Backward ever, onward never

2010-02-02 12:04

IN PHUKET, I stayed on

one of Thailand’s holiday islands at a hotel that had been in the eye of the

­tsunami five years ago. You wouldn’t say so. Perfectly ­rebuilt, the entire

coastal strip is like a phoenix risen. An ­aquamarine beach necklaced by a sea

of neon.

The Yellow Banana disco, Starbucks and every conceivable eatery

jostle for space with the infamous tuk-tuks, little motor-bikes with canopies

that are the main form of transport.

A popular tourist T-shirt reads: “No, thanks, I don’t want a

f***ing tuk-tuk ride, massage, silk shirt ...”

To say Phuket is entrepreneurial is like saying Richard Branson’s a

good businessman – an ­understatement.

There are no ­tsunami plaques anywhere and not a soul I tried to

press for details of that awful day in December 2004 would look back.

“Finish now. No tsunami any more,” they’d say before rapidly

changing the subject.

In Vietnam, some years ­previously, I went on the war route, down

into the tunnels that the ­Vietcong used to outfox American soldiers, traipsing

through the museum with the guns piled high and the graphic photographs of the

ravages of Agent Orange.

But everyone I met appeared to have consigned the war to history

and to a tourist back-drop. Locals were far more keen to talk about running

multiple little businesses and doing deals than about the ravages of the war and

the awful ­Yankees.

Those two countries are physical and cultural worlds away from

ours, but I learnt the importance of moving on and into the future. We look back

far too much.

Back home and into the ­ravages of our matric results, I read

little about the democratic state being responsible for ­taking us backward.

The back-drop of blame is ­often a shrugged shoulder and a finger

pointed in the direction of apartheid education. While it raped generations,

­after 17 years surely the ­responsibility for present and future children and

youth is now ours?

With an edifice as big as apartheid to blame for not keeping

abreast with global best standards in education, entrepreneurship and public

healthcare there’s no imperative to do well, to beat the odds. And so, we must

start looking forward – cast the past into the past and forget our historical


It’s hard to do when you consider that our primary economic

­debates last year were about ­nationalisation and a planned economy. We’ve

­entered an age of high ideology just as the world ­up-ends all the certainty of


In the US, President Barack Obama ended his first year with a

wealth tax on Wall Street, while China helped blunt the impact of recession by

virtually taking over the global economy.

Most of President Jacob ­Zuma’s policy planks – planning, a

national health insurance plan, banning labour ­brokers, there’ll be more from

the state of the nation address next week – are well-meaning but lack

pragmatism. The ANC is still singing from song-sheets ­written in the 70s and

80s when its policy plans were developed to counter a siege apartheid economy of


One reason for this is ­because political factions in the unions

and the SA Communist Party want the turn they never had in 1994 to attempt grand

revolution. But as they play history-history, the world is passing us by.

We should be all eyes on 2014 when South Africa turns 20. Surely a

fine moment to stop being a post-apartheid state and to accept the

responsibilities of ­being a developing country with ample natural resources,

good people, an ­unworkable unemployment rate and children ill-equipped for a

modern world.

We should be nose to the grindstone lifting education standards,

keeping the social safety net in place, allowing people to work and business to


When visitors ask about our past, we could point them to the

excellent Apartheid ­Museum at Gold Reef City or to Robben ­Island. “Finish now.

No apartheid any more.”

The young activists I so ­admired in the 80s, and who are in power

now, had a great ­slogan they’ve forgotten: Onward ever. Backward never.

  • Haffajee is


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