I noticed recently that I’ve become an angry human being. I am struggling to see the positive aspects of this wonderful country of ours - and believe me, my love affair with South Africa and Africa is longstanding and runs deep. I have travelled the continent extensively and slurped up the heady mixture of cultures and magnificent variety of experiences in great, greedy gulps.
In fact, many of my friends (now either in London or New York) joked until recently that I would be the person that switched the lights off in SA when I finally decided to leave. So why the anger? Why the outrage? I had to sit down, become quiet, and search deep within myself to find the real origin of this constant, noxious pal that hangs around my shoulders. I thought I’d share a few insights.
When all is said and done - it is all about injustice. We have always been an unjust society. When democracy came in 1994 (I would argue it was probably slightly before that - perhaps with the release of Nelson Mandela), the greatest belief we had was that South Africa would, at last, become a fatherland which nurtures the hopes and aspirations of all its citizens.
That the structures of oppression and exclusivity would be torn down and supplanted by a spirit of inclusivity and social generosity unlike the world has ever seen. Instead, old structures have simply been replaced with more of the same, albeit with different names. The one thing these pre-94 and post-94 structures have in common, is that they suck the hope out of a nation.
How could anybody in their right mind consider the living standards, working conditions and compensation of the mineworkers in South Africa as fair and just? Especially considering the profound need for social and economic reconstruction in a new democracy. What has floated up from the time-fog after the Marikana tragedy is simply this: it was always going to be “business as usual”.
Big capital, whether it was in white or black hands, was always going to be protected. The naive belief of the ANC was that capital in black hands was less likely to do evil things to perfectly good people than capital in white hands, but this has now been proven wrong. Money is money and business is business and greed is greed. Black and white has nothing to do with it.
Our racist past and race-based present make issues of black and white sensitive. When human beings are threatened, the first thing they try to do is shift the blame. Whether they cower into a corner or come out with their fists swinging, it is always with the same refrain - IT WAS HIM … So, the blame for so many of the ills in the country have been pinned on apartheid, or in the case of right-leaning white citizens, incompetent and uneducated black people sitting in positions they are not equipped for.
Unfortunately, there is some truth in both points of view. The sad thing is that the deeper, underlying truth is lost in the noisy discourse - the fact that it is injustice that makes us equally angry. It is just habit that gets us to lash out at each other. We have more common cause than most would realize.
When a municipality fails to deliver services, when government officials steal money, when the president’s personal moral vacuity impacts on how we as a people are perceived, when a governing party undeniably places personal interests before the well-being of a nation or vomits up yet another dubious leader, when children are so desperately disadvantaged by a failed educational system, we all cry foul, black an white.
And all of our concerns are genuine. If our children don’t get a world-class education, this country will fail. If our municipalities don’t deliver services, if water infrastructure continues to crumble, if crime, both inside and outside the police service doesn’t come down drastically, this country will fail.
What I guarantee - with my heart of hearts - is that this country will NOT fail because black and white cannot live or work together. Such thinking is nothing more than a lazy man’s emotional comfort zone.
Injustice, the common enemy, finds its most fertile breeding ground in uncertainty and emotional chaos. It is time we as South Africans break the chains once again and lay the ground rules. We have come to a place where we simply HAVE to say - we will not entrust our future into the hands of people who are uniquely unqualified to manage it with integrity, care and competence.
We have to emphasize that we have certain minimum standards that ANY government that we choose to serve us HAS to conform to. No longer will we be satisfied with a municipal manager who enriches himself with our money, whilst not delivering on his or her mandate. And that mandate is our minimum standards. No longer are we prepared to tolerate ANYTHING but the best minds our society can deliver to discharge the duties we impose on our leaders.
Our part of the collective bargain should be simply this - we will search wide and far and mine deep to find these people. And when we do find them, we will accept them regardless of their gender, race, religion or political party, as the constitution states. So that when we go to the polls, we are spoilt for choice and not scraping the bottom of the barrel because we are simply overwhelmed by badly disguised mediocrity.
That is how we give homes to the poor, take care of the old and indigent, build a credible economy and fan the flames of hope in South Africa once again.
We will have a future, at last, when we realize that we share a common cause and save our intolerance for the corrupt and the opportunistic, the vile and the self-serving, in other words, those that have no right to call themselves REAL South Africans. They are both black and white. As are we.