The Unfinished Job: Building the Republic of South Africa

In this article, a young South African reflects on the state of the nation and the challenges that still need to be overcome in order to build a truly democratic and just society. The author argues that despite progress made since the end of apartheid, the country still faces deep-seated institutionalised systems of disenfranchisement and a crisis of leadership. However, the article also offers hope and a call to action for civil society and young people to lead the way in shaping a new South Africa that lives up to its founding principles of social justice and equality for all.


Young people are ready to lead

By Otsile Nkadimeng

“The world is equally balanced between Good And Evil, your next act will tip the Scales.” -Robert Franklin

The hard and sometimes tedious process of building the Republic is not yet complete. 

This statement I felt best encapsulates the overarching message I took from the Critical Dialogue series’ “What does this moment call for?” panel discussion hosted at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in March. I say this because a significant amount of what was envisioned for the new democratic South Africa seems to have been lost in between the squabbles over wealth, power and influence. A nation that was supposed to be founded on the basis of social justice and equality for all seems to have lost sight of these founding principles laid out in the freedom charter. In abandoning these fundamental ideas, we have betrayed the legacy of the great leaders and freedom fighters who came before us.

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As a young person in the final stage of his high school career, I can without hesitation say that we have never known a South Africa that was not in crisis or upheaval. The dialogue helped me to further contextualise the realities of post-apartheid South Africa, many of the crises we face are rooted in deep institutionalised systems and cultures of disenfranchisement that are designed to oppress the most vulnerable in our society. The failure on the part of government, as well as political, business and other leaders, to successfully address these injustices has resulted in a society that is more politically polarised. This contributes to an environment in which the country seems to be backsliding. This backsliding can be seen in the growing instances of racially motivated attacks like that which occurred in the Free State during the festive season last year, and the growing xenophobia against foreign nationals across the country. All of these factors and many more have the potential to set us on course for total civil unrest and social chaos. 

We must say as a country that this situation is completely antithetical to the core principles and values on which our nation was founded.

During the dialogue, panellist Nontando Zintle Ngamlana remarked that “We all are making assumptions that somewhere, there is somebody that holds the vision for our country, and has our best interests at heart”. I mention this statement because like many South Africans I too am guilty of such assumptions but this assumption stems from a hope within us that says ‘We cannot have come as far as we did with Apartheid, only to falter now’. Our fundamental problem is that we have a major crisis of leadership in all spheres of society, and as a society we feel let down by our leaders, not just specific parties. 

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As a teenager growing up in South Africa adults often think that my generation is preoccupied with unimportant TikTok and Instagram trends but the reality is that we spend a lot of our personal time trying to think of what a functional South Africa can look-like and how we can get there. I often tell older people that the real casualty of the new South Africa is the lost innocence of young people who are now forced to demonstrate the type of leadership and maturity needed to shepherd our country through an era whereby a domestic time bomb of unemployment; inequality; gender-based violence and poverty, all threaten to exacerbate global crises such as climate change.

The dialogue helped give better context to the state of the nation and how our national politics has unfolded. What is undeniable is that out of these discussions, a hope within me awoke. This hope speaks to the fact that the job of building our Republic is not yet finished, meaning we as civil society and young people especially, will have the opportunity to apply our vision for what a new South Africa can look like. However, in order to do this we must be allowed to lead. In this vein, Former President Mandela’s 1994 inauguration speech is pertinent in which he said that they have achieved political emancipation but the work of liberating people from “the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination” still needed to continue. Like many other young people, this is the work that I am committing myself to.

Otsile Nkadimeng is an 18-year-old matriculant and lead organiser of Fridays for Future South Africa, he is also the co-founder of the Sundial Movement which is a Climate Network that connects high school students to take action on Climate Change as a collective. In addition to his role as a Climate Activist, he is also the Executive Director of a Youth Voting Advocacy group called So We Vote.

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*Otsile Nkadimeng is an 18-year-old matriculant and lead organiser of Fridays for Future South Africa, he is also the co-founder of the Sundial Movement which is a Climate Network that connects high school students to take action on Climate Change as a collective. In addition to his role as a Climate Activist, he is also the Executive Director of a Youth Voting Advocacy group called So We Vote.

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