Khaya Dlanga

South Africa has no leadership

2011-09-28 14:23

This is an extract from a talk I delivered at Wits University Golden Key Thinker’s Symposium on September 27. Speakers included George Bizos, Trevor Manuel, Jimmy Manyi, Simpiwe Dana amongst others.

The first part of my talk, I want to call, Youth and the Desperation for Significance.

We seek relevance in many ways. It is demonstrated through self-expression for example in the social networking spaces. We dominate this space because we believe that we are not being heard. So we express whatever feelings, whatever dissatisfaction we may have in these spaces.

We also seek to find it in our relentless pursuit of money and material possessions. Sometimes we confuse the presence of possessions for significance. It is the “I need to get a nicer car so that chicks can dig me, I need a good weave, I need, I need, I need”. It is a parasite that has infested our very being as young people and has caused a major deficit of authenticity.

We are no longer what we are, but what we seem to be. Yet we all know the fakeness and emptiness that we surround ourselves with. Then we go to our little corners and talk about the fakeness of Johannesburg, yet we participate and encourage the so-called fakeness of Johannesburg that we claim to rail against.

As a consequence of chasing things, people make choices they would never make. Never allow the illusion of desperation to course you to make a decision you would never make.

Money is not bad. It is who has it and what they do with it that is bad. Money is a blessing. I endorse it with everything that I am. But it is not everything.

We convince ourselves that we’re significant only if we have material possessions to show. We have departed from “love thy neighbour,” that our parents taught us to “impress thy neighbour”.

Steve Biko, perhaps South Africa’s greatest young person spoke about this too when he spoke out against the “I can only talk to you if you can do something for me” attitude because our society is based on a “what can you do for me” philosophy. “This attitude to see people not as themselves but as agents for some particular function either to one’s disadvantage or advantage is foreign to us. We believe in the inherent goodness of man.”

He had a radical idea, which I believe is relevant for today. It is precisely relevant because of the vast inequalities that we cannot see. I say that we cannot see the inequalities because we confine ourselves within the confines of the Sandtons, the Fourways, the Houghtons of this world. And not too far from those – therein lives inequality.

What is this radical idea of Steve Biko I speak of? He wrote, “We are prepared to have a much slower progress in an effort to make sure that all of us are marching to the same tune.” Are we marching to the same tune today?

In the 2011 World Development Report, two thirds of young men said that unemployment and social injustice are the major causes of joining gangs and rebel groups.

In an opinion piece pinned by former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, he wrote following the London riots, “How can the world avoid an explosion of youth protests in the coming years when we are already experiencing an epidemic of youth unemployment today? And how can our generation—who fared better than our parents—begin to understand what it feels like for the coming generation who already fear they will do worse?”

What the future of the youth? Is it unemployment? If so, who is to blame? Youth unemployment has now reached a staggering 50% in Egypt and Tunisia, has risen above 40% in Spain and Italy. I think we have to blame the grownups. We have to point the finger at them and say that they have not been responsible when it comes to our future.

Therefore, it is our responsibility to speak up and make our voices heard. If there is a large deficit left behind, it becomes our burden.

We must write the future. It cannot be written for us. They wrote the future we live today. But we are going to inherit South Africa, not them. We are going to live with the consequences and the fruits of the decisions they make, not them. We are. So it is time for us to lead our leaders.

This does not mean that the youth want handouts. It simply means that they want to be given the opportunities to make something out of their lives. Right now, they feel like they are being ignored and their anger increases, and the youthful energy is directed elsewhere. The anger won’t be directed at white people as some fear. It will be directed at anyone who lives in Sandton, in a cushy suburb. Their anger will know no colour. It is time for us to lead our leaders.

In a speech at Stellenbosch University, former president Thabo Mbeki said to the students gathered to listen to him, “be inspired by what your peers have done in Tunisia and Egypt, who took the lead in the popular Uprisings in their countries, which have served to advance the African democratic revolution.
At the same time you will have been motivated to follow the heroic example set by your South Africans predecessors, such as those who participated in the 1976 Soweto Uprising, and others of our students, before and since”.

Some accused the youth of 76 of thuggery, but they were angered by a lack of Freedom. And so they rose up driven by righteous anger. They decided to act upon history in order to shape it. They knew that the world did not owe them anything. They owed their freedom to themselves and to future generations, of which you are the beneficiaries. They stood up and led their leaders.

I believe that it is because our leaders have not given us a vision of what this country is about. I believe that we don’t have leadership in this country at this point in time. We only have what appears to be leadership. There are no moral voices. The moral voices that spoke to our core have gone to the grave or are too grave to speak, perhaps from heartbreak.

It is in this context that I call this part of my talk, “It’s time to lead the leaders”.

I respect our leaders. What they have done cannot be measured. When they fought, they were not trying to be in history books. They were not trying to have monuments built in their honour. They were just doing the right thing. It was never about them.

The only thing we owe them is what Nelson Mandela said. I quote, “Freedom can never be taken for granted. Each generation must safeguard it and extend it. Your parents and elders sacrificed much so that you should have freedom without suffering what they did. Use this precious right to ensure that the darkness of the past never returns.”

Freedom can never be taken for granted. Each generation must safeguard it and extend it. Is freedom being extended by the current leadership; when the poor are getting poorer and the gap between rich and poor is getting wider, can we truly say that the generation that is leading us is extending freedom? Or have they forgotten that their duty is not only to safeguard freedom, but to extend it? It’s time for us to lead the leaders.

Let us lead the leaders and give them a vision that we would like. No one can do this for us, because. The world does not owe us anything.

The time we live in, as has been demonstrated by Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and London, where there was no one moral voice. The people were the moral voice. They were the moral authority. And they were young. Like the youth of Egypt, Tunisia and London, we have to find a way of leading the leaders, because the world does not owe is anything.

What is our vision? Whatever vision we have, it has to be something that will benefit future generations just like we benefitted from the youth of 76. Therefore, economic liberation does not sound like a bad idea. But what does it mean? We have to be able to define what that means.

In his address to the students at Stellenbosch university, Thabo Mbeki said, “always to question and challenge even what is conveyed to you by all and sundry as established truths, including what I have said today, acting both as young people and as students who have the opportunity to re-discover anew all truths about the human and material worlds we inhabit;

“Never to be tempted to use your learning to sugar-coat a deadly virus of false knowledge you can impart to the Africans, in what our Nigerian fellow Africans would describe as giving poisoned kola nuts you offer to friends, pretending that these were but the traditional African gifts of friendship.”

I want to end of by saying the following. In our quest to lead the leaders. Show bitterness to no one. Respect all. Love all and contribute. How will we serve the world? Will we make history or will we simply be history?

Go out and make history. It is waiting for you to make it happen. If the generations before us could make history without the benefit of freedom, surely we can do greater things with the benefit of freedom. History is not made by great men and women. It is made ordinary men and women like yourself. I would like to think I am in the presence of greatness. I would like to believe that I am in the presence of people who believe that, and know that they are going to make history. Yes, some of us will not be written about by name, just like the men and women of Egypt who not have their names in history books but they made history.

Let us lead the leaders, starting today.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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