Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where are you going, where have you been?

Today is Constitution Day in the US, which commemorates that on September 17, 1787 Constitutional Convention delegates held their final meeting and signed the United States Constitution.

I am in the right mindset for this day. Monday evening I attended the 12th Annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at UCT, which was given by Sir Sydney Kentridge this year.

Stephen Bantu Biko was an activist and writer who lived out the Black Consciousness philosophy, and was ultimately murdered for it. (Before his death he would be banned, and detained.)

Biko's quest for black unity would eventually cost him his life. During (...) detention Biko (...) w[as] tortured at the headquarters of the Security Division housed in what was then known as the Sanlam building in Port Elizabeth. It was during this period that Biko sustained massive brain haemorrhage. On the 11 th of September 1977 Biko was transported to Pretoria central prison – a twelve-hour journey, naked, without medical escort, in the back of a police Land Rover. Biko died on the floor of an empty cell in Pretoria Central Prison on the 12 th of September. It was in this way that South Africa was robbed of one of its foremost political thinkers. (The Steve Biko Foundation)

It isn't that long ago (34 years) that basic human rights--like free speech and habeas corpus--were not guaranteed or protected for most South Africans.

Which is why this lecture series is important--to remember how vital a truly inclusive Constitution (and society that honors that Constitution) is, and what is lost otherwise.

Sir Sydney Kentridge was the lawyer who represented the Biko family at the inquest regarding his murder. He spoke with such passion about the trial that he could have been in court yesterday.

While it's tempting to sit back and enjoy the fact that the South African government today is much less prone to abducting, torturing and murdering dissenters, Kentridge reminded the audience that there will always be threats to citizen's rights, and democracy takes never-ending work and civil society's vigilance.

So what can citizens do? How about crowdsourcing development planning for South Africa?

My courses this semester are closely following the processes of the National Planning Commission. This independent body is tasked with planning South Africa's future growth and development, with targets set for 2030. Nine key obstacles to a free and equal society have been identified, such as high unemployment; spatial, income and educational disparities due to the legacy of Apartheid; transportation and infrastructure failures; and the burden of diseases due to HIV/AIDS, among other causes.

Today, Minister in The Presidency for National Planning Trevor Manuel, along with other Commissioners, came for an open forum on the UCT campus. In his opening remarks, Manuel said that targets set for 2030 are not "a deferment of solutions until 2030," but that it is time to "cut a new path, one that includes all South Africans." He admitted that the course a country takes is never static, and predictions made for 20 years from now cannot always be accurate. And still, issues like high rates of HIV/AIDS infection, high unemployment (particularly a crisis for youth) and inadequate public education can be turned around, so it's time to do so.

Here is the cool thing: There is an online forum to discuss the NPC's development strategies. It's exciting to see new technology as a tool for participatory democracy, especially considering that a forum like this is the first of its kind on the African contintent.

So get thee to a JAM session, South Africans. This is democracy in action!

1 comment:

  1. RELATED: Iceland is using social media to mine ideas in the drafting of their new constitution: