A Students' Parliament hosted by Parliament in partnership with Freedom Park and Department of Basic Education

Parliament hosted the Students’ Parliament today for the first time in history, in commemoration of the 100th -year of the birth of Madiba and MaSisulu. It’s theme: “Making Your Future Work Better: Learning from Madiba and MaSisulu” was a befitting tribute to two icons of our liberation struggle, whose political fates crossed paths both in life and beyond the grave.

“In celebrating Freedom Park, Basic Education, in partnership with Parliament, we are excited to receive you. And we are inspired by your presence and we are hopeful that you will carry the inspiration of our society and you will become its future leaders,” said the Acting Secretary to Parliament, Ms Baby Tyawa, in her opening address to the Student Parliament.  

It is in this House where the values of our Constitution of non-racialism and non-sexism were adopted, she said. “These are values that were bestowed upon us by Madiba and MaSisulu. And we hope that you will be the torchbearers of these values for your age group.” 

Today, we celebrate the iconic lives of these freedom fighters. And some of us have been fortunate enough to meet and be groomed by MaSisulu, she said. “She used to work quietly and tell us about women leaders such as Helen Joseph and Lilian Ngoyi, who worked tirelessly for women emancipation.”

MaSisulu was full of life and enthusiasm. “She ensure that women are aware of the need and role they must play for a free South Africa. In this centenary we celebrate the values of how best to live a productive life.”

Referring to students, she said: “In whatever you do you must obey the prescripts of our Constitution. And at a time where there is a prevalence of racial tensions, we must find way of instilling social cohesion across races.”

In her address, she stated the significance of Parliament is that it hosts the State of the Nation Address (Sona), out of which the government spells out what it intends to do to improve the lives of the people. “One of the tasks of Parliament is to supervise the ministers who have to deliver on work and the plans stated in Sona by the President.”

To participate in the work of Parliament, the public can petition committees to state their dissatisfaction regarding non-delivery on what was state in SONA, she said.  

We celebrating the ideals of these icons, who are also honoured by the African Union and the United Nations, for they paid dearly in championing the birth of a new South Africa which is today the best place to live in, she said.

Thereafter, the Students’ Parliament re-enacted the historical moment that led to the inception of our first democratic Parliament. A Presiding Officer was elected to officiate over these proceeding. As MaSisulu stood to elect Madiba as our first democratic President without any opposition, we saw history in action. And this underlined the intertwined roles that the two icons have had in ushering in our freedom and democracy. 

It was the relay of Madiba’s legendary inaugural assertion of his lifelong fight against any form of racial domination that resonated with the students today as with millions of South Africans 20 years ago. In which in declared: “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another, and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign."  

After this, the students were asked to reflect on the ideals and principles of Madiba. They were all unanimous in elevating his conviction for reconciliation, humility and his promotion of an inclusive society through social cohesion and non-racialism, which are to this day the pillars of our country’s hope. 

They were then asked to make comparisons of the rights that were not accessible to all South Africans then, but are today. There was agreement that there are certain rights such as political association that are accessible to all, but other rights such as the rights to amenities are not a given, they are accessible to those who have means to access them.

The student parliamentarians also highlighted the fact that there are still high levels of inequality in our society and this is a result of lack of employment, skills and access to equal education. As expected, the issues of land was divisive and heightened emotions. It was in fact a replica of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces’ debates on land.

The session was concluded by the CEO of Freedom Park, Ms Jane Mufamadi. In her speech she highlighted the coincidence of the meeting of minds between Madiba and MaSisulu. “What a coincidence of fate. And we as the Freedom Park join the country, the continent and the world in celebrating their contribution to humanity.” 

MaSisulu gave her life to the fight for women’s rights. And her conviction was not misplaced because women could provide solutions to some of the challenges the world is faced with, she said. “Our motherly instincts put us in good stead to appreciate the challenges we are faced with.”

MaSisulu rose to become a leader of anti-pass laws and she opposed the inferior Bantu Education. “She went as far as turning her house in Soweto to provide alternative education.”

But the Patron-in-Chief of Freedom Park is Madiba. He is the one who envisioned it from conception to inception, to honour those who brought freedom to us, she said.

She explained why Freedom Park decided on having Students’ Parliament. “We came with this idea for we wanted to nurture a young cadre of leaders. We want the youth to know who they are, and where they come from. If they would appreciate that, they would know better the history associated with the issue of land – and they would be able to come with solutions”

We also chosen this concept because Madiba was passionate about children and education. She quoted him to illustrate the latter: “It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

“We are holding these educational initiatives for we want to see this change in our country’s youth. But also we see education as something that can enliven the legacy of Madiba,” she said.  

By Abel Mputing

26 July 2018