I recently read a fantastic book about the experiences of a jewish American reporter on the crime beat in Tokyo, Japan. Imagine the cultural conundrums! Delicious! I was struck by his descriptions of the customs in Japan and how that permeates everything. From family groups and small societies to large organised crime groups such as the Yakuza and media and electronics conglomerates on the stock exchange. I many ways it serves as an example of how national cultural uniqueness can survive and thrive in midst of a new and emerging global culture, which is largely based on Western cornerstones.
We live in a time where a global “body of knowledge” overrides much of what we experience culturally. All over the world. There is a global suppository of business, science and technology knowledge that moves ahead relentlessly. It is unstoppable. In fact, it advances so quickly that most of the world clings on by the tips of their fingers. The danger here is, if we lose our grip, we will be left behind. The further we are left behind, the less the chance we will ever catch up. If we don’t keep up, the end is redundancy, mediocrity and poverty. Note - this is not me merely saying so. This IS so.
A quick example (and I will get to the point on South Africa, I promise), is energy. We currently live in a world where our energy is resource-based. Oil. Not just for trains, planes and automobiles. For every 1,5 calories of food we consume, we use 10,5 calories of oil! Many scientists believe we have reached what is called “peak oil”. In short, it means that we have reached the highest point on the historical output graph, and that our oil resources will be dwindling systematically from this point onwards. I’m not worried. Humanity will find an answer. However, that answer will come from science and technology. It is just one of many examples why it is critical that we keep up.
Now we come to S.A. During two short interactions here on News24 over the festive season, I have noticed one specific trend. Many of my countrymen are, in all our diversity, desperately protective over their own cultures. Across the board, it’s almost a laager-mentality. (It’s easy for me - I don’t really have a culture. I’m a Euro-African.) This narrow cultural view is detrimental to our future. There is no way we can stamp a Zulu or Xhosa or Afrikaans (with apologies to the others I haven’t mentioned by name) fingerprint on the fast-moving global culture. It would be obtuse to try to do so. In order to be effective members of the international community we need to understand and respond to the requirements and standards of an international culture first and develop and experience our own cultures second. I know this sounds harsh, but anything else is utterly ineffectual. The Japanese understood this and responded in perfect balance. So did many of the tiger economies.
If and when I raise criticisms against our leadership in South Africa, it is not and never has been a black-white thing. It has been because our current leadership is not equipped to take anything but a short-sighted view on our future. The things I speak about are not shrouded in some future mist. They are real and happening. What we do today, the leaders we choose and the decisions we make about those leaders cannot be for cultural or race-based reasons. It will not only impact on our children. It will impact on us. If South Africa is to survive effectively, we have to get out of a resource-based pattern of thought. We have to set the standard almost unachievably high and use the best we have to pull the rest up to that standard. Not use cultural excuses to set the bar low enough to include everyone. Equality is a great emotional buzzword, but ask yourself - equal to what?