Dashiki Dialogues: The entitlement debate – who really owes what to whom

2012-06-02 10:16

I think it is about time as citizens that we inaugurated a discourse about what we owe to the nation.

I don’t need to tell you that most of us are clear on what we believe the state owes us.

There is a whole stock of chatter about the basic human rights that our nation’s laws are supposed to protect and provide for all the citizens.

Add to that, everyone generally feels entitled to access certain services and spaces.

For instance, regardlessof how varied our cultural persuasions are, we all believe that we are constitutionally entitled to a free enough space to explore and express these interests or elements of identity.

People such as President Jacob Zuma and many others are polygamous and are empowered to demand the space to practise this cultural pleasure.

Some do so for religious reasons, whereas others do it out of cultural socialisation.

There are citizens who have gathered around a koeksister monument to the exclusion of others who differ with them.

There are also Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and perhaps even Satanists who feel owed an enabling environment to exist within this nation.

We feel so strong about these entitlements that we burn tyres and hurl insults at one another when our providence is threatened.

The national spectacle of rage we call service delivery protests is symbolic of what people feel they are owed.

That is all well and good, but I think it’s about time we rattle the cage for a debate in the other direction.

I was sitting with a friend in Maputo, Mozambique, last weekend when a bit of evening chitchat took on a darker shade.

There is nothing like distance to sharpen one’s propensity for meditation. Anyway, we were trying to solve South Africa’s social problems over seafood and fermented beverages.

Don’t be alarmed, this is usually the best time for superhero activities. It’s exactly what Karl Marx implied – once man has eaten then can he think.

First, we thought, just as the state owes us schools, as children we should be taught that we owe it to the nation to go to school.

So education is not a right, it is a duty we owe the nation. Cleanliness is not just next to godliness but a duty we owe the nation.

This also means that no one should be indifferent to the litter that defiles our shared spaces, not just their bodies.

This will ensure better health, both physical and environmental.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the drift. What I am getting to here is a shift in social consciousness from that of demand to that of contribution.

I remember an English teacher of mine with a beautiful dashiki back in high school.

He would construct dialogues that argued that a classroom was not where we came to take lessons but where we brought them.

In other words, it is those who teach who end up learning.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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