Missing Voices

2015-05-25 18:56

Watching the funeral of Mam Ruth Mompati one could not help but reflect about that calibre of a politician and how those images and virtues are so overtly missing in our national political and social landscape. It was fascinating that most people referred to her as mother. This means that there was something in her, and indeed in many of her contemporaries which made people relate very closely with them.  The sight of all those people who lined the streets of Vryburg was an attestation to the fact that she was deeply connected to the people and the place of Vryburg. It was evident that the people had come out to watch and bid one of their own farewell. There was no doubt that before us was a person who was truly a mother and a true daughter of the North West.

The relationship between a politician and society is one of trust. Sometimes the direct link between the community and a politician is not very clear because South Africa’s political system emphasizes political parties more that persons. The only persons that receive scrutiny are the leaders and major role players of political parties. Party based politics is not really a terrible idea because sometimes personality politics can be almost identical to celebrity tabloid shenanigans. However the fact that many people do not identify with their political leaders contributes to a serious trust deficit between communities and their political leaders. It is so difficult now to even ascribe the title mother, brother, sister to any of our politicians because the disparity is so immense. It is interesting that those senior politicians, many of them dead now, were so easily referred to as Tata, Oom, Mom and aunty. This is because communities did not even for a second doubt that those who represent them have their best interests at heart. They carried themselves with the outmost dignity, the type that anyone would expect from a person who claims to be representing them.  They engaged communities at all levels and were never to lofty to be approached. If anything they were real matriarchs and patriarchs of our society.

Granted, they came at a time where they had committed their lives to virtue, to equality, freedom and dignity for all. Some can argue, rightfully so, that those older statesmen and women had a long history of working to eradicate apartheid therefore they earned their respect from communities because of the contribution they made. However this does not take away the fact that those who worked with them and work after them have the benchmark set and all they have to do is equal or better it. To ignore their legacy is render their contribution a joke.

Another thought that came to mind is the fact that the South African system of governance and maybe even political structures can be one that disposes to easily of people who have contributed to the development of South Africa. Political musical chairs game often means that some people who were absolutely brilliant when they served, in whatever post, can find themselves not being utilised when they lose their seat be it in parliament or any other organ of state and society. Such person’s voices and contributions become lost thus leaving a serious lacuna in national discourse. When watching the spectacle that is the National Assembly I often wonder what the former speaker of the National Assembly the revered Frene Ginwala thinks, or what her advice would be to her successors. There are many such individuals, like MamRuth Mompati, who have a vaults of experience to share but are maybe not consulted.

In adopting the Westminster system for our parliament, what was not taken was the idea of the House of Lords. If you take away the hereditary peers in the House of Lords what you find is that it is a house of elders. There are politicians, artists and professionals who have contributed and excelled in their respective fields whose contribution is valued. Now of course I am not saying that we need to have a House of Lords in South Africa, all I am saying is that the system through which elder professionals still find a voice is imperative.

It can be argued that South Africa, and even the continent, does not need a group of people who will run the state from behind or by popular opinion. True as that may be, the absence of the voices of the elder in social discourse means that the voice of experience is also missing. To use the word ‘elder’ does not mean that I am necessarily referring to age, but rather to the wealth of experience they have. In following the United Kingdom parliament it is often interesting to note that the quality of debate and conversation in the House of Lords and far richer than that of the House of Commons. The lower house, the House of Commons has the usual arguments of typical politicians that fluctuates form personality criticisms to the hurling of accusations and self-defence narratives. The Hose of Lords is filled with persons who know their fields well; lawyers, artists, former ministers, former prime ministers and the likes. They are the voice that sometimes stands unaffected by political points and allegiances and it is for that reason that the quality of the debate on whatever issue is often of very high quality because it means that content is the only subject matter.

I do not think that we need a House of Lords in South Africa. What we do need is the freedom for those elders to be able to make their contribution without being perceived like they are trying to control or influence public opinion. There is a layer in our social discourse that is missing and it is the layer of those men and women who have contributed into making South Africa the country that it is today.  This engaging of such persons is not just the responsibility of government but all sectors of society. Universities can draw from such persons so that they can share and expound their experience with the upcoming students. I find it rather sad that most of our young ladies will never have the opportunity to spend an afternoon with the likes of Mam Ruth Mompati, Mam Barbara Masekela, Mam Lindi Mabuza and many others just to ask them questions and listen to them tell their stories about their experience and what it took for them break the barriers as African women. I find it equally sad that the many people who have done ground breaking work in different fields might not even be a guest in a lecture hall of students who are studying for the very trade which these professionals master.  It scares me that someone like Advocate Thuli Madonsela might just disappear into obscurity when her term as public protector ends.

The death of the likes of Mam Ruth has once again caused us to reflect on the type of leadership South Africa has and the disparity between leaders and people. The deep trust and affection that communities once had for their leaders in whatever field, from politics to teaching, no longer runs deep as it used to. In addition it has displayed the longing for the voices that stand for objectivity and thorough discourse in order that the right course of action may be sought and taken.  Our society should be structured such that there is a threefold conversation, from those who are aspirants to those who are currently active and those who stand on the hindsight having been both aspirants and active. At no point should any of these voices be lost, that would be a shame because it means that the same mistakes will happen over and over again.


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