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The Last Contrarian
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A Post-Mandela South Africa

02 January 2013, 11:52

I trust I will not offend if I refer to Mr. Mandela by his clan name from hereon. After all, he is my favourite South African president, too.

As a South African who saw firsthand the birth of our democracy in 1994 and the inclusive leadership of Madiba, I can honestly say that I am glad to see that he will enjoy a while longer the peace he paid such a high price for. But at the same time I am worried that South Africa will simply sigh in relief and go back to being politically complacent.

Perhaps after we South Africans finally lose our spiritual father will we finally detach from our mother’s breast (the ANC) and learn to fend for ourselves. For too long have South Africans of all races and colours sat idle and hoped that the perhaps amidst the confusion, corruption, and upheaval—just perhaps—from the wheelchair would again rise the country’s greatest leader to call for unity, fairness, and calm—a voice of reason in a otherwise blizzard of lies.

Mandela has been tasked with being South Africa’s moral compass for too long, and old age has now worn away at the mechanism of the compass and rendered it nonfunctional. From the fragments of information that I could gather online, it seems that old age has also lured Madiba’s personality away from him and robbed him of his memories. Madiba now lives on that island resort of senility where one is only occasionally and briefly allowed to slip back into character. The sparkle, wit, and strength of our once great leader have faded. Though, rather than smiting my chest in agony for seeing Madiba reduced to the husk that old age will eventually transform us all into, I choose to smile and be glad to see him use up all the grains of sand that the hourglass of life had granted him. We can ask for no more than that.

We as South Africans will soon have make our way through the future without Madiba’s presence to show us of where true north lies (if that is still the aim). We are now the ones who have to take the responsibility for South Africa’s future. When South Africa no longer has to shoulder the burden of trying to make do with current affairs for the sake of Madiba’s peace of mind, perhaps then we will see the current administration taken to task and caned for its misbehaviour.

Are we ready for that? Are we capable of producing from the current crop the future Mandelas who can steer the country back to unity and prosperity? Whether we are or not, we will eventually be forced to make do on our own.

The hardship of adult life can be merciless to new arrivals, but as the old saying goes… adversity is the grindstone of life; it can either polish you or wear you away. In the years to come, we will see which character South Africa takes on. Will we become a sensible adult, capable of thinking and fending for ourselves, or will we become a scared and destitute child who cannot face the challenges of life without parental (to be read, governmental) support?

My fellow South Africans, we need not wonder about the answer to these questions, for we are the ones who have the opportunity to answer them. The greatest fear the Zuma administration has is that of a progressive black middle class that cannot be ‘corrected’ by the whip of tradition. I’m talking about the same sort of middle class that is emerging from black South Africa as was seen emerging from white South Africa during the closing years of apartheid—those whites who gave the NP the finger and chased their missionaries away from their doorsteps. Despite the ramblings of the has-been ANCYL leadership, black South Africa is indeed starting to lift itself from the poverty pit. They don’t need the breast of the ANC or the nod of approval from the former colonial masters (I don’t mean whites in general, please; I mean the white economic elements that want the cake all for themselves).

These are not the sort of South Africans whose vote can be won by appealing to tradition, skin colour, or by threatening them with potentially causing insult to their ancestors! These are not the sort of South Africans who can be cajoled by another round of promises of imminent wealth and prosperity! These South Africans are not tenderpreneurial ANC success stories; they are self-authored success stories! These are the South Africans that I place my trust in for the future prosperity of our nation; these are the South Africans whose hands I long to grab in unity!

We must hew our future leaders (and government) from this stock. We need progressives, not conservatives. President Zuma has been playing the culture card every time he felt resistance in the flock. As the years drag on, his commentary has become more pro-African. But what part or percentage of young South Africans does he represent? We, the youth (I am still one, trust me) are about to take over the reins of the country, yet we have to listen to a president who wants to direct the emergent freethinking South African youth into the downcast obedience to which we as a nation owe all our troubles!

This problem of outdated leadership is something seen the world over. This is not a problem faced solely by South African. Every democracy elects these old leaders who are unable keep up with an advancing society. We need young leader who will one day have to sleep in the bed they make! That is the only way to keep our societies from being turned into conservation camps for the immortalization of traditions and outmoded ways of thinking that have already had their time in the sun and reached their full potential.

What is going to empower the youth to cope in a world that is already disassembling tradition? I assure you—as I sit and watch tradition being eroded here in the East to make way for a brighter future—it is not a spear (no pun intended) and a leopard skin, but an education and a career that will help us realise our dreams.

President Zuma has been hiding behind excuses for his divisive comments. His administration claims he is simply ‘decolonizing’ the African mind. Let me spell ‘decolonizing’ properly: stultifying. I live in a country that was just as damaged by colonialism. Singapore needed no adherence to tradition to move forward. In fact, the colonial element provided the fragment of progress that helped this modern-day metropolis pull itself out of the quagmire that it once wallowed in. Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia, bombed to a rubble during World War 2, and abandoned by its former colonial masters, who pointed the canons in the wrong direction when the Japanese invaded. Yet Singapore got up faster than any nation before it. Tradition fell to the wayside as modernity was embraced. And from the look of it, nobody here is complaining that they have good jobs, excellent healthcare, and a clean, safe country with enough for all its citizens.

Singapore is still very ‘Asian’ in many respects, but I assure you—as a westerner living and working here—I feel as if I’m still in the west or, perhaps, just near its borders, and I have yet to see a country that made its way up the ranks without embracing some of the tenets of western liberalism, democracy, and capitalism. Education, civility, knowledge, technology, and a relentless work ethic are not bits and pieces of ‘white’ or ‘western’ culture, after all; they are the ingredients of success that all successful cultures have had to embrace to succeed!

There is nothing wrong with adapting and progressing one’s culture for the chance at a better life. What many in South Africa like to call ‘white culture’ is simply a methodology that we learned from cultures not originally our own. A few hundred years ago, my ancestors were painting their faces with muck, feasting on squirrels and gruel, and raping the neighbouring tribe’s women, torturing the men, and enslaving the children—that is my original European culture. That is the original ‘white’ culture. And I do wish my fellow whites would bother to look at their own streak of barbarism and stunted culture in centuries passed.

If you rewind the clock even further, you will realise that our culture—as a species—was walking about aimlessly in the desert and listening intently to the dictation of the tribe’s mentally ill and schizophrenic members. Today we have a sense to lock these people up and disregard their ‘revelations’. Before that, we were beating big rocks into smaller ones and stacking them on top of each other (the Stone Age). Before that, we were sitting in the caves, scared shitless of the elements of nature and assigning mystical mechanisms to them. Before that even, we were swinging in the trees and eating bananas, hardly capable of sustained thinking.

Today, I have none of these propensities and my culture can only be summed up as individualism. My ancestors chose to abandon their culture, and thus helped me to be born more advanced and better capable of prospering in a technological-and-skill-driven world. Now I eat Fillet Mignon steaks and wear branded clothes. I am well educated and enjoying the fruits of my skilled labour. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that is one hell of an upgrade from what my ancestors had to endure. I’m not just surviving; I’m living! I’m not just herding cattle; I’m helping shape the future of society.

For those who doubt my above examples of cultural progress, consider what ‘cultural preservation’ did for the Koi San. It spawned a generation of workless alcoholic wife beaters who cannot cope with the stress of being relocated from the Stone Age into the twenty-first century, practically overnight. Africa might as well get with the program. China, India, Philippines, Indonesia, etc., all these countries are placing a higher value on advancing their societies than simply keeping them bound to tradition.

The results can already be seen. India is producing more Scientists than America produces graduates in the same interval. China is seeing a new middle-class explosion and they are buying fine goods and expensive cars like there is no tomorrow. South Korea boasts better living standards than some of America’s major cities do. Singapore is the jewel of the east, wealthy beyond what most can imagine and run like a Swiss watch factory. The Emirates are doing similarly well and whether they will admit it or not, what separates them from the dirt-eating rest of the Middle East is how western they have become in key areas.

Change has always been the thing dictators feared the most (look at North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iraq, etc.). The only way to be a progressive democracy is to embrace change. I see no reason for the youth of South Africa (I’m still a youth myself) to listen to the ramblings of people who will soon be pushing up daisies. Enough with your ‘old and traditional ways’, president Zuma, we want wealth, education, expensive hobbies, material luxuries, prosperity, and freedom! The only reason you would want to deny us this is if you plan to take our share of the pie!

It would appear as if the Zuma administration is doing what the arista did in India during the time of Gandhi. They proclaimed cows sacred so the starving peasants would not eat them during times of drought. Almost too conveniently, ‘sanctuaries’ were set up where the holy cows could be brought to be looked after by the ruling class in times of hardship—these ‘sanctuaries’ the abattoirs of the rich who the feasted on the cows while the peasants starved!

I know I don’t exactly represent the particular epidermal tint the ANC is interested in engaging with. However, I would feel insulted if any politician told me to return to the ways of the ‘voortrekkers’ because that is my ‘white’ tradition and culture. Of course, I could also revert to colonialism, as that also is attributed to ‘white’ culture. I care nothing for tradition, and I know there are many youth who feel the same as I do about the subject, irrespective of their skin colour. President Zuma insulted this educated, rebellious group with his rather terse and unlettered polemic.

History has repeated itself enough, I think! It is time to enliven tomorrow’s history lessons a bit with a much-needed plot adjustment!

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