Dashiki Dialogues: A nation of many contested badges

2013-02-24 10:00

South Africa doesn’t belong to itself.

It is a nation that looks at itself in continental and international terms because of our past and because we live in an era of globalisation.

In fact, much of what is best about us is sourced internationally as much as it is created locally.

One of our hot visual art talents is a Zimbabwean called Kudzanai Chiurai; one of our prominent boxing promoters, Branco Milenkovic, is Serbian and we once had a Mozambican, Graça Machel, for a First Lady.

These ideas weighed on my mind as I watched Dr Mamphela Ramphele launch her political platform, Agang.

Ramphele said a number of factors pushed her into party politics.

Importantly, she bemoaned how only about 10% of us mention being South African when identifying ourselves.

Most of us identify ourselves by race, sexual orientation or place of ancestral origin.

They say: “I’m black, Indian or Greek” before “I’m South African”.

This means about 90% of us do not see being South African as a primary facet of our identity.

Though most of this 90% are very much at home here, they share this trait with separatist types who’d rather be in Australia or Orania.

That said, we remain a nation of people with many contested badges.

National citizenship is not what it used to be.

The instant international interest and participation in events, made possible by the internet, is debunking appeals to narrow national identities.

Old flags are fast growing antiquated and inadequate for the mobile citizens of today.

The world now has to contend with what the Singaporean former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani called forces of convergence: a situation where national interests are forced to intersect across ideological and regional goals.

For instance, communist China and capitalist US and Europe will find themselves forced to cooperate with each other more than they wish.

Mahbubani points to growing economic interdependence and the impatience of rising new middle class citizens empowered by social media.

The challenge then becomes a need to reconcile the electorate’s demand for economic prosperity and security against the realities of this new global interdependence.

These new mobile identities will require politics that fit their new reality.

Dr Ramphele and other opposition politicians can still rely on the fact that an increasingly inept ANC will fast lose popular legitimacy among this growing youthful middle class.

Historical methods of activating voters will fall short of the target.

However, the solution cannot be a desire to replace the ANC’s type of singular dominance with one of their own.

Our politics demand more than just strong individual figures.

The mark of the future is a multilingual dialogue for mobile citizens in multicoloured dashikis.

»Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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