Beyond money

2009-10-16 00:00

MAYBE you have also met this guy. He is always in town looking suave, moving up and down, carrying his brightly coloured Louis Vitton bag. He frequents government departments like he is the head of one of them. He moves from one department to the next, looking for, guess what, any tender from government. This is the guy who gives you his dodgy unsolicited business card at the slightest provocation. For what exactly, only he knows.

The dude is very sharp and eloquent though. He only begins to hem and haw if you begin to question him about the exact location of his office or, worse still, if you insist that he tell you exactly what he does for a living. He expects you to be satisfied by the explanation that he specialises in tenders. What that entails exactly, is up to you to imagine.

The main motivation behind this interesting character is a dream home in Ballito, a fleet of luxury vehicles and, of course, designer clothes purchased from Paris, Milan or Casanova Boutique in Albert Street, Durban. He is keen to tell you that he is not participating in the much talked about recession, hence his unbelievable spending patterns and insatiable appetite for glamorous living.

This is the crass materialism that is increasingly becoming a cancer eating away at the very fabric and foundation of South Afri­can society. Our society has produced young men and women whose only dream is unimaginable opulence. This, unfortunately, is against a backdrop of gross unemployment — many people are losing their jobs because of economic pressure and multitudes are living in shacks.

A sizeable number of the above-mentioned individuals do make it big eventually. They add to the numbers of what are called yuppies or, funnier still, black diamonds (whoever coined this phrase is very sarcastic). This is indeed a disturbing phenomenon. The divide between the haves and the have nots in South Africa is becoming glaringly obvious. For a developing country like ours, we should all be petrified.

For now, just for now, the poor among us are blaming themselves for not being smart enough to cash in on what seems like a golden opportunity to get rich very quickly. We should dread the time when the poor begin to reject this crass materialism and begin to take back what belongs to them. Trust me, the poor are more than able to perform that task.

But all is not lost. Recently, a group of young men and women belonging to the Progressive Professionals Network decided to do something about the situation at Makhumbuza High School in Umlazi township. This is the school where a group of teachers are alleged to have had sexual relations with their pupils.

What these men and women decided to do was to take the problems at Makhumbuza and own them. They then raised R650 000 for the school. With this money they revamped the library and the laboratory, built a parking lot from scratch, planted trees and grass all around the school, revamped the toilets and brought in companies to donate things and even to give bursaries to successful pupils. Makhumbuza today is very different from what it was a month or two ago. Even the staff and pupils­’ morale has changed.

This is the kind of character that our society desperately needs — young people who live for something much bigger than their personal gratification. During the turbulent seventies and eighties, it was young people who were at the forefront of social transformation. When they threw stones at those in power, slept in caves and suffered police brutality (with some of them eventually dying), it was not because they had nothing better to do or to aspire for. It was not because they didn’t dream of a better material life (all of us do). It was because they under­stood that the future of this nation depended on them. They imagined a future different from what they had.

Even in 2009, the future of this country still depends on young people. We need to ask ourselves, what kind of a nation will South Africa be in 2020? Where do we want this country to be in 2020 (long after the Soccer World Cup and all that comes with it)? Will we get there if all that preoccupies our thinking is chasing after government tenders, driving flashy cars and wearing snazzy designer clothes?

If all of us become tender men and women (as these people are called), who is going to provide politi­cal, spiritual, corporate and academic leadership in the future­? Again, we need to imagine a South Africa much different and much improved from what we currently have. Notwithstanding what this country has achieved over the past 15 years, a lot still needs to be achieved and tender people alone are not going to get us where we need to be.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is an in­dependent social commentator. He writes in his personal capacity­.

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