Who will save South Africa? Jacob, Julius or a united Joe Public?

2016-01-04 05:31

2015 was a rough year for all South Africans. This is especially clear in the political, economic and social spheres. Our economy is not in good shape. A possible downgrade in our sovereign credit rating to junk status, low government contingency reserves, looming food shortages due to the drought, continues decline in the value of the rand, rising inflation, declining exports, high unemployment and state owned enterprises continued reliance on bail outs by the tax payer amongst others, pose a serious threat to our future prospects.

Everybody is concerned about what the future holds. Quite interesting, however, is the way various groups of South Africans react in such times of crisis.

For several action groups and individual commentators, our future prosperity lies in the revival of a South Africa made up of 'different' peoples each with diverse cultural interests and irreconcilable histories, who choose to promote their own interests from a strong ethnic-cultural-linguistic nationalist basis.

For some, former presidents De Klerk and Mandela are the biggest "sell-outs" there could ever be. They reject notions such as negotiation, reconciliation, nation-building, transformation and restitution.

Others see their future prosperity in the realisation of the post-'94 ideal of building a new South Africa, made up of multicultural communities choosing to promote their political, economic, cultural and social interests through non-racial and non-sexist structures or institutions.

However, stereotyping the above-mentioned groups as being homogeneous in thinking and action is an over-simplification. For not only does each of these macro schools of thought have extreme fringe groups who totally reject the new socio-economic dispensation, but each also displays a myriad of diverse political, cultural and economic thought permutations.

Another very interesting development is the search for and revival of all kinds of 'noble' tribal roots. In the 'coloured' community some people declare themselves Khoi tribal captains and kings. Others pride themselves on their participation in the 'struggle' against apartheid. Nowadays you would be afraid to address someone using his name only or identifying someone as belonging to a specific ethnic group. For a person's name could include a title such as king, captain, comrade, etc.

Furthermore, there seems to be a strong reliance on all kinds of Khoisan identities. In the "white" community, on the other hand, we see a strong revival of the Afrikaner and Boerevolk identities. Some weird form of selfish elitism accompanied by violence and looting lately by the so called black radical 'Elite' at our institutions of higher learning this past year reflect a similar trend of ethnic entitlement.

Carving out a certain cultural-historical identity and visualising a 'volkseie' utopia somewhere on the continent of Africa is certainly everybody's right. However, is it not more important to consider where South Africa is heading to in crisis times like these? That is the broader reality - with its challenges and opportunities - that we are faced with.

So often we accuse those guilty of bigotry and xenophobic attacks against fellow Africans of parochial thoughts and self-indulgence. Yet, many a time discussions around the braaivleis fire, in the boardroom, or wherever, express the same sentiments.

It is heartening, however, to note the current tendencies in the mainstream. Millions of South Africans across the spectrum fully understand that the future involves a lot more than own interest. South Africa and the rest of Africa are inextricably linked to each other, and its peoples are increasingly embracing their Africanness and the spirit of ubuntu as an inherent part of their DNA.

They also oppose the idea that Africanness is equal to ethnicity, skin colour, hair and other physical attributes, since this not only degrades who and what an African is, but has for decades been misused by corrupt politicians to maintain their power base in many African states. Years after gaining independence, colonialism is still blamed for incompetence in government.

In the same way, South African citizens are still being subjected to the tyranny of an outdated and restrictive apartheid-based racial classification. It goes against the letter and spirit of our proud National Constitution. To rectify this, a class action would need to be launched in the Constitutional Court.

With countries such as China recognising and unlocking the opportunities in South Africa and on the African continent, we should no longer exclude ourselves or feel excluded on the basis of past restrictions. Instead, we should start asserting ourselves in the mainstream economy.

Much is currently being done across the spectrum to keep the post-'94 ideal alive. In my interaction with various communities, I have noticed a renewed vigour to promote political, economic, cultural and social interests through non-racial and non-sexist structures or institutions. We live in exciting times, despite the crises we are faced with. For 2016, with all its good and bad, is in the hands of South Africans!

A firm and peaceful basis for this was laid in 1994. Our National Constitution affords us the right to dictate the process leading to South Africa's future by means of non-racial and non-sexist civil and pragmatic activism. To live in the past due to economic and political despair, is anyone's prerogative. But is it the most pragmatic and sustainable option?

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