Where to for South Africa?


‘Come December the year folds its wings like a great, tired bird, and they return for Christmas.’ - NOVIOLET BULAWAYO

We go home. To breathe in the fragrances of tenderness, and breathe out our anxieties. This is the last month of the year, the final run, and we have been battered. If not by our indebtedness, our keenness to mask our grief for this beloved country with the designer labels on the clothes we wear, the brand names of the cars we drive and the locations of our rented homes, then by what compounds our calamity – the devastating news of rapacious and brazen manifestations of corruption within state institutions.

Without fail, daily, what is served on our dinner tables and as our breakfasts on-the-go is a staple diet of illicit cash outflows from institutions of governance, unfathomable crimes such as the veritable raping of children, women murdered by their intimate partners or family members, racism, and an orgy of political slogans.

Thus has it come about that our optimism for a South Africa that would be a beacon for humanity has worn off. We have grown cold and ever-more individualist. The unyielding legacy of spatial apartheid is stark. Despite the democratic breakthrough of 1994, only a minority elite of black people enjoy the fruits of that breakthrough, while the majority still languish under the apartheid economic travesty.

We leave our places of birth and descend into the city centres in pursuit of a better life: find a job, start a business, get a higher education qualification. We scramble for a chance. And because we have become individualistic, we scramble for a chance in a value system steeped in materialism. If I eat better and dress in more expensive clothes, I am more human than the next person – therefore the most logical thing to do is to appear better than the next person. Thus the teaching “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” crumbles. We feed our value system with money and decadent lifestyles, no matter how such money is acquired; even if by stealing from the next person – our neighbour.

Home beckons. We will go. To navigate through streams of potholes on our roads and heaps of rubbish dumped by the wayside, and, there in the distance, we’ll hear the chatter and laughter of kids round the corner. For a fleeting period, we will be spared from Christmas carols, artificial snow and elves draped in warm gowns. It is summer time in South Africa; we do not have snow.

The sun greets our arrival, kwaito music fills the air, we reunite with old friends and families come together. At this time of year we greet each other saying “Hepiii!”. Euphoria covers our infirmities. “Ke Dezemba, boss!” – our mantra. We drink copiously and eat to our hearts’ content.

“Come December, the year folds its wings like a great, tired bird, and they return for Christmas.”

Home is calling. We go home. There is dancing in the streets. Vulindlela – make way – Brenda Fassie commands, because a couple is getting married. Yekela umona. Don’t be jealous; join in the festivities. We dance. The laughter of children rings through the house. We are home. It is here that we learnt that poverty doesn’t triumph over beauty.

On this side of our world, it is summer time, the sun rises early in the morning, and it is already warmer. The birds sing, roused by the quiet air that fills our common world. The fields have turned colour. The dust is gone. Showers from the heavens restore the earth.

Time passes; sooner than we realise we will be in autumn. Our country will be preparing for the sixth democratic elections, during a historic period: a quarter of a century for democratic South Africa. As a people, we need to reflect a little on where we are going, and what contributions are we making to this South Africa that is being born.

Our founding president Nelson Mandela beseeched the heavens during his inauguration in 1994 that “the sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement” – that which the great masses who are our mother and father had so long fought to attain.

As heirs of that achievement, we have a taxing burden to assess and redefine our organising value system as a people.

At the moment, our country is seized with what is termed “state capture”. What is talked about in this context is corruption as it manifests in state institutions, but our problems are much deeper than that. The heart of the problem is the perpetual assault to our organising value system as a people.

Debating the notion of state capture, in the recent ANC journal Umrabulo, ANC national executive committee member Joel Netshitenzhe illustrates how even the student and youth movements – the repositories of future generations of societal leadership – have not been spared the malign influence of holding office or possessing power one way or the other.

He writes as follows: “The privileges that attach to student leadership and the resources that go with this have corrupted many young leaders. This malign influence of unethical conduct, especially among the youth, has major implications for the very ethical character of the liberation struggle …

“Beyond direct incidents of corruption among youth organisations, there is the matter of the value system and outlook, which are infused with ‘celebrity culture’. Standing in the eyes of peers, possibilities of entering intimate relationships, followership on social media … all this and more seem increasingly to depend on and in turn to feed that celebrity status, with money and decadent lifestyles at the centre of it. The greatest danger is that young cadres are emerging into positions of more serious responsibility within the context of a value system and culture that is corrosive of the humanism and selflessness that fundamental social transformation demands.”

Come 2019, the 25th year of democratic South Africa, the question must therefore be posed: Quo vadis? Where to, South Africa?

Bosiu is a thought leader and communication alumnus of the Tshwane University of Technology

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