Let's talk optimism

2009-12-07 00:00

I’VE finally succumbed to 2010 fever. Having watched the Fifa World Cup final draw on television, I found myself caught up in the razzmatazz of the event. To be more honest, there was also a sense of relief that nothing had gone wrong. The build-up to 2010 has been mired with doubt and strong doses of afro-pessimism. So far, the prophets of doom have been proven wrong and the signs going into the future, look promising.

I spent the past week in Johannesburg, and all around there was a buzz of activity. Roads are being upgraded, shopping centres refurbished and buildings are under construction. I found myself caught up in horrendous traffic gridlocks, but there seemed to be a good-natured acceptance by fellow drivers that this was necessary preparation for next year’s big event.

All remarkably different from Pietermaritzburg. Apart from the re-building of Harry Gwala Stadium, there seems very little World Cup activity. Yet, we are just over 80 kilometres away from the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium, where some of the world’s top soccer nations are due to play. Shouldn’t our city be in the throes of sprucing up Alexandra Park; cleaning up the city centre lanes and cutting the verges, even if it is just on the roads leading in and out of the city?

This column is not another rant against the council. So here’s hoping that team City Hall were equally inspired by Friday’s event and get moving.

I’d rather talk about the politics of optimism. Hope is a powerful motivator, and if ordinary South Africans believe that all is not doom and gloom, they may be more inclined to do something to ensure that the country works. This could even be the simple act of taking pride in one’s city and not littering.

The theme of optimism has been picked up by three writers.

Two weeks ago Heidi Holland, freelance journalist and author of Dinner with Mugabe, wrote a co­lumn in which she cautioned against relentless criticism of go­vernment and failure to acknow­ledge those aspects of our democracy that are working. Holland said that if we dole out nothing but the harsh words of disappointment and condemnation, the people in charge may stop listening.

Editor of the South Africa Good News website Ian Macdonald, who is leaving his post after five years, has drawn up a list of what he has learnt. Here are some of the things he said:

• “We are accused of being ANC spin doctors or government sycophants whenever we offer any support of government or acknowledge government for their successes. In order to earn the right to criticise where necessary, one also has to give credit where it is due.

• “Certain South Africans seem to want this country to fail, just so that they can say, “see, I told you so!”.

• “These same South Africans see any negative sign not as a bump in the road, but as “proof” of inexorable decline in South Africa.

• “Only a small percentage of South Africans are negative, but they are very vocal, creating the perception that the nation is negative.

• “We get so wrapped up in the day-to-day challenges in South Africa that we forget to celebrate how far we have come.

• “There are remarkable people working for this country. Through this job, I’ve met some of the change agents that are working to make South Africa the country that we want it to be. These people give me great hope that we can and will become the country of our dreams.”

My former editor, Richard Steyn, spoke at the Michaelhouse speech day earlier this year. Rather than pharaphase what he said and lose the meaning, let me quote him directly. “Whatever its dangers, and I don’t want to minimise them — when I read the daily newspapers in Johannesburg I often feel like emigrating myself — South Africa is still a very young country, full of possibilities, full of potential, and full of opportunities to make a difference. And trying to make a difference, in whatever you do, is to my mind the most important thing in life. The most fulfilled people are those who find a purpose greater than theirs, and throw themselves wholeheartedly into it.”

There is not much more left to say, except that not only is it the silly season, there are heady days ahead. Take time to look out for the positives and don’t let this historic period pass you by. Join in the spirit of the World Cup euphoria.

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