In a book I read a little while ago, The Zealot, the author makes the point that in Jesus' time, the concept of a saviour arriving on the scene promising a new world was a common thing; the author points out too, that these Messiahs performed miracles and wonderworks to bolster their claims. In other words, they came with great reputations.
There is nothing new about someone arriving in a troubled society or political scene, promising answers where none were, apparently, previously available. As long as we have troubles and there are those among us who believe they alone have the answers the rest of us are looking for, we will have these indomitable souls.
The most fallow ground for this phenomenon are society's where people feel politics is ignoring them, where inequalities are wide and widening and people are generally unhappy with their lot as the Jews were under the Romans.
South Africa is no exception. We're an unhappy lot and short of doing something ourselves to dramatically change our lot, we do have a tendency to give pretend Messiahs a chance to dazzle.
And dazzle some of them do. Odd jobs with long-ago-forged reputations promise ours is a country that can be great again; we can recapture the promise of Madiba; we can end corruption and return transparency and accountability; we can feel good about ourselves again and retake our leadership of the moral universe; the poor will have better lives if only we follow them, or at least elect them into Parliament. Then we can be rid of the great depressor, the African National Congress.
Heaven knows we do need to do something to end the rubbish around us, but let's be aware that we could fall into the equally depressing hole of following another failed emancipator. So, here's a little checklist of what to look for in the next false Messiah given the demise of the last one at the last election whose death began on the 7th May and lingered until last week (officially).
1. Ask: do you have money to help your mission along, or will you expect me to give it to you; can you meet the obligations you will take on as you change the world? This is not to say genuine followers won't give help to their leaders, but given that campaigns to take over the world and set it right are frightfully expensive, experts say at least R300 million expensive, at least make sure your chosen one has enough cold hard cash to realistically go about the business. If the money is not already in the bank, expect to see the redeemer waddle off the political stage and back into the wilderness with mountains of bills, broke ex-followers howling after them, and a general "I told you so" gesture of dismissal from latter day Pharisees.
2. Ask: is this leadership I see before me, or a troubling self-delusion? World-changers of the type we are examining are few and far between. I count about a dozen who can lay claim to that descriptor over the last couple of hundred years or longer. Let's see: Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Gandhi, Mandela, and so on, You get the idea. Where does your leader fit into this list? If there are doubts you can fit them into this august list, you're likely following a self-deluded champion of change; someone who mistakes some past accomplishment, some peels of applause from sycophants, and the look of their own CV, for a real ability to actually do something lasting.
3. Speaking of lasting, ask: what have you ever done before that has lasted and withstood the test and buffeting of time? If nothing can be found, why, you're dealing with a charlatan. That simple. Where's the proving ground, where's the learning, where is the demonstrable ability to inculcate values and behaviours that lay a foundation for the change they profess?
Add, dear reader, your own addendums to this check list. Let us together, build a winning country: one that isn't taken to the cleaners by witchery and wizardry and sleight of hand; that sees and sends scuttling away the self-deluded, pound-foolish, and inexperienced who alone believe they can change our world when all they really do is destroy the lives of followers and the faithful, leaving them disappointed and despondent, and not a little embarrassed that they were taken in in the first place.