The #AmINext protests of the past two weeks were a game-changer for South Africa, writes Adriaan Basson.
This is an edited extract of a speech I delivered at the Wits Golden Key induction.
Don’t be comfortable because you have a good education and can have a good job. You have a responsibility to make sure that you use your intelligence to balance this unequal system that still insists on keeping black people and women in a position of disadvantage. Refuse to be an accomplice. Speak the hard truths. Don’t be so desperate for acceptance that you no longer have the balls to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. That is the great danger of society. The quest for acceptance has so infested society with fear that many say what they know will keep them in good stead with certain groups, too afraid to challenge them, but would rather remain silent simply because they are part of the group. What has made us such cowards? Our parents and grandparents could have been imprisoned or worse, killed for saying what needed to be said. They understood what service meant. The quest for acceptance has created a lot of people who are but shadows of themselves. It is better to be rejected for being honest to yourself than to be accepted for being someone else. You may be accepted but you won’t be remembered. You may be accepted, but you will contribute nothing. You may be accepted but you will never know what it is like to fight for and to achieve what you believe in. Fight those battles in boardrooms as a lone ranger even if no one else will ever know you fought the fight because you have to adhere to some boardroom confidentiality agreements. We are not yet free. Be wary of unwittingly belonging to groups that decide who should think what, how they should think it. And once that has been thought, who should say it and how it should be said. If you want to serve well, and you want to lead well, you have to know that your thinking may not be part of the group, but it is your responsibility to bring people along with you. Even people who have sworn to be your enemies. Sometimes you have to lead people who hate you. Turn them to allies and convince them to believe in your vision. I want to talk to you about people being their own limiters. We are our own limiters. But you know what, there are no limits. And that is the beauty about life. There are no limits. Even the people who try to put the brakes on your greatness are incapable of limiting you and they know it. That is why they will tell you what you cannot do and why you, specifically you are not allowed to go where you go, for they know that they cannot restrain you. They know that when the human spirit has determined and decided - there is no limit to what it can achieve. We know that during apartheid we were told that we were inferior. That we would never be free. That we would and should forever be subjugated to white power and white rule. For some time, some believed it. But when more of us stopped believing the lie, we were able to free ourselves. It is true that we are still not really free. There are still too many battles to fight. Those who try to discourage you, do so for they know that they can’t hold you back. They want you to do it. They know that the more they say you shouldn’t and can’t do it the more you will believe them. The more you will be weighed down and give up trying. They know that you are the only who is capable holding yourself back. They want you to help them hold yourself back. All they want for you is for you to believe them when they say you can’t, and thus, you shackle yourself. It is not just others who tell you that you can’t do it. There is an entire industrial complex designed to hold you back. Especially because you are black or a woman particularly if you are a black women. For we know that subtle racism is so sinister because it leaves without tangible proof of the racism you know exists. You become crazy and someone who has a chip on their shoulder when you point out such injustices. It is so ingrained in society and so subtle that it is almost impossible to prove but we know it is there. Refuse to be an accomplice. Treat every day as a revolution. It is also about us too men knowing that we often participate in sexist attitudes while being completely unaware. I know I have been. We have to break down these attitudes that hold others back. This is what I mean there is an entire industrial complex designed to hold others back. It is not something we must accept as normal or as simply it’s the way things are.You have to fulfil the promise that is you. I want to see a generation that will be remembered. I want to see people who transform, change and break down barriers that hold people back. This is how you will serve society. Freedom has not yet been achieved. We are constantly fighting for freedoms. You are an awesome generation. I have such great faith in you. The world and history will remember you. For what? I don’t know yet, but I know you will not be own limiters.
I know that many of you faced many obstacles along the way, sometimes financial, it could be simply being from where you are from, yet you managed to be in this room, on this day to be part of some of the top students at Wits university, one of the top universities in the world. It means that you refuse to be limited by others, especially by yourself.
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