Time to build a dream of what we can become

2014-03-06 10:00

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Last Saturday, I attended the centenary birthday party for Koko Leisa in Mzimhlophe, Soweto.

Go ahead, you stingy souls, keep your invitations to your 21st birthday parties. I’ve seen many of them, but how many of you have seen a birthday cake with the number 100 on it?

Leisa is an avid reader with a sharp mind and, you guessed it, her favourite read is City Press. I can’t promise you that by making this newspaper your favourite you will live up to a hundred, but I can remind you of the African wisdom that “indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili” (you get to know the state of the road ahead by asking those who are ahead of you).

In other words, if you want to know how to get to a hundred, follow the one who is already a hundred years old.

Koko Leisa. Picture: Muzi Kuzwayo

Gogo Leisa started her birthday celebration with a church service, thanking God for the gift of so many years. The party was held at the Albertina Sisulu Hall, an appropriate venue considering Walter Sisulu used to write to Leisa while he was in prison and she served as a nurse alongside MaSisulu.

Wisdom begets trust and trust is the foundation of all love. Musicians were clamouring to show their love for Leisa, not the publicity-seeking stuntmen and stuntwomen you see at broadcast events.

The local brass band played as she entered the hall, followed by the local orchestra. Tshepo Tshola got on stage and Mara Louw jumped on to the stage, and we witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime duet.

When they said it was humbling to sing at the birthday party, far from the glaring flashes of the media, you knew it was true. They were singing to someone who knew them before they could even speak.

Far from canvassing, the ANC also wanted to honour their stalwart, who risked  her life and limb as their underground operative, and she agreed, but the party-party was only held the following day.

Selfless, she welcomed ex-Robben Island prisoners and helped them rebuild their lives on the outside, regardless of their political affiliations. This was a subversive thing to do because she was trying to rebuild what the apartheid government sought to destroy. We owe it to people like Gogo Leisa to succeed as a nation and as individuals, otherwise their sacrifices would be in vain.

This requires us to become active participants in our own lives and withdraw the limitless mandate we have given to others. Too many of us have outsourced our lives and that of our communities to politicians.

If you compare the people who operated and led the struggle, like Leisa, with its current beneficiaries in Parliament, you will realise that as a generation we are reckless.

This is not the time to spit in the face of power but to build a dream of what we can become as a people.

Surprisingly, Julius Malema and the late conservative British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, have a fundamental agreement – that the only true freedom is economic freedom.

They only differ in the ways of achieving it. I differ with them both, and I differ with Jacob Zuma and Helen Zille too. Jobs alone don’t bring freedom.

It’s time to abandon Adolf Hitler’s lie of industrial proportions that “arbeit macht frei” (work makes you free). Tell that to a slave.

The truth is that we live in an era of jobless growth, where the knowledge gap leads to untold income gaps. This, coupled with the fact that South Africans have tough competition from China and India means jobs are disappearing as we switch to the knowledge age.

Rhetoric won’t help us reimagine the next century. Instead, we need creative thinking and brave doing.

People like Koko Leisa delivered our freedom. Now it is our turn to deliver prosperity to the next generations, so they don’t have to cry “may’buye iAfrica” (let Africa return), for both the land and the economy will be firmly in the hands of its people.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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