Friends & Friction: Lessons from Mother Russia

2015-02-03 15:00

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I was at the Kremlin in Russia on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I watched Russian male and female veterans remember their role in the liberation of Jewish people from death camps like Auschwitz.

In the West, Russia’s Hitler-busting role has been reduced and relegated to a footnote. The magnanimity of the Russian young man or woman who fought against Nazism is deliberately cast under the shadow of Stalin.

The same is true in South Africa. Our rich history, the gains we’ve made in fighting poverty and solving many social problems caused by apartheid, are always ignored. We now have a one-word agenda – corruption.

This has become the colour of the goggles that we all wear. Trust has dissipated and government officials are always suspected of being thieves. These are the same officials who make sure that bread is delivered every day to schools and that orphans are cared for, and so on.

There is a big discrepancy between what the eye sees when you land in Moscow and what the memory pulls out of its bank, thanks to things like the James Bond films.

Russians may not smile at strangers, but they are confident people, something that is glaringly lacking among us. White South Africans see themselves as victims of the new order, and black people are refusing to come out of the old one. The man who made Russia into a large multiethnic state is called Ivan the Terrible in the West. He is called Ivan Grozny here – Ivan the Formidable. What could be so terrible about building a multiethnic or nonracial society?

The problem with Western civilisation is that it was founded on a war machine that needs to constantly create enemies in order to survive.

Under Hitler, the Germans decided that their own countrymen were to be hated and exterminated simply because they were Jewish. Even after the Holocaust, the West continued to see Africans as savages who could be killed and whose land could be plundered with impunity.

I withdrew to Red Square’s Rym Mall because the -14°C weather started to take its toll on my African bones. It is an impressive structure and was completed in 1893. The US – that self-proclaimed pulse of progress – didn’t know what a mall was until 1956.

Russia provides a beautiful view of the graveyard of past empires, great nations and glorious businesses like the Moscow Watch Factory.

Here, I ask: Will South Africa thrive over many generations to come, like a resilient baobab, or will it wither away like a rose – beautiful, but feeble? Our current political leadership, both in the government and the opposition, is too weak and myopic to help make us a formidable nation. Some are interested in overfeeding their gluttonous families and friends, while others are there to guard the narrow interests of their fearful voters.

If we do not start now to tell the story of our success and the responsibility of maintaining it – whether as a nation, a business or as a people, regardless of our colour, creed or religion – someone else will. And it won’t be flattering.

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