Former president Kgalema Motlanthe has made a clarion call to South Africans to effect change amid an "untenable" political period.
"In the post-apartheid framework, the ways in which we have regressed from the dream of a united democratic, nonracial, nonsexist South Africa is regrettable," he said.
"Instead of turning away from uncertainty, we embrace its lessons viewing this as a moment to reframe our vision of society. Collective action and responsibility [are] required."
Motlanthe was speaking at a Helen Suzman memorial lecture at the Gordon Institute of Business Science campus in Illovo on Tuesday evening.
The former president did not directly attack the ANC or its current leadership -- as he has done before -- but instead spoke ideologically about power, privilege and ethics.
"The combination of ethical leadership and democratic institutions, it was thought, could act as midwives to a new way of being. This did not happen," he said.
"The burden on our collective shoulders was too heavy a weight to carry, the expectations too high to fulfil... Those in power in various sectors failed to live up to the oath of office in terms of business and moral consciousness attached to their positions."
He said South Africans are "simultaneously charged with keeping those in power accountable".
"There is a certain attitude to critiques of South Africa's present that is fundamentally undemocratic in nature... Within this frame of thinking, challenges to the use and abuse of power are viewed as unpatriotic acts," he said.
"Those who view critique this way seek to ban books and ultimately desire the silencing of critics. They manipulate the language of democracy. Such formulations fail to see the immense value of critical analysis."
He said moving forward may be difficult to perceive.
"While South Africans of many kinds know that the present is untenable, moving forward through unity is difficult to perceive... People in positions of privilege should effect change, in spaces where we hold influence, from classrooms, to boardrooms, Parliament to political rallies, written text, radio," he said.
"Whether by our hands or thoughts, South Africa is being shaped and the future is at stake."