Be bold, dream big

2017-01-29 06:09
SOLIDARITY Academics protest on the steps of the University of the Witwatersrand last year in support of students during the #FeesMustFall rallies. Picture: Leon Sadiki

SOLIDARITY Academics protest on the steps of the University of the Witwatersrand last year in support of students during the #FeesMustFall rallies. Picture: Leon Sadiki

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The excitement in Futhi Mtoba’s face as she introduced Tom, a Harvard student, to me at the lobby of my new residence was priceless.

I, too, was beyond excited to meet Tom.

Within seconds, I had snapped and shared a photo of him on my Twitter account.

What was it about Tom that made us excited to see him? Cute and congenial as he happens to be was not the reason.

The warmth we felt was similar to that when we see the SAA logo at a remote airport, a Nando’s or any other proudly South African brands in cities far away.

Tom had a South African flag key holder visibly strapped on his bag.

A conversation with him quickly confirmed that he is proudly South African.

On completing his studies at Harvard, he plans to plough back his knowledge to help the sleeping giant that is South Africa to rise to its full potential.

Being proud of South Africa does not mean ignoring its imperfections. It means realising that we are all that we are, including our strengths and weaknesses.

It is important that we not only judge ourselves by our weaknesses but also by our strengths.

“To measure you by your smallest deed is to reckon the power of the ocean by the frailty of its foam,” says Kahlil Gibran.

We have plenty of weaknesses that we should admit to and take meaningful action to overcome.

Key among our weaknesses as a constitutional democracy – built on a great constitutional promise to free the potential and improve the quality of life of all – is tardy progress in advancing social justice, including the elimination of poverty.

Lack of adequate progress in eliminating poverty – including its ugly companion, hunger – was a central theme when the late former chief justice Pius Langa delivered a seminal address on advancing socioeconomic rights at Harvard University in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, in June 2005.

An inscription on a sculpture in a park about our duty regarding poverty, which I encountered on my first walk to school as a fellow in the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, reminded me of that speech and its poem on hunger.

The inscription reads: “Never again should a people starve in a world of plenty.”

My thoughts went back to the #FeesMustFall clarion call and the plight of many students who are currently struggling to raise fees to avert financial exclusion, pay for accommodation and to buy books and related learning tools.

I’m certain that if we don’t significantly push back the frontiers of poverty and want, we will soon have our hands full with dissenters who don’t see the point of working within the democratic system and its levers of accountability.

What are we to do? How do we turn things around? It starts with active citizens that are the first to lay the building blocks for the country they want.

As they take personal responsibility to build the future they want, citizens should ensure that they elect competent and committed leaders to manage public power and resources, while simultaneously holding such people accountable.

Fortunately, South Africa has an abundance of talented citizens who are committed to building a united nation anchored in shared prosperity and peaceful coexistence.

Young people are a critical part of that citizenry. Yet, if we do not invest in young people, particularly through education, the dream of a country where everyone’s potential is freed and life improved becomes a pipe dream.

Sadly, without unshackling all citizens and ensuring their full participation in building the country of the constitutional promise, peace too is a pipe dream.

As long as there is injustice somewhere, there can’t be sustainable peace anywhere.

Are we equal to the task? Do we have leaders who understand the nature of boat South Africa and the murky waters it is currently traversing?

One of the tests will be how we deal with the #FeesMustFall challenge this year.

Will we regress into anarchy or will we reach that elusive breakthrough that ensures no child who has a place at university loses it because of poverty?

Will we ensure hunger is not a constant challenge for students from poor families?

Will we collectively push back against corruption, which is the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain and claw back public funds to fund inclusive human development?

Corruption is one of the thieves stealing the South African dream. Will we handle the scourge of corruption decisively and consistently regardless of who is implicated this year?

Will we investigate all that needs to be investigated and take decisive steps to recover public funds where they must be recovered?

Will we ensure no business alliances control state appointments and related control of public power and resources?

It is said that it all rises and falls with leadership. Will the ethical and responsible leaders we need stand and up and be counted?

Whatever we do, though, let’s never hang our heads in shame. Not only do we have a beautiful flag, we also have a great country with great prospects.

Whatever challenges South Africa faces, they are simply part of a process of redefining itself in preparation for higher ground.

That higher ground is ours if we dream big and act decisively, emboldened by the audacity of hope while wearing our proudly South African colours with pride.

Advocate Madonsela is a Harvard Advanced Leadership Fellow and chief patron of the Thuma Foundation

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Read more on:    thuli ­madonsela  |  poverty  |  #feesmustfall
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