.

I omitted at the beginning to mention that the March to Washington and the "I have a Dream..." Speech invoked memories of some great moments in our own history. Notably, the moment Nelson Mandela walked out of prison accompanied by Winnie Mandela - was itself a moment of freedom for all South Africans, black and white, who had suffered for so long under apartheid and white minority rule. Nelson Mandela himself personifies that cry for freedom that generations of South Africans had prayed for and many sacrificed. Leadership that drives the aspirations of the common people, is one which, according to Cornel West, is democratic. Democratic in the sense that it is accountable and draws its legitimacy from popular support.

In order to assist me to reflect critically on two towering figures of the civil rights movement in the United States and the struggle for liberation in South Africa, I wish to make some comments on the values underlying the struggle and how these values have shaped the character of South Africa today and the place of our country in Africa and the world .

Values in the Struggle

Movements for justice throughout the world and throughout history always begin with and are sustained by a moral statement, a value idea. It is an idea I prefer to find its source in a particular understanding of human nature. It often begins with the notion that all human beings are equal regardless of race or colour and that the achievement of equality was in itself the pursuit of justice. But for such a notion to become sustainable one must have worked with a theological tradition, a philosophical construct, a historical interpretation and a social and cultural context. Movements are sustained when there are enough people whose imagination is captivated by a vision that lifts them beyond wherever they may be and which encourages them to have a better idea of themselves and their history into what they might or could become. In other words an expansive view of history and a range of possibilities are critical to capture the imagination. But values are more than just a strategy for evangelisation of the unsuspecting into a mass movement. Values are the essential principles of life without which life would be without meaning - things would fall apart, and the centre cannot hold. They are agents of social cohesion. Values make social interaction possible and human behaviour predictable.

In his Speech from the Dock in 1964 ahead of what was generally expected would be a death sentence, Nelson Mandela invoked memories from his rural childhood, in his traditional homestead, and among the village elders. He recalled the pride with which the elders told of the history of his people, the stories of gallantry and courage, the culture of a proud people and the responsibility this inculcated in him. He ended the address with this ringing call

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal which I am prepared to die."

The rest, of course, is history. He went on to serve 27 years in prison. If he had been martyred, the Speech for the Dock would have inspired the people of South Africa to even greater heroic and sacrificial dedication to the eradication of the evil of apartheid. It gave them a sense of dignity and worth. It gave moral legitimacy to the demands for justice and it rallied generations of South Africans to a persistent denunciation of apartheid until it collapsed. It is a moral landscape, a sweep of history, equalled perhaps only by Vaclev Havel in his lifetime and in their martyrdom, surpassed, by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

It came naturally to Martin Luther King, Jr to declare that civil rights was "a 'moral' issue as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution" (Cone:199;82), two authoritative guides which, paradoxically, he shared with the segregationists of his time. For him , however, they were liberating sources to which America was to be held accountable.

Values are what remains long after the struggle is won, the building blocks for the new creation. The values that formed the bedrock of the struggle become the reference point that both judges and corrects when power is being abused, or when corruption is rife.

The Intellectual Tradition

Social movements are given shape, form, and direction by their thinkers. It is the thinkers who articulate the "original idea", the "big thought". Often it is not because it is original in the sense that nobody has ever thought about it or that is was never capable of such thought. A movement grabs an idea and elevates it. So that it does not become a mere passing phase, a fashionable idea, it brings to bear the analytical instincts, connects those captivated by it and their thinking with a series of scattered ideas, pulls them together.

Every modern idea, draws from previous ideas and what makes it sound like it is a new idea is that it is generated from a series of previous notions which may never have been conceptualised together in the past in the same way. It is important to understand that by 'intellectual' we do not just mean a thinker or the educated elite. Warren French suggests that if 'intellectual' is to serve as a valuable classifying tool, it must be reserved "for those who have the gift of abstracting, who are able to perceive the invisible patterns that permeate the disorder of superficial appearances" (Bigsby:1969;132).

In all struggles for justice and liberation, the intellectual foundation is often suggested by the ideas that see possibilities beyond the norm, thinking outside the box, as it were; to interrogate received wisdom, reveal its shortcomings, and to appeal to a greater idea to overcome it. Criticising a version of WEB du Bois's notion of a 'talented tenth' Cornel West noted du Bois' misplaced optimism and his dependence on the capacity of the educated and cultured classes to lead and guide the masses. He charges that du Bois was naive in his social analysis but he later observes that

"Victorian social criticism contains elements indispensable to future critical thought about freedom and democracy in the twenty-first century. Most important, it elevates the role of public intellectuals who put forward overarching visions and broad analyses based on a keen sense of history and a subtle grasp of the way the world is going at present..." (Appiah & Gates:1999;1970).

Perhaps one needs to explain that there is a role for intellectuals, and social critics not just to become part and parcel of the organised force for change. At times it is as independent commentators and critical voices that the analytical foresight of public intellectuals can bring to bear on a movement. James Baldwin, for example, says that in order to be a writer "you have to demand the impossible. And I know I am demanding the impossible. It has to be - but I also know it has to be done..." (Bigsby:1969;100). It is that capacity to demand "the impossible" confident that it can be done, that the courage and insight into the human condition which intellectuals command, that social movements can draw inspiration from. Nonetheless, movements thrive from those within them who can engage the world of ideas and not be threatened by it, and learn from it, correct mistakes and enhance the original ideas in the process.

The intellectual content of social movements is affected by younger radicals within and without the movement, scholars and critics and by writers and other cultural activists. They are the ones who spin ideas, read the signs of the times, understand human nature and interpret history. A leader then captures those ideas, gives them form and shape and elevates them beyond what they may have been originally intended to serve. Hence the leadership is never in despair, or pessimistic but is confident of victory and the imperatives for change but ensures that sufficient numbers share that belief to form a surging movement for change.

Taking these general principles and applying them to the civil rights movement and to the liberation struggle in South Africa, one observes that the confidence and the optimism of the leaders was critical. They ooze the power of the message.

Martin Luther King, Jr stated confidently that "I know that this is a righteous cause and that by being connected to it I am connected with a transcendent value of right" (Cone:1991;70). The moral claims of the struggle for justice were always uppermost as King often quoted the poem "I must be measured by my soul/The mind is the standard of the man." To the victims of racism and segregation, King appealed to the sense of innate humanity that African Americans believed of themselves:

"We must no longer allow our physical bondage to enslave our minds. He who feels that he is nobody eventually becomes nobody. But he who feels that he is somebody, even though humiliated by external servitude, achieves a sense of selfhood and dignity that nothing in all the world can take away" (Cone:1991;72).

In King, the civil rights movement had one who dared to dream the impossible and engaged the resources of American history and Constitution and galvanised a people who had suffered for too long to believe that the future held less promise than the past and the present.

The liberation movement in South Africa was built first and foremost by African intellectuals, IP ka Seme was a lawyer at the turn of the century who trained at Columbia University in the United States and was influenced by the early civil rights movement.

John Langalibalele Dube (popularly known as 'uMafukuzela'), the first President of the ANC, educationist, journalist and pastor also had very strong links with the American church. It has been noted that there were seminal American influences on the men who later became the founding fathers of the ANC. They were invariably American trained, maintained strong links with the American thought and drew inspiration from African American intellectuals like WEB du Bois and Marcus Garvey, from the black church and the American Constitution. Booker T Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, many studied at Lincoln University and the fledgling black independent church movement, the Ethiopian churches, was connected to the black church in the United States. Evidence of this thinking can be judged from IP ka Seme's famous address which won him first prize in the Curtis Medal Oration at Columbia University in 1906. He said

"The brighter day is rising upon Africa... Yes, regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period. By this term regeneration I wish to be understood to mean the entrance into a new life embracing the diverse phases of a higher, complex existence. The basic factor which assures their regeneration resides in the awakened race consciousness..." (Meli:1988;25).

ANC leadership often drew from the civil rights movement in the United States for inspiration and when Nelson Mandela addressed the NAACP Convention in 1993, he repeatedly referred to "our common struggle". But in looking forward he restated the purpose of the struggle:

The historic challenge facing us all is to ensure that as a result of those elections (the first democratic elections in 1994), democracy wins, non-racialism emerges triumphant, nonsexism becomes the victor, and the people take power into their hands. (1991:263)

African intellectuals were at the vanguard of the movement. In their statements the liberation forces often maintained that no black person would of their own accord be complicit in their own oppression and that the policy was predicated on the lack of regard for the capacity of the African people to think. The formulation of policy was very methodical, rhetoric restrained but the determination to succeed was strong. The end result of the struggle was always kept in focus, as Oliver Tambo so often stated, as in this address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1976:

"We will create a South Africa in which the doors of learning and of culture shall be open to all. We shall have a South Africa in which the young of our country shall have access to the best that humankind has produced, in which they shall be taught to love their people of all races, to defend the equality of the people, to honour creative labour, to uphold the oneness of mankind and to hate untruth, obscurantism, immorality and avarice..." (1977:204).

It is widely acknowledged that the Freedom Charter was the brainchild of the legendary Prof Z.K. Matthews, one time Principal of the University College of Fort Hare. It reflects the best intellectual efforts of the thinkers among the oppressed, of an all-embracing vision and an ethical statement of the movement.

Contemporary Challenges

The year 2004 is the one in which both our societies commemorate two watershed events: 40 years of the passage of the civil rights legislation in the United States and 10 years of democracy in South Africa marking the end of legislated apartheid and white minority rule. In a sense these events mark the realisation of the dreams of our leaders and of our people. In truth they are mere beacons on a journey, marking a forward movement and no turning back. They also mark a period where the democratic ideals, ethical foundations and leadership was to be tested. The intellectual claims of the movement and its epistemology will be under critique.

When Brown I overthrew Plessy in the US Supreme Court and enshrined the principle that separation could never be equal, it began the process of dismantling the Jim Crow laws and declared them unconstitutional. It is significant that many of the cases that enshrined the principles of equality were tested in admission policies to schools and universities. Brown II signalled a court that was gradualist and which sought to defer to local cultures and traditions. It was precisely those traditions that Brown I challenged and declared unconstitutional. In the words of Patricia Sullivan, Brown II was "a licence to resist." It is interesting to note that for the next ten years the civil rights movement consisted of an interplay between mass protests, court actions and gradual legislative enactment culminating in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Civil Rights Act, 1964 declared discrimination and racial segregation in public amenities, facilities and employment unconstitutional and authorised the Attorney General to take federal action to enforce integration. In the face of a relenting legal system, Martin Luther King, Jr called attention to the limits of such action.

"A court order can only declare rights" he argued. "It cannot deliver them. Only when people themselves begin to act are the rights which are on paper given life-blood. Only when a people in mass begin to act are they able to make all these laws real and meaningful" (Cone:1999;70).

And so the momentum for change was unstoppable. From desegregation of schools, enforcement of integration by busing of pupils to schools, and by challenging discriminatory admission policies in schools, attention turned to the fact that many black voters were prevented from exercising their constitutional rights.

The Voting Rights Act was passed into law in August 1965 providing for federal supervision of voter registration practices and protecting the right of American citizens to cast their vote. The calls to bridge the racial divide: a nation of two societies - one black, one white, separate and unequal, could not remain unheeded. Perhaps, turning W.E.B du Bois' idiom on its head, America itself was experiencing the problem of double consciousness:

"... the two-ness - an American, a negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconcilied strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder..." (1994:2).

Democratic South Africa has unashamedly and demonstrably positioned itself within the broad canvas of "African renaissance." It is an ideal captured by Thabo Mbeki's "I am an African..." speech during the debate to mark the adoption of the new Constitution in May 1996. Incidentally, these are words that began IP ka Seme's Columbia University Speech in 1906.

Mahmood Mamdani characterises this renaisance as an "intellectual rebirth, a reawakening of the mind" (Makgoba:1999;129). Mbeki himself often appeals to the African intelligentia world-wide to become the 'vital instruments' in ensuring the transformation the movement desires and seeks to create. The African renaissance has been acknowledged to be the driving force behind the renewal of African unity, in the establishment of the African Union (2000) and the NEPAD initiative.

The Constitutive Act of the African Union, 2000 seeks to establish a cohesion of values, principles and objectives within Africa, so that with a common African identity, African states can take their place among the nations of the world with pride and engage other nations on their own terms and craft the process towards a better world.

In order to enhance the dignity of the African people, in order to uphold the sovereignty of African nations, and in order to increase the prestige of African leaders in world forums, the African Union has adopted under its aegis, the programme called A New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). NEPAD seeks to present a common front in dealing with the developed world, in engaging globalisation and brotherhood, in confronting the problems of the Continent, and in adopting common strategies that seek to achieve common development goals, mutual support and correction in promoting good governance, peace and prosperity and in confronting corruption and maladministration.

The African Peer Review Mechanism is Africa's own system of mutual accountability. It is a voluntary system by those states that believe that partnership with like-minded states in pursuit of common goals will strengthen national cohesion and benefit from best practices. The primary purpose of the APRM, is to promote democracy and sound economic practices to the benefit of the people of the country. To date about 16 countries have voluntarily acceded to this mechanism thereby submitting themselves to self-monitoring and to be accountable to their peers. So far NEPAD is fast becoming a model for African partnership in development

I have deliberately started our assessment of the extent to which the ideals of the struggle are finding expression in the policies and practices of the democratic South Africa. I wanted to demonstrate that, as I understand it, a country's foreign policy is only a manifestation of its domestic imperatives. If the first principle of the American Constitution is liberty, for South Africa it is equality. This for obvious reasons. The South African political system was, since inception, unashamedly racist, in intent and in practice. The European settler community's designs were conquests and exclusion and hardly ever partnership and sharing of the resources.

The racist ideology of white supremacy was widely appropriated to give effect to policies of plunder and repression. There was hardly any counter in law and the constitution. The courts were there merely to give effect to the will of the white racist minority legislature in which the black majority had no place. In that system black people were conceptually invisible and nameless. Liberation becomes the determination to assert being and dignity and presence which spells one's humanity.

Human consciousness to use James Baldwin's famous idiom, "it's not a matter of acceptance or tolerance. We've got to sit down and rebuild this house." (Bigsby:1969;101). West asserts that "The most effective and enduring black responses to invisibility and namelessness are those forms of individual and collective black resistance predicated on a deep and abiding black love" (1999;1976). What he appears to call love is commitment to people and a sacrificial giving of oneself, prophetic thought and action.

Social and political organisation at home is guided by the Constitution (1996). The Preamble states that the purpose of the Constitution is to "Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law..." In this the Constitution makes a connection between the peoples' aspirations which formed the basis of the liberation struggle and the new South Africa. In another respect also, the new Constitution makes that connection. Section 1 of the Constitution asserts that South Africa is unitary, democratic republic founded on the values of "human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms..." Once again consistency with the ethical claims of the liberation struggle is easy to detect.

Even more has been done in South Africa to advance the democratic credentials of the system. Personal liberties and individual ideals are allowed full expression as per a justiciable Bill of Rights, described as "the cornerstone of democracy." The judicial system is independent. Within a short 10 years the judiciary, especially the Constitutional Court, has established the integrity of the courts and in groundbreaking judgments in matters like the death penalty, various forms of equality, the limits of state power etc has interpreted the Constitution, laid the foundations for an enduring system of constitutionalism and set the tone for an open and democratic society based on the ideals of human dignity, equality and freedom.

The judiciary is assisted by a variety of independent constitutional bodies like the Human Rights Commission, the Electoral Commission and others whose mission is to bring the immediacy of constitutional protection to the people. The South African Constitution represents not only the antithesis of the apartheid past of our country but also a shared vision of all the people of the country whatever their past role in whatever political system then prevailed.

It is now ten years since the democratic system, and the rights-based constitutional order were adopted. The harder question is to determine how well South Africa has done not only in giving effect to the Constitution but also in living up to the promises of the liberation struggle. Inevitably comparisons abound as we approach the 10th anniversary of democracy in our country. Survey after survey has found that a growing number of South Africans are more confident about the future under a democratic government than they were before. South Africa acknowledges that the lives of many people have vastly improved in the 10 years of democracy. Whereas when the democratic government assumed office in 1994 the economic outlook was very poor, today South Africa is acknowledged to have a very stable economy with an improving competitive index and better social cohesion. Inflation, for example, has been managed down from 15% to 6%. A sterling effort has been made to reduce dependency on debt. Quality of life judged by the number of people with access to education, homeownership, clean water, electricity, transport system etc, more and more South Africans have enjoyed a better life.

And yet serious social problems persist. Unemployment remains a challenge to government. Programmes and schemes have been introduced to create employment and employability, especially among young South Africans. South Africa remains an unequal society with the gap between the rich and the poor increasing. Although income levels have increased, there are still too many South Africans, unemployed and living in dire poverty. The state, however, has introduced programmes of state assistance for the poor especially child allowance, disability and free health care for children and mothers with young children.

But, there are certain areas of life where South Africa does not score so well. First, South Africans always refer to the levels of crime, the fact that too many people live in fear often in their homes or when they are about their legitimate business. Many of the crimes are violent and brutal like murder, rape, car-jacking, and corruption. It must however be acknowledged that although the levels of crime are unacceptably high, much has been done to improve policing, to put more resources into crime prevention, to improve of the system of administration of justice and, to address the problem of impunity.

Second, HIV/AIDS has remained a very divisive issue in public life. The government has not dealt with this matter with as much urgency as it deserved but public education, availability of condoms, efforts to limit new infections and the spread of the disease, research and, now, a commitment to treatment, have cost the government about R7,5bn in this year's budget. A very ambitious plan to roll out universal treatment for those living with HIV/AIDs was announced recently. The impact of HIV/AIDS on society is staggering. A growing number of young people, economically active, the pall of death in many communities, robs South Africa of her vibrancy and the economy of its much needed economic actors. It has been said that the cost of apartheid on the people of South Africa is incalculable and the dividends of democracy are elusive.

Third, racial inequality and discrimination prevails. South Africans today speak less directly about racism than they would have done under apartheid. This is not because there is any less racism in society. It is because the language of society is tolerance, human rights and reconciliation. It is also because systems have been put in place to investigate and prevent racism. The duty to create a society free of racism remains. Justice and equality across the race divide remain a challenge.

Frantz Fanon commenting on post-independence Algeria, observes that "independence has brought moral compensation to colonised peoples, and has established their dignity." He goes on to say, "But they have not yet had time to elaborate a society, or to build up and affirm values..." (1977:81). In seeking to understand our society, one is tempted to seek recourse to Fanon. When one contemplates the violence and other pathologies prevalent in our societies, one despairs. As a matter of fact, 300 years of a system of deliberate alienation of whole peoples is not going to wear away consciousness that easily. Violence is a response of despair and of hopelessness to those who have not yet reclaimed their humanity. Fanon, moreover points out that the process of nation-building and of entrenching values becomes the responsibility of those who consider themselves part of the new society, whose values affirm their humanity and whose dignity is assured.

This is hard to make out because one always believed that the struggle itself was instilling particular values and morality on those of us who engaged in the struggle. It is however also the case that much was done in the name of the struggle that has legitimised forms of living and entitlements that today generate the negative instincts manifest in some behaviours.

We cannot completely absolve ourselves from responsibility. We cannot make a renewed effort to build a new society and assert new values. West (1999:1980) could be referring to some of the ghetto mentality prevalent in some of our townships when he says that we must understand that the multiple forms of social pathologies are forms of societal decay and reminders that liberation is not an event but progressive. A more complex understanding points to the fact that in the midst of despair and alienations, therein lies hope of a better future.

Democracy, it may be surmised, is not a state of being but a way of growing into being.

Martin Luther King, Jr predicted in 1964 "that the United States might have a negro President within 25 years..." He confessed that he was "optimistic about the future" (Cone:1999;87). In more contemporary assessments of American life, analysts like James Cone boldly assert that America "is a nightmare for the poor of every race." Both West and Cone believe that central to the failure to fulfill the dream Martin Luther King, Jr asserted so confidently, is the centrality of the race question. It is not without significance to an interested observer that even today Americans are still debating matters one thought had been settled by Brown. The US Courts are still being confronted with suits challenging or seeking clarification on the application of affirmative action in admissions to universities. In Texas, California and Michigan, in the face of an assault on affirmative action by the courts instigated by white interest groups, the lack of representation of black and Hispanic students at universities has led to universities adopting special measures to attract more minority students.

The debate about affirmative action or percentage plans, I am aware, accepts that higher education can best be enriched by ensuring that the learning environment is "as diverse as this nation" (Judge Powell in Bakke). One would have thought that in circumstances where, as some reports suggest, colleges are experiencing a dwindling enrolment of black males as too many are getting caught up in problems like drugs or populate the prisons of this nation, a compensatory measure to encourage and advance those from that social stratum who wish to undertake academic studies or skills training, becomes a public policy imperative. Otherwise King's optimistic prediction of 40 years ago will simply become another unfulfilled dream.


My thesis in this address has been that revolutions succeed best and their objectives achieved and sustained most where the moral legitimacy resides not just in terms of the end-product but also in the manner of the execution of the struggle. So conceived, revolutions benefit from transformational leadership, and the values underlying the movement are defensible and lasting. I have also stated, however, that the values of the movement often judge it when it seeks to implement its programme.

Two thoughts spring to mind as to what makes for the building of the new society that Frantz Fanon refers to. The first must surely be the capacity of the nation to conduct its public debates. In such debates the nation examines its shortcomings and strengths, surveys the infinite variety of views and opinions and treats everyone with due respect, exercising tolerance and promoting meaningful communication. When, however, public discourse degenerates into "petty namecalling, fingerpointing, with little room for mutual respect and empathetic exchange" (West:1980) then the nation is bound to lose its soul. Such a nation is most unfree because "freedom is first and foremost an inner recognition of self-respect..." (Cone:317).

Making the link between human well-being as freedom and a moral capacity, Elena Mustakova-Possardt, develops the principle originally mortalised by Brazilian popular educator Paulo Freire, critical consciousness or in Portuguese, conscientizadora. In English that became translated as conscientization. Mustakova-Possardt redefines "critical consciousness" as "a 'way of being' that fully integrates the heart and the mind and so creates in the individual a sense of highly principled morality, philosophical expansion, and historical and global vision that represents the acme of human consciousness" (2003). The connection between moral consciousness, moral being and moral action cannot be lost sight of. In fact it establishes wholeness of being. In this one can feel the resonance of Jurgen Habermas' "communicative action".

The moral fibre of the liberation struggle gets stretched to breaking point when leaders appear to be involved in corruption as the recent Arms Procurement Investigation suggests. If one suggests that African Americans have lost their sense of passion for that which is right, South Africans post-liberation have become very individualist, self-centred and selfish. When that happens then we can no longer occupy the moral high-ground that served as such a powerful indictment on apartheid and the white minority system.

A communicative environment is critical if the nation will be able to take stock of itself. And here, the nation's critical thinkers, scholars and intelligensia - the cultural actors and creative artists, the historians and analysts, present the moral character of the nation and appeal to the nation's own moral self-understanding. In a recent essay Immanuel Wallerstein debates the role of intellectuals in societies in transition and he emphasises how crucial intellectuals are at a time when nations are rethinking themselves. He goes on to say

"..But if intellectuals do not hold the flag of analysis high, it is not likely that others will. And if an analytic understanding of the real historical choices are not at the forefront of our reasoning, our moral choices will be defective, and above all our political strength will be undermined..."

Wallerstein was speaking at the recent UNESCO Colloquium on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge (December 2003). His comments, especially about intellectuals opening up the vistas of knowledge and understanding in order to enable informed choices to be made, are apposite.

The second imperative, is that such a nation must never tire of re-inventing itself, rediscovering its values and its capacity to become better than it has been. We must eschew the conservative inclination that suggests that "we have arrived." A transformative society takes shape when "human beings see new possibilities, act upon them, and by so doing, transform their own previous ways of thinking and alter the subsequent course of history, in great or small ways" (Barnett:2002;216). This draws from advances in education associated with Alfred Montouri's models of transformative thinking and learning.

Forty years since the civil rights legislation, and ten years since the democratisation of South Africa, our two nations have never shared more on the world stage.


1. James M Washington (Ed): A TESTAMENT OF HOPE: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr; 1991: San Francisco; HarperCollins Publishers.
2. James H Cone: MARTIN & MALCOLM: A Dream or a Nightmare; 1991, Maryknoll, New York; Orbis Books.
3. Kwame Anthony Appiah & Henry Louis gates (Eds): AFRICANA: The Encyclopaedia of the African and African American Experience; 1999; New York, Basic Civitas Books.
4. WEB du Bois: THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK; 1994; New York, Dover Publications.
5. CWE Bigsby (Ed): THE BLACK AMERICAN WRITER Vol 1 Fiction; 1969, Baltimore, Maryland; Penguin Books.
6. Francis Meli: A History of the ANC: SOUTH AFRICA BELONGS TO US; 1988: James Currey London.
7. ANC SPEAKS : Documents and Statements of the African national Congress, 1955-1976.
8. Nelson Mandela Speaks: FORGING A DEMOCRATIC NONRACIAL SOUTH AFRICA; 1993: Cape Town David Philip Publishers
9. Nelson Mandela: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM: The Autobiography; 1994, Randburg, Macdonald Purnell.
10. MW Makgoba (Ed): AFRICAN RENAISSANCE: The New Struggle; 1999; Mafube/Tafelberg.
11. Franz Fanon: THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH; 1968; New York, Grove Press Inc.
12. Lyn Holness & Ralf K Wustenberg (Eds): THEOLOGY IN DIALOGUE: The Impact of the Arts, Humanities & Science on Contemporary Religious Thought - Essays in Honour of John W de Gruchy; 2002: Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans.
13.Elena Mustakova-Possardt: CRITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS : A Study in Global, Historical Context; 2003;West Point, Connecticut/ London; Praeger.

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