We dare not repeat past pain
LIFE did not begin in 1994. No amount of denial will take this historical fact away.
We are building a new nation out of the ashes of colonialism and apartheid.
We are building a new nation out of a country where to be black meant subjugation, indignity, inhumane treatment, humiliation and dispossession simply because those in power believed that black people were lesser human beings.
Scores suffered, some paid the supreme price, others left the country of their birth, as they pursued the struggle for freedom, justice, equality, democracy and human dignity.
Therefore we cannot take our freedom lightly. We cannot take the rights that were won in 1994 lightly and use them for political point scoring.
Out of that pain, we must build a new society together, and bury hatred and mistrust.
Former president Nelson Mandela directed us to move in that direction in his inauguration address in 1994, where he declared: "Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud."
That society which was born in 1994, was underscored by a very progressive Constitution with a Bill of Rights.
For a people whose every moment was a lived experience of humiliation and a denial of their human dignity, the restoration of their human rights, including that of human dignity, meant the restoration of life.
We cannot go back to the period or memory of Number 4 prison, where black men were made to strip naked and perform the tauza dance.
Nor do we want to reopen the wounds of the humiliation of Sarah Baartman, who was painfully exhibited in London and Paris, and whose genitals and brain were stored in a pickle jar and shown off in a museum until the administration led by Mandela demanded the return of her remains for a decent burial.
We dare not repeat that painful, brutal, primitive treatment of a human being.
This is why we are also currently working with the government of Austria regarding the remains of Khoisan people who were taken to Austria for experiments in 1909.
Already the remains of Mr and Mrs Klaas and Trooi Pienaar have been brought back to the country and we are working on the logistics of the reburial. The Austrian scientist Rudolph Poch had taken more than 80 South African human remains to Austria for experiments.
I trust that the social cohesion and nation building summit in July will give us all the opportunity to turn our backs on denial and confront this painful history, with a view to finding final closure and healing.
Our knowledge of this country must not be solely defined by written texts, but should be informed by the experiences of the people who make up the wonderful tapestry of this wonderful nation.
As much as we fought for this freedom and liberated both the oppressor and the oppressed alike, we will defend all the rights enshrined in the Constitution including the right to freedom of expression and the right to human dignity. No right is superior to other rights.
In the same vein, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that certain rights are more important to certain sections of South African society than others.
Freedom of expression is as important and as understood and appreciated in Constantia as it is in Gugulethu.
That is why this government defends the right of our people to express themselves in any manner including protest action, except if in exercising that right they begin to violate the rights of others.
No right is absolute. It must be exercised with due regard to the rights of others.
That is the balance we have to strike at all times. Most importantly, as leaders we have a responsibility to live, uphold and defend the Constitution.
Deputy Minister Jeremy Cronin eloquently captured the importance of balancing all the rights in our Constitution and not to promote those rights that are important to those with power and influence only or those that are convenient at a given time.
We cannot be selective with our Constitution.
And it does not matter who the subject of the violation of any right is. All rights are important and must be respected.
What is remarkable about our country, is that despite this human disaster that lasted too long as described by Madiba, we still had that historic gathering in Kliptown in 1955, where under the leadership of the ANC, delegates to the congress of the people declared that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
It is remarkable too, that while our struggle was a struggle against racism, it was never a racist struggle. That is why we had white democrats fighting side-by-side with their black compatriots to liberate this country and put an end to racism and subjugation.
Madiba declared from the dock while facing a possible death sentence: "The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy." Indeed, it has not, and will not.
- This is an edited excerpt of the president's speech in Parliament yesterday. He was responding to the Presidency budget vote debate held on Wednesday.