Black Identity, a Crisis of Leadership and the Banana Republic

2015-04-13 07:01

Recently, Dr Mabizela, Vice Chancellor of the Rhodes University, criticised our government and its leadership for having “a complete lack of integrity, moral decadence, profligacy, rampant corruption, deceit and duplicity” (Timeslive, Rhodes vice chancellor slams 'moral decadence' of SA's political elite, 9 April 2015). In his assessment, he finds that the current crop of leaders are betraying the legacy of Nelson Mandela. The question I have is, what does this say about our electorate? Have we South Africans become too obsessed with our past, and not enough on the critical challenges that will make or break our future, in so doing neglecting our oversight over our leadership? Have we as blacks missed the mark in our efforts to create a new identity in our new found freedom?

The people shall govern

“In a democracy the people get the leaders they deserve” (Joseph- Marie de Maistre), basically means that if our leaders are rotten, it’s because of the voters. South Africans are laying waste to the cause of their freedom by allowing the debates around our country to deteriorate into rhetoric about colonialism and the evils of the past (and gasp: statues), instead of focussing on creating a new identity around South Africanism that is not based on race or some kind of quasi- neo retribution tinged idea referred to by various politically correct terms. Our identity as a nation is at stake because everything is about me as a black person, just like it was all about the white minority in the previous epoch. We defend our leadership (by voting them repeatedly into power) simply because of their struggle credentials, even though their current actions show that they do not represent our interests, not in the slightest. We ignore the warnings of history, as it is clear that very few liberation movements exist that have ever governed successfully if any at all. What is destroying our nation is mob mentality and populist notions that are an attempt to divert attention from the real issues, which are the fundamental economics of our country.

The greatest danger posed by our leadership is not their corruption, or their perceived incompetence . It isn’t how they stab us in our collective backs two minutes after every election results announcement. It is their insistence on creating a society of dependence. They say things like “government will create {insert completely outlandish and unrealistic number here} of jobs for our people by {insert a most preposterous timeframe here}”.  Its how they mentally program in the minds of blacks that we blacks are weak, and feeble in the face of our colonial and apartheid history. Apparently we are so damaged. They tell us that we are “disenfranchised” and “previously disadvantaged” by white oppressors, and insinuate that the whites continue to perpetuate this willingly at every opportunity. A deputy president even went as far as to suggest to a voter that these oppressors would return if the voter makes the wrong choice. This is why government initiatives such as the provision of farming equipment in Kwazulu- Natal resulted in numerous tractors becoming shelter for various members of the animal kingdom. Seed provisions to communities in the Eastern Cape, rotted away with community members expressing their exasperation at not being given money instead (this really did happened). We have become helpless hungry lambs (not to be suckled sadly, but strangely enough to be milked). I would go as far as to argue that this mentality is fueling not only populist notions of “nationalisation of mines” and “economic freedom” but even the xenophobic mobs that seem to roam around like zombies creating trouble these days.  Our youth have become remote controlled tools for the growing left wing and anarchists.

The politicisation of everything

It is likely that we South Africans, and in particular black South Africans have an unhealthy preoccupation with the past. When will we stop demanding “justice”, and rather individually and collectively work towards our own economic emancipation? Economic emancipation has never and will never be given to anyone. No amount of demanding it will bring it to materialise. It requires education, capability and an enabling environment. It is earned, through hard work, cooperation and shrewdness, not through shouting and protests. It also takes time; generations at least: yes, ask the Afrikaners. Even these things do not guarantee that it will be achieved. There is no courage in standing in groups “fighting” for change, when we as individuals do not adapt and create the change we need within ourselves. The change we need is to go from manufacturing excuses, to creating solutions; to stop participating in the blame game (our national sport), and taking responsibility for our own destiny. For as long as Cecil Rhodes and Hendrik Verwoed are to blame for my status in life, it is their will that prevails over me, not mine. That’s the real injustice.

Why do we as blacks seek to be seen as equals by whites? South African whites are far too small a minority to continue hankering on about this. We’ve got to have more pride than that, surely? The victory in the battle for equality is within our minds. Democracy has given us self-determination, and in itself is justice enough; let’s determine ourselves as great. Let’s do great things. There are simply no excuses for our inability to address economic inequality. It’s up to us to create the society we want through directly addressing our economic challenges creatively and collectively (all South Africans). Let’s get disciplined. Let’s stop beating a dead horse by insisting that the answer is that whites hand over the plunder. South Africa has enough wealth to be uncovered for everyone without the need for “historical redress”. Why do we seek to change the cultural representation of our country by deleting the vestiges of the past? We have the political power and the numerical advantage to not be bothering with that all. There is enough space in South Africa to install symbols that will exhibit our inclusive society. In my travels to foreign countries, I have never heard anyone say  “gosh, we have too many statues here”.

No more special favours

Don’t give me a break just because I am a “disadvantaged individual” and because of institutionalised racism and the CIA. Give me a break because you believe in my potential and what I stand for. While pride is not always a good thing, pride in humans can stem from accomplishment. When you award me with something I have not earned, because you pity me or “the government told” you to do it, and you do this on a grand scale, you decimate our ability to accomplish great things. There is another consideration to make which is that transformation should be encouraged to seek out and develop a pipeline of new talent wisely. With such a vast underutilized population there are simply too many young blacks waiting to be explored, developed and brought to greatness for the benefits of all organisations. Research has long since shown that groups drawn from diversity are more creative in problem solving. Transformation in this sense is not a folly, it is a matter of survival for organisations (higher education included). It is clear that when we assess transformation in our country with a balanced view it is difficult to deny that we are transforming into a Banana Republic: the framework and idea behind transformation is being abused by some and ignored by others.

A new narrative

I am proposing that we change the fundamental discourse in our country. Out with dependence and in with real empowerment; people need to expect less and do more. Individuals and communities working to make a difference for themselves together and others, in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles. We need a new social identity that’s based on being South African, and not black or white. We need to move on from seeing ourselves as separate from each other. Our interests are one and the same. No single grouping will build this country alone. They tried in apartheid, and look what happened. We need to work together. We blacks can afford to be more magnanimous to whites with regards to our past, and whites can become more socially engaged in our country’s rich tapestry. We need each other. We must therefore be weary of comments made by our leaders that sow division amongst us (recall our president’s comments about Jan van Riebeeck). This must not be tolerated unless “Fascism is ok if it’s our leaders”.

As an electorate we need to be harsh about the approaches our government is using should we be unsatisfied by voting judiciously. It almost doesn’t matter who we vote for, only that we change our votes to reward and punish to discipline the leaders. On the other hand however, we must ultimately make government less relevant in our lives by doing more for ourselves, together. The party is over, let’s get to work. Freedom is not a choice, it’s a responsibility.

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