Dashiki Dialogues: Save yourself and vote for real leaders

2014-01-14 10:00

Apparently, a friend tells me, there’s a story about George Bernard Shaw arriving at New York Harbor.

When he stepped off the ship, he was immediately surrounded by reporters in search of sage comment from the famed man of letters.

Before even the quickest of them could shape a question, Shaw stopped them dead in their tracks and said: “Don’t ask me what you need to do to be saved, the last time I was here I told you and you haven’t done it.”

I imagine Shaw could easily replay that fabled encounter with South Africans, via our fourth estate, as we approach our fifth democratic general election.

He would be right to stop us dead in our tracks and refuse to enter into debate about what ought to be done to improve conditions in the country.

I say this because the troubles that besiege South Africa today are not new. All the questions that promote discussion that adds rancour to our riotous republic are long-standing ones.

The land question, wealth redistribution, historic justice and the issue of nationality have been with us since we understood that some have unjustly dispossessed others.

The problems have been with us since we agreed that dispossession is a great crime that needs to be redressed.

When a crime goes uncorrected, there is an imbalance in the universe. It opens the door to other imbalances and crimes ad infinitum. The poverty, disease and unnecessary deaths and corruption in our potential rainbow state are the result of that initial imbalance.

We started the journey that is now marking its 20th year at the polls on a covenant of addressing the initial crime. It is an agreement we made to answer the question Shaw would have refused to answer: what we need to do to be saved.

Because we all know what needs to be done. The question perhaps is why we haven’t the will to act on it. In the incessant rebellions around poverty we call “service delivery protests”, the people have shown their demand for government to make good on the agreement made 20 years ago.

As we head to the polls to elect a government in the hope it will finally implement the will of the people, I turn to Chinua Achebe to answer our central question.

He said about Nigeria in 1984 what he could say to us today: “The trouble is simply and squarely a failure of leadership?...?their unwillingness or inability to rise to the responsibility of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership.”

Hence, our dialogue on the efficacy of the ballot should be in dashikis, while we expend our energy on chucking out badly dressed leaders.

Our future demands it.

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