Most of us had it in 1994 – and though it was hard to define, we know it was there. The sense that we were part of something greater than ourselves. This is needful for any kind of harmony in society — or ‘social cohesion’, as the sociologists call it.
Yet wherever a larger vision evaporates, squabbles result. This is unavoidable, as hearts turn. We have witnessed this on two occasions: towards the end of the Mbeki presidency, and again towards the end of the Zuma presidency.
Where vision was at a low, media houses published articles with explosive headlines. Before President Ramaphosa’s election, a Mail & Guardian headline announced 'Zuma Squabbles': a divided cabinet, numerous scandals, repeated crises, and so on. While there were many reasons for these squabbles, one may characterise it most basically as a loss of vision.
One may add to the above the wrangling of countless commissions of inquiry, the stand-offs over the poor state of infrastructure in rural areas, the turmoil in our places of higher learning, the racialisation of each socio-economic challenge and each stride to eradicate the exploitation of workers.
By way of contrast, people will have a far greater tolerance of their differences and difficulties where there is a higher vision which is shared by all. If another person serves the same cause, it matters little if they do this with imperfect English; it matters little if they belong to another social class; it matters little if they are Black or White, and so on.
A descent into squabbles tends to be unpredictable as to where it will turn—but the squabbles are all about something in the end—and then it tends to be just one lens through which we see. In our case, race—and race which is cloaked in issues of material wealth. We have all been ensnared by it. We have all thought thoughts which steered our hearts and our actions—based on racial prejudice.
If we had the vision, we would be thankful to each other — each for taking part in something greater. We would be thankful for the labourer, thankful for the farmer, thankful for the miner, thankful for the investor. We would cherish them all, for enriching us and our society. But we have lost our grace. We have fallen for feelings of fear and anger, which do not move us forward, but tend rather to place us in deep dejection.
This is not to say that here are not problems—and very big problems, even by global comparison—nor does it imply that we should gloss over them. We should not. Yet where there is a higher vision, the problems too become a part of that vision. No problem seems too much for someone with a reason and a heart which is bigger.
Leaders who care for their people will care for their vision—and not merely the vision of a particular race or party. They will give them a hope and a future. Our political parties have failed to provide this—at least, in such a way that we should know what it is, and be able to believe it.
Let us not misunderstand. This is not merely about defeating poverty, creating moral leadership, or subduing corruption—as important as such things are. We long for something, once more, which is greater than ourselves. A thriving South Africa maybe?
About the authors: Sifiso Mkhonto is a logistician and former student leader. Thomas Scarborough is a minister and philosophy editor. Their essays represent combined views, to stimulate discussion. The authors may not in every case share the views expressed.