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South Africa’s Unifying Force

22 October 2012, 07:54

Ivory Coast soccer star Didier Drogba, recently said that he believes that football is the only unifying force in his war-torn country.

He is the all-time top scorer in the national team and the first player from Africa to score a hundred goals in the UK Premier League, while playing for Chelsea. He is also the only player in history to score in four separate FA Cup finals. He left his home country as a child and was educated in France, where he learnt to play soccer from an early age. He made rapid progress in the game and after playing for the junior national team he became a leading professional player in the most competitive game and leagues on the planet.

 He said: "The national team means a lot to this country. I think that today - and I choose my words carefully here - it is Cote d'Ivoire's only unifying force," “We're trying to move forward, we're trying to get back on our feet, to show people through football that we can live together."

 Ivory Coast had been in the grip of devastating civil wars since 2002, after a period of colonialism and being French West Africa's most prosperous state, the world's leading producer of cocoa and Africa's leading exporter of pineapples and palm oil.

 During the 1995 Rugby World Cup the lyrics of struggle song, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” became part of the South African national anthem. The new anthem and the charisma of Nelson Mandela, struggle hero and the people’s president, produced a powerful force that miraculously united South Africans during the World Cup games and the early years of the new democracy.

 The vision of a better life for all that fired up the South African society at the end of the nineties, became unstuck in the new millennium when the new political elite, overwhelmed by their new wealth and power, lost their desire and appetite for change and their connection with the poor people suffered. Ordinary people in communities were increasingly feeling disconnected as local governments failed to provide community services and departments and institutions failed the public. Unrestrained large-scale migration from the north of South Africa added to the problems of poor service delivery and poverty because of millions of new arrivals.

 In 2010 South Africans experienced the unifying power of soccer for a while when South Africa hosted the Soccer World Cup. Crowds were singing and dancing in the streets and in the new pavilions built at high cost for the games. Millions of people on the planet watched South Africans having a great time with eyes glued to television screens.

 For a few weeks South Africans forgot about their problems and just indulged in enjoying the game and the world’s attention. Again the fascination with sport and a national team was temporary and the passion soon dissipated.

 During the past two years the country had moved to the edge of revolution as a new faction of freedom fighters appeared in workplaces around the country, discrediting and undoing all the good and positive things that had been achieved by the people and government of South Africa since 1994.

 The young freedom fighters are causing restlessness in the South African society. They are calling for economic freedom, the nationalization of mines and land, a second revolution and second transition. They have succeeded in causing joblessness, restlessness and trauma in communities but have failed to induce a unifying force. They do not have the legitimacy, credibility, resources, commitment or skill to inspire a unifying force.

 The economic and social changes that South Africa legitimately need cannot be accomplished in a belligerent or revolutionary manner, through strikes or through a game or sports event! There is no team, tribe, clan, rebel or community that is the common enemy. It is not a political power issue anymore. The enemy of the common people is the lack of knowledge and skills to design, make, operate, maintain and restore things, to start and run businesses and to farm successfully.

 The common enemy is ignorance and incompetence. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, built the most valuable company in the world because his family and education empowered him to understand elegance in design and the value of individual brilliance in changing the world through technology.

 South Africa needs a new unifying force! The hurt and influence of the life losses in the mining town Marikana; the anger of thousands of workers on strike for better jobs, wages and benefits and the violent protests in communities for better services, are indicators that South Africa is in need of a new force to unify the nation. Nations were unified through religions, prophets, ideological dreams, wars, cars, holocausts, new enterprises, space programmes, social networks, festivals, operas and songs for varying periods in the past.

 A force that unifies people indefinitely comprises of five critical elements. The first element is the presence of a common enemy or prey. Without a common enemy or prey there is no rational or emotional incentive for mobilization and attack. The second element is the prospect of a victory. This inspires hope and belief. The third element is the prospect of a reward. The human mind is instinctively programmed to prey and feast. The fourth element is the skill, ingenuity and energy to attack at the right moment and succeed. No success is possible without patience, skill and acumen. No game or struggle can be won without effort and resilience. The final critical requirement is the protective cloud of legitimacy and virtuosity that must surround the action and will provide the moral high ground, respect and lasting heroic reputation. When one of these elements is absent there is no prospect of a miracle and when an element looses its potency the fire of the unifying force soon dies out.

 Education will be South Africa’s unifying force. You inspire people to live together through the right education, training, coaching and mentoring. Every person must develop a set of skills and values that are sought after by society. You must tap into the genius and values of every individual at a young age, like it was done with Didier Drogba in France and Steve Jobs in America.

 For people to live together successfully, there has to be a strong emotional bond amongst the members of society, held together by a sense of individual worthiness, integrity, mutual respect, neighbourliness, caring and cooperation.

For this to happen our parents, families, learners, students, schools, colleges, universities and workplaces must connect seamlessly to be the sustainable unifying force for a progressive nation.

 Our government must fully fund those institutions of society that are the engines of a unifying force and those that fortify the unifying force. The unifying force that South Africa needs will not be bought with billions of Rand invested in infrastructure or other temporary job creation initiatives. Billions invested in families, learners, students, schools, colleges, universities and training schemes will inspire and keep the unifying force vibrant and resilient. 

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