One day we’ll be late for South Africa’s funeral

2017-08-27 00:01
Tebogo Khaas

Tebogo Khaas

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There are few human habits as infuriating as tardiness.

Tardiness, that habit of being late or delaying arrival. For most people, acute lateness is commonly regarded as a sign of disorganisation or, simply, disrespect for others. However, psychologists believe that some people, or groups of people, are encoded with a genetic marker that predisposes them to tardiness.

Racist stereotypes associate tardiness with Africans who, as a group, are perceived as inherently prone to being late, hence the advent of the pejorative term “African time”.

An analysis of the psychology of lateness offers insights into malfunctioning minds and the subject transcends race, class or gender. However, my experiences with this subject thrust me in a race-propelled spin as I often struggle to understand why, as evidenced in my prism of life, some people think it is a social, political or business faux pas to be or act on time. Let me explain.

I learnt very early on during my numerous business excursions to Nigeria that a confirmed meeting with, say, a senior government official or minister could end up taking place many hours later or even the following day as our hosts usually seemed to have an adversarial attitude towards punctuality and diaries.

Recently, a high-flying black media mogul arrived more than half an hour late for a meeting scheduled by his personal assistant in his office.

On a Monday morning some weeks later, I decided to approach a post office manager about a matter concerning my post box (yes, I still have one!) only to wait for almost half an hour after the published opening time with no one in sight. I guess it is just a coincidence of nature and affirmative action that all staff at that post office happened to be black. And late for work! I am under no illusion that lateness is a preserve for black people, nor do I subscribe to the fallacy that “moriana wa Mosotho ke lekgowa”.

However, is it fair to posit that black people are generally prone to, acquiesce to or are expected to accept tardiness?

It is not uncommon for African guests to arrive as the event is about to conclude and expect the hosts to serve them warm three-course meals.

My late uncle Abram Morolong would often jokingly warn that latecomers would be late even for their own funerals.

Blatant show of disrespect

Tardiness is not only unprofessional, a blatant show of disrespect for others or one’s position, it can also have a ripple effect across an entire economy and society. A study conducted in 2012 in the UK suggested that staff lateness cost the economy more than R180bn a year, roughly 0.4% of that economy’s GDP.

Apparently, punctuality is not a South African comparative advantage. Our politicians, notwithstanding their blue-light convoys, are habitually late for meetings or become paralysed when their collective conscience demands that they act in the interest of the public.

ANC presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa is, on the one hand, being accused of tardiness for seemingly only discovering his tepid voice against state capture recently, while, on the other hand, his nemesis Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for only discovering a florist suitable for, and GPS co-ordinates to, the Marikana koppie five years after the fact, just as her political race flounders.

Italian politician and philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, is quoted thus: “Tardiness often robs us opportunity, and the dispatch of our forces.”

These words implore us as citizenry to act quickly when opportunity presents itself. To act before we lose the chance to “dispatch our forces”, whether they be relieving society of a constitutional delinquent president when the Constitutional Court pronounces on his unbecomingness; or stopping state capture before billions of rands are spirited away to offshore jurisdictions by friends of the president and their economic hitmen; safeguarding and advancing the interests of black business and excellence; or identifying opportunities and taking advantage of our comparative advantages in the face of the fourth industrial revolution.

My generation of political activists lambasted our forebears for tardiness in executing the struggle for political liberation and, justifiably or not, of timidity by not engaging the apartheid military beast head-on.

Most of us are, however, seemingly oblivious of the impact our collective tardiness to act as responsible participants in this political dispensation has on how we are governed and the type of society we are likely to pass on to future generations.

Sadly, this only helps reinforce racial stereotypes that associate tardiness with African cultural tendencies: political and economic impotence.

A vexing question is: Will our generation be decried as the tardiest in history, or will it be pardoned for finding the courage and conscience to litigate political miscreants come 2019?

Only time will tell.

Khaas, a proponent of the black consciousness movement philosophy, is a social and political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas

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