27/09/2017 02:59 BST | Updated 27/09/2017 02:59 BST

What Happened To The Reconcilation Project?

The reconciliation project conceptualised by Nelson Mandela’s administration in the mid-90s is in deep trouble.

JN/ CLH/ Reuters Photographer/ Reuters
Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] Archbishop Desmond Tutu [3rd R] hands over the TRC report to South Africa's President Nelson Mandela [2nd L] at the State Theater Building in Pretoria.

The reconciliation project conceptualised by Nelson Mandela's administration in the mid-90s is in deep trouble. The controversy that has swirled around Tumi Morake and Jacaranda FM is but a small symptom of a deep-seated malaise in the body politic.

In popular memory, Madiba's reconciliation project has become interwoven with Archbishop Tutu's rainbow nation and the narratives of forgiveness. The evidence shows, instead, that for Madiba reconciliation was about a hard negotiating of practical ways to learn simply to get on together. And it was to be rooted in a restructuring of society.

This restructuring demanded a fundamental redistribution of wealth and privilege through a range of strategies for restitution, reparation and transformation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] was but one of many special instruments designed to effect such change.

Of course, the TRC could only become such an instrument if its research and investigation were used as a springboard for continuing restructuring work. Its amnesty process could only become meaningful if it were to be followed by the prosecution of those who failed to get amnesty.

But the state walked away from the TRC. The latter's recommendations were never responded to by government. The springboard was not allowed to have 'spring'.

The same could be said of BEEE. And of the land reform programme. And of the RDP. And of employment equity outside the state. And of a language policy recognising eleven official languages. I could go on –- the list is very long.

Reconciliation needs to start all over again.

What went wrong?

I think we need to reckon with the mistakes that were made during Madiba's presidency. For instance, the embrace of neoliberalism for macroeconomic planning was inordinately hasty and intimate. Another example -- too much of the institutional transformation at the time didn't go much beyond affirmative action. So: change the personnel but leave the systems in place.

I think we need to reckon with the legacy of the Mbeki era -- years in which the TRC was very deliberately buried, both transformation and service delivery were hampered by inappropriate cadre deployment, and anti-corruption strategies were ineffective.

And, of course, we have to reckon with the Zuma years, during which everything has been subordinated to the exigencies of wealth extraction, patronage and the 'capture' of state institutions. Underlying all these phenomena, I would argue, is a seduction of political elites by capital.

Not surprisingly, the private sector remains largely unreconstructed and is, arguably, the engine of racism in South Africa. By racism, I mean that apparatus of power which excludes and in other ways oppress Black people. Whiteness exercises enormous power. 'White monopoly capital' [along with other forms of capital] does exist.

Reconciliation needs to start all over again.

And we must begin with the restructuring of society. Wealth, in the broadest sense, must be redistributed. Restitution, reparation and transformation need to be our watchwords. The private sector has to be reimagined as a public resource no matter how private it is.

White South Africans have to do a lot more than checking their privilege -– they have to give it up. Their claims to being African will sound hollow, if not ridiculous, until they demonstrate a willingness to learn and a readiness to belong rather than own.

The time for Black Consciousness is now. All South Africans would be well-advised to listen.

Tumi Morake got it just right. White South Africans have to stop trying to share a stolen bicycle. They must give it up.

I often wonder what Steve Biko would be saying today. Beyond the specificities of 2017, I think his message would be the same. The time for Black Consciousness is now. All South Africans would be well-advised to listen.

In 1997 I was a member of the transformation unit at the National Archives. Our attempts then to dislodge the hegemony of the English language and of Western epistemologies was being frustrated. Twenty years later I'm in a structure of civil society which is striving for success in challenging exactly the same hegemony in its own formal institutional spaces.

We have to move faster than this.

Verne Harris is the Director of Archive and Dialogue at the Nelson Mandela Foundation