Clem Sunter

The heart of the revolution

2017-06-06 11:03

I have read Mondli Makhanya’s brilliant article on this website entitled Stats of the nation. In it, he basically says the tragedy being played out on our national stage is diverting our attention away from what is really happening on the ground.

He cites the appallingly low arrest rates in home robberies; the unacceptably high vacancy rates in key service departments of municipalities; and the national unemployment rate rising to its highest level in 14 years.

It has prompted me to write this article which has one message. The heart of a national democratic revolution is a bottom-up surge of human spirit, not a top-down process of command and control. It rises like a bubble to the surface; it does not sink like a stone to the floor.  

The French, American, Russian, Chinese and Cuban Revolutions prove this. Yes, you need charismatic leaders as a trigger; but there has to be a groundswell of support from citizens who feel empowered to overturn the status quo. And they do so.

I am not for one moment suggesting that we need a military revolution in South Africa because we have a perfectly reasonable democracy and Constitution. However, we do need a revolution in the way we go about our daily lives. Specifically, we need to hold people who do important things for us accountable for their actions.

This is a bottom-up practice. It is the exact opposite of allowing those in authority over us to determine our future without consequences. That constitutes the surrender of our sovereignty as a human being. It defies democracy which literally means people power.

In the same spirit, Steve Biko said that improving your self-esteem does not come from letting other people do something for you; it comes from doing it for yourself. In other words, if you want a revolution, you must be part of it. Don’t stand on the side-lines.

In April 2006, I had to give a talk at the Central Party School in Beijing about the use of scenario planning in plotting a country’s future. The school is the holy grail of the Chinese Communist Party apart from the Politburo. It writes the five-year economic plans for China.

The staff showed me around the school afterwards and, in every single lecture room, the sayings of Chairman Mao were replaced by quotes of his successor Deng Xiaoping. When I asked them why, they said Deng had unleashed the creative spirit of the Chinese and soon they would be the most powerful nation on Earth.

In other words, it was a bottom-up revolution that propelled China to where it is today. Russia lags behind because it is still in the top-down mode of old-fashioned communism directing society from the top. The same is true if you compare Cuba with Venezuela. Cuba is beginning to get into its stride as the natural entrepreneurial spark of its inhabitants is allowed to ignite the economy, whereas Venezuela is a disaster.

America brushed aside English colonialism with its revolution. Now, it does not matter whether President Trump is impeached or not because he does not have much power anyway. US states, cities, towns and the people within them go about their business as usual, shaping their own destinies. Washington thus counts for little in the lives of most Americans.

The takeaway for South Africa is that if you want to be safe in your own community, you have to hold the local cops accountable and assist them where there are gaps. If you want the local authority to perform and have the manpower to do the job it is supposed to do, don’t just demonstrate outside their offices. Get involved and if they don’t improve, turf them out at the next election.

If you want the unemployment rate to fall in your local community, get on the school boards and have a personal say in the quality of education your children are getting. If the teachers don’t teach, have them thrown out.

Challenge a local bank in your area to provide capital for small business and encourage the big companies in the neighbourhood to use their supply chains to nurture local enterprise. Create a local networking system so that people can sell goods to each other. Start a local stock exchange on the internet so you can use crowd funding for new and hopefully profitable ventures.

To sum up: the message is ‘a luta continua’ because I personally roll my sleeves up and make the revolution happen. I don’t leave it to others whose words are hollow. Only then will the stats improve.

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