Spring-clean your South Africa

2010-09-01 00:00

THE winter sales are a joyous time for me. Not because I revel in the joy of the hunt clothing-wise, but because it heralds the coming change of season.

It’s the start of spring in South Africa, where springs are generally grossly unappreciated. This is not our fault, it is climatic coddling that has prevented us knowing how good we have it. Our pathetic winters are, for me, plenty cold enough.

I grew up in Johannesburg, and even as a young child I had the unshakable conviction that those plastic spoons you get free with cereal should change colour in the milk, not in the drawer.

The weather around here has resulted in us doing springs as watered-down as our winters. To remedy this, I suggest that we hearken back to an ancient tradition: spring-cleaning.

I would probably not have to work hard to convince you that our country could do with spring-cleaning. No doubt many of us would perform it Queen of Hearts-style, beheading officials left and right, given the opportunity. Fortunately, this is not really an option available to the average citizen. So what can we spring-clean in South Africa? Well, we can spring-clean ourselves. I do not mean this in a John F. Kennedy (JFK) way, that of “What can you do for your country … ” (JFK was not exactly one to practise what he preached.) This implies a view of South Africa as an ideal and not a reality — an outline of the country’s shape with fireworks going off. I mean the South Africa in each of our lives is entirely different from person to person. The rickshaws on North Beach in Durban. The car guard with windmill hand gestures who always finds you a good spot.

For me it’s a combination of a guy who sells paintings up the road with his brood of chickens around him (it never fails to make my day seeing one of them cross the road), and a memory of the joy I felt once walking in Paris, only to overhear a couple fighting over a map in Afrikaans.

I probably wouldn’t do much for ideal South Africa, which I see as rife with rape, corrupt politicians and ridiculous municipalities. However, a country made up of my guy, his chickens and the Afrikaans couple, is a different matter. Lord knows I am not a domestic woman, but that South Africa I would be prepared to clean for.

You may want to spruce up your South Africa differently, but these are the spring-cleaning resolutions I’ve made for myself.

• Spending time with South Africa. Talk to it, ride in your rickshaw, whatever. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t even know the chicken guy’s name. That is no way to treat your country.

• Giving something back. Sometimes charity is far too easy — sending a cheque without having to meet another soul. This is good, and by all means do it if you want to, but you will miss the connection with somebody that can mean as much as money.

Ask your South Africa what it really needs and get it for it. Perhaps the rickshaw could use a little Q20 — anything.

• Learning a bit of a South African language you don’t know. I have always been more than a little intimidated by Xhosa, so that’s my one for now.

• Making time to take a walk around your neighbourhood. Chat to people (you will probably not know them if you as terrible at ubuntuism as I am) and pick up some litter.

Be the kind of person who leaves a place looking better than he or she found it — an asset in any country

• Lastly, take a good look at yourself. Charity begins at home, as they say.

I am of the opinion that to be a good person one must be able to see oneself. The most powerful changes will always come from outsider eyes.

This part may take some guts. Go and find a person you know who does not like you very much, and ask him or her what you can do to improve his or her perception of you.

Guaranteed, this person will have spotted some flaw that you glibly gloss over. I can see the face of my person now, scowling at me. I may need a stiff drink first.

It is far too easy to sit on the sidelines and criticise. South Africans have practically made this a national pastime. Contrary to popular belief, we have lots to be thankful for, I think.

Here is what might be the greatest be-a-good-citizen commandment of all: love your country and love yourself. Try to make both better and better. Let’s make a deal, to see how great we can each make our countries in one season.

Come summer, I’ll show you some very fat chickens if you show me really good-looking rickshaws.

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