The F-word: The humble politics of possibilities

2013-10-02 10:00

I bumped into a former colleague the other day and I was dumbfounded by how idle chat about how he was doing very soon degenerated into how badly things had deteriorated at our former workplace.

The conversation took on a classic case of how much better things were “in our time”.

A few days later, I met with yet another group of those I had once shared space with, who also were concerned about the difference between now and “in our time”.

The second group – former pupils at Daliwonga Senior Secondary School in Dube, Soweto – did not limit their talk to how better they were than the current generation of pupils.

Unlike my old colleague, the Daliwonga group left me inspired about the possibilities in our nation.

As former student and youth-politics activists, this group is well aware that conditions have hardly changed from the time they were in school in the 1990s, but they have not simply fallen into a state of inertia.

They dug into their own pockets, networks and pockets of influence to find donors for some equipment the school direly needed.

They brought table tennis bats, nets and balls, which will hopefully limit the number of times those youngsters at schools like Daliwonga spend hanging out in the toilets.

I imagined how much better South Africa could be if everyone who recognised the legacy of apartheid did not just stop there, but also acknowledged the blessings of the present and used whatever they had to make a difference in their own community.

As Lindani Fihla, chairperson of the Daliwonga alumni, pointed out at the delivery of the filing cabinets and sports equipment: “It was important that learners at the school be disabused of the notion that they were a poor school where parents could not afford to do things for themselves.”

It was an important point to make. A poverty mentality is often far more severe than a material want, for it persists even when their material wishes have been delivered.

I found the Daliwonga experience somewhat inspirational because it was more than just idle talk about people who romanticise the time of their youth.

I saw a glimpse of what our nation could be if those who had managed to make something of their lives, despite the undeniable harsh conditions, did not see this as a licence to boast about the age of their whisky or the reptile that was once their shoe skin.

There are those who incorrectly read the call for self-reliance to be abdicating the state of its responsibility to intervene on the side of the poor or, in the case of Daliwonga and other schools, committing itself to basic norms and standards for what, despite the politically correct language, remains black schools.

Others make the claim that such calls are insensitive to the poor because their lives are so hard that their immediate concern is putting bread on the table and keeping a roof over their heads.

Even the poorest schools and communities have a few people who have managed to circumvent the limitations the apartheid state enforced on the majority.

These individuals have a choice of gloating about being the first or only ones in their communities who have certain material possessions, or to achieve certain stations of social and corporate life, or to try to inspire someone to be better than they had thought they were doomed to become.

Ultimately, South Africa is divided between those who think that things were better when they were in charge; those who do not recognise the stewardship of their positions and possessions; and those who know that they have to use what they have and become the difference they want to see in the world.

I am just humbled to have been at the same school at the same time with some of them.

»?Moya is a member of the Midrand Group.

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