I am going to be constructive in writing this, and I ask that you try to be constructive in reading it. For the moment, put away those contrary thoughts that think the opposite of everything, and let’s see if we can reach consensus. I may be wrong in the details, but perhaps the overall picture is vividly true.
In South Africa, and the manner in which the legacy of this country was handed from one generation to another, I see a parallel to an ordinary family. A family provides a will for someone to inherit the wealth that the family has created. Sometimes parents leave their estate to their own children, sometimes to adopted children. Sometimes they give it to charities or foundations. In South Africa, white people handed over their legacy, their buildings, their cities and their schools, local and national government, to black people.
President Nelson Mandela was the benefactor of this legacy. He had the hopes of the white middle class and the hopes of the rural poor, shepherd boys such as he once was, riding on his shoulders. Madiba recognised this as no easy burden. Madiba took the charge of this country seriously. He wanted human rights to be restored to all – all races, all religions, both sexes. He took this so seriously that he tried to reach out a hand to a small a powerful group, the Afrikaner. He did so by asking those who wished to continue to serve in his office, to stay. He did so by supporting and celebrating what his former master had held most dear – their rugby. This gesture was made famous by the award-winning American Director Clint Eastwood, in the film INVICTUS, with Morgan Freeman playing our very own Nelson Mandela, Matt Damon playing Francois Pienaar. In the Mandela and Pienaar of 1995 are hints at what needs to be happening in the South Africa of 2013. But after Mandela left the presidency, that continuity has been lost. Instead, a cynical attitude has begun to prevail, and we have allowed ourselves to be swayed and embittered by it. What is the opposite of cynical separation?
Collaboration. Taking an interest in someone you don’t know much about. Supporting and encouraging someone even though your own supporters might not. Seeing the bigger picture, beyond the immediate moment. Seeing beyond oneself, and one’s suburb.
In an ordinary family, the job of parents is to teach their children how to survive in the world without them. In other words, to nurture the independence of their progeny. Make sure they have the skills to function and succeed in the world. The opposite of this is a wealthy parent who says to his son and daughter – go and make a success yourself. I made my money, go and get it yourself, what’s stopping you. But there is a happy medium between:
1. handouts that make children lazy (and soon they feel entitled to more and more, as they get lazier and lazier, and soon they become angrier and angrier) and
2. constructive support, where parents are involved in teaching their children the importance of money, and planning their futures, and what skills matter, how to get them and why.
We live in a country where white people typically are the ‘parents’ of this country. They found the wealth and built the mines, though thousands of sweaty black hands did the actual work. They drew up business plans and started businesses, but thousands gave their labour to make them wealthy.
Wealthy, but strict. And perhaps overly strict. They have been negligent towards their children, and their children have become resentful. At the same time, the children have become lazy. They sit and expect to be given a house. The parents say that they worked in their lives to pay for their own houses. So what needs to happen? The parents need to forget the past, the begin afresh the project of teaching the children how to live without them.
We can call this mentoring. Our best white farmers can teach black farmers how it is done. Our best business minds can show what is important in running an airline. How can one defeat rising fuel prices. How to build this country again. But the only way this can happen is if white people have a willingness to teach and share in their knowledge, a genuine desire to give of themselves, and the young black people have a real humility, a real sense of respecting what they are being given, and a real desire to learn to do it themselves.
Neither blacks or whites will like to hear this, but ex-foreign minister, Pik Botha (the prime mover that got SA out of Apartheid) recently said that the reason the country can’t grow is that when the country became a democracy, black people threw out white people, and began occupying posts and positions themselves, without being qualified to do them. This is the beginning of corruption, and the beginning of how businesses die and unemployment gets worse. It is the beginning of a downward spiral that ends up in Zimbabwe. A failed state.
It is easy to see that black people will want to take their rightful place in this country, and that white people will want to remain relevant. The answer is not for black people to work at the expense of whites, or vice versa. The answer is to work together. But this relies on the maturity that some black people will acknowledge that they need to learn new skills, and it is their white brothers that must be prepared to share them. But both need to be there. Both must want the other there, at their side, and must be engaged in sharing, and upskilling.
At the moment, we have laws that force people to put a certain number of white and black faces in a business. But we all know this is veneer, window dressing. Because of the attitudes that remain, our society remains splintered and separate. Because the government continues to court populism, the easy way is to blame the ‘Other’. 19 years after the end of Apartheid, the banging of the race drum is louder than ever. Is it true? Is it important? Is it helping us, or is it just another headache shared by every South African. It is done regularly (a minster recently blamed Afrikaners for SA’s deplorable attitudes to women). These comments create schisms in society. There are already deep and dangerous splinters and gashes. These need to be healed, bridged, not cut open. Trust is fragile. It takes time to grow. It is easy to break trust; it takes a single harsh word, and harsh words are being uttered every day.
The opposite of the current political racism, would be to respect the ability of white people, the way Mandela respected the reputation of the Springboks (his vision saw them win the world cup that year, and this unified the nation). And of course white people have to trust the people who come to them. That trust is not easily won. Neither is it easy for blacks, many of whom have been oppressed, to trust people who may resemble their former oppressors. But we have to, like Madiba, forget the lost years, and try to begin a fuller and better life now. Each moment of regret costs another moment in the present, and compromises the future of all. Let’s move forward.
Every South African has to ask themselves – do I want to be right, do I want to remember every slight against me, do I want to point fingers and blame, and push the country further along its criminal axis, further into distrust and corruption, or do I want to put aside my grievances (however right they may be), and see what I can do to restore relationships, to work with someone else, to teach them something or share something. If enough of us can do this, we can turn the tide. But it requires a national effort, a national mood swing, a national commitment.
We hear much bad news and much of it is disgusting and disgraceful. But there are candles in the darkness. I know of white families who have built houses for their domestic workers. Out of love. Out of the long relationships of people working together. In time, perhaps our people will take it to the next step, and employ one another first as master and apprentice, and one day, perhaps as equals.
How do we learn? That process begins at school. Children need to stay in school and finish their education. Parents can help to make sure children realise the value of this. White people can give internships or mentorships to the children of their domestic workers. They can show them their business. Black people can have a sense that this country is not here for the taking. It is a custodianship. The attitude of taking means those who work and are not rewarded later do not wish to work. And then all is lost.
If you are reading this and still not convinced, perhaps you don’t like the idea of giving something away that you have, or perhaps you are still stuck in blaming ‘Others’ for your problems, I’d like to leave you with this. You may have seen it before, and even if you have, try to remember it, because the fortunes of this country and your own future depend on whether we pay attention now, or not:
1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.
For our nation to work, we all need to be working. And the best way to work is together. Ki Nako! It is time.
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