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Four hours at a time

In this open letter to the people of South Africa that was first featured in the City Press, James Motlatsi and Bobby Godsell explain how, through a concerted effort of active citizenry, they plan to make this country a better place.

James Motlatsi writes:
I was born, raised and bred in rural Lesotho. It is a mountainous country with strong ties to South Africa for many reasons. One of them is the fact that a large percentage of mine workers here come from my country of birth.

My first job was as a labourer in the mines. I soon came to realise the importance of creating a structure for fellow workers in order to negotiate for better working conditions.

This led to the role I played in helping to establish the National Union of Mineworkers. I went on to become the union’s first president, a position I held for 17 years.

During that time, the mining sector was the biggest employer and it therefore became significant in fighting against a political system that was unjust and inhumane to the majority of mine workers.

Bobby Godsell writes:
I was raised in the Bluff, a white, working class suburb in Durban. Just like Motlatsi, I was drawn into the world of mining and joined Anglo American as a management trainee. I worked my way up the ladder to become the first chief executive of AngloGold Ashanti. I was in the position for 12 years.

My first meeting with Motlatsi was one that can best be described as an encounter, because of the adversarial roles we both occupied.

We were on the opposite side of the negotiating table during the most acrimonious of labour disputes, the 1987 mine workers’ strike.

He commanded a membership of more than 300 000 workers and the situation was made worse by the prevailing political environment. We were also in the middle of a state of emergency. The labour dispute made headlines everywhere.

The pressure was on and none of us in the beginning were willing to compromise, but things changed. Our lives changed.

James and Bobby write:
Subsequently, we negotiated with each other to help restore relationships after this strike, forging a code of conduct to govern the behaviour of both the management and workers during strikes.

We were also centrally involved in a unique productivity wage deal that combined a meaningful increase in wages together with productivity measures that prevented unit working costs from rising.

We campaigned together against the gold sales of the International Monetary Fund and central banks of developed nations that threatened to see much of South Africa’s gold-mining industry closing down.

It was clear to us that an external force was now threatening the livelihood of our country, our co-workers and, in essence, our people.

In 2008, we co-authored a book titled Do It! Every South African’s Guide to Making a Difference. In the preface, the two of us note the following:

“This book is largely about the responsibilities of citizens: in the home, the school, the workplace, the community and in the public marketplace of ideas. Few laws reach effectively into these social spaces. Often the citizen is the authority.

“The wisest, most progressive and sensible laws and policies and the best-run government departments require the actions of citizens to achieve results.

The need for active and responsible citizens seems as great now as it was in 2008. That is why, starting in February this year, we have approached a group of prominent South Africans. We have asked them to support a short and simple charter (see right) of citizens values.

We have also asked them to commit to spending four hours a month in giving life to these values in their communities.

In the two months that have followed, we have been deeply encouraged by the response.

So far, more than 100 South Africans have agreed to be “founding patrons” of this charter. Among them are ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel and DA leader Helen Zille.

Along with this diverse group of compatriots, we want to take the values of the charter and the challenge to live the values to every corner, community and grouping of South Africans as defined by language, religion and shared interests.

We are creating groups to help spread the charter in cities, towns and rural homesteads from coast to coast. We are also building resource groups that will help citizens to know how to engage with education, health, environmental issues, the youth and employment, and crime prevention.

In a sense, we are inviting fellow South Africans to make every day a Mandela Day, and engage as constitutionally empowered co-governors of this wonderful country.

In 1910, then recently retired US president Theodore Roosevelt addressed the French citizens, saying: “Under other forms of government, under the rule of one man or very few men, the quality of leaders is all-important.

“But in a democratic republic, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty – first in the ordinary, everyday affairs of life and next in those great occasional cries which call for heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed.”

On April 27 1994, South Africans started the transition from being subjects of a racist society ruled by a white minority to becoming citizens of a nonracial, nonsexist democracy. So join us in continuing that journey.

The active citizen’s charter
I recognise the injustice of the past, honour those who suffer for justice and freedom, respect those who built our country, and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.

I have the freedom to be an active member of the political party of my choice, the party whose values and policies are closest to my own.

I rejoice in my own identity, as constructed by me. I respect the identities of South Africans different from mine. This diversity of peoples and cultures is something that makes our country interesting and wonderful.

The foundation for all these identities is our shared identity as South Africans.

I love and build my family. I respect my parents. I am an active, engaged parent to my children. I am a good neighbour and an active member of the community where I live.

Each day I use the resources I have – at home, at school or college, and in my workplace – to do things that create more value for our society.

I use money responsibly. I take no more debt than I can afford. I lend no more than others can afford to repay.

I love my country and honour its Constitution. I do not pay bribes. I Do not buy stolen goods or shelter criminals.

I use our roads responsibly and am courteous and considerate to other road users, including pedestrians.

In signing this charter, I commit, in addition to what I am doing now, to add four hours a month in new activity in education, crime prevention, job creation, environmental protection or some other form of active citizenship.

I will do this together with other South Africans who live in my community and who have signed this charter and have joined this movement.

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