If you disagree with me, know that you are an enemy

March 16, 2009 § 1 Comment

When I wrote the post about making friends with Julius Malema I was making a larger point on agreeing to disagree.
I am disturbed by the manner in which we conduct debate in this country. Disagreeing with a politician or someone in a powerful position earns one unflattering labels. When anybody raises views contrary to our own, we react emotionally and go on the attack. We don’t sit back to consider the possibility that the opposing view might have some value, even if we don’t agree with it. If you happen to work for a government institution and happen to support COPE for example, the days of your employment might be numbered. Our consciences are being bullied – the stomach is used as a weapon.

In our disagreements we are disagreeable. We seem to hold the view that he who disagrees with me must be an enemy. This is how COPE has been treated by the ruling party since it’s inception. And so we employ words most vile, demeaning and, if at all possible, humiliating. We saw examples of this when President Thabo Mbeki wrote his letters attacking the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu a few years ago. Of course the president had the best things to say about the archbishop as soon as they shared the view that Jacob Zuma could not be president. Those of you who have read any of my blogs know that I think highly of our former president, just because hold him in high regard ] does not mean I found everything he did or said agreeable.  As citizens we should not be afraid of criticizing our leaders, nor fail to praise them when it is deserved. Not only do you owe it to yourselves but your country and the ideals of democracy and free speech.

I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln, who said during his first inaugural address, perhaps addressing the man he defeated: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” It is my hope that as we debate and comment on the state of the nation, we will be virtuous enough to heed Lincoln’s call for these bonds of affection that should not be broken in the heat of debate. The truth is many of those who left the ANC for COPE are friends with people in the ruling party. So I urge you, whatever side of the fence you are on, let not the bonds affection be broken by the pettiness of politics.

COPE’s presidential candidate Mvume Dandala put this very well during a radio interview when he said, “When you are building an alternative voice you are not trying to create enemies, but to get more people involved in making the country work better.” I hope the members of the ruling party understand this.

In politics, I have come to realize, the virtue of humility seems to have no place; it is seen as a weakness, and arrogance as a strength — how far off the truth that is. He who shouts the loudest is smartest and the strongest. It is sad indeed.

If we carry on this way, it won’t be long before we get to a point where questioning views held by those in leadership positions are regarded as unpatriotic. We have seen this happen in the United States; anyone who spoke up against the war in Iraq was called unpatriotic. We are coming dangerously close. Some comrades in the mass democratic movement have began to use the term “counter-revolutionary” with liberal ease in order to stifle debate. The possible firing of Dr Barney Pityana will set a dangerous precedent. Opposing views are not allowed, or you will be left in the wilderness – that seems to be the message.

As a consequence, men and women of this country will cease to heed their consciences, but rather worship at the altar of the state tender. A friend of mine who disagrees with the ruling party on almost every level cannot and will not admit this in public because he said, “My conscience will not feed me, tenders will.” His life depends on tenders. People like this support the ruling party without any sense of irony. The altar of the tender is that powerful. Can we blame him or judge him for this? We cannot. But what we should try to do to people like this is to convince them that “coming out” preserves the greater good.

Many of us are patriots who love this nation. We say what we think is wrong as one would tell someone one loves dearly, because love dictates that one doesn’t shut up if one thinks that the loved one is driving down a cliff at high speed — even at low speed, for that matter.

Unfortunately some of us have misguided ways of demonstrating their affection for this, the southern-most country on the African continent. It reminds me of an abusive husband who belittles his wife by telling her that she is nothing without him. The cruel lover says this in order to control her. (In our case control is in the form of government jobs and contracts.) When she does leave and manages to succeed, the jealous ex-husband has only unflattering things to say about her.

Since many of us profess to love South Africa, I want to know the following:

How would we treat her if she were a lover?

How would we help her reach her goals?

Would we gloat if she failed and say, ‘We knew you couldn’t do it’?

We need to ask ourselves: How would we treat South Africa if she happened to be our true love?

I am saddened that we strive to feed our obese egos instead of finding ways to improve debate. The more we focus on our fragile egos, the less we focus on how we can help improve the nation.

We have to look deep into ourselves. No one is innocent. Not COPE, not the ANC, or any of the other parties. Our hands aren’t clean. I am a sum of all who agree with me. Those who disagree with me build my character. They are the ones I have to thank for helping me think the way I do.

What will destroy this country is an army of uniformity when it comes to its thinkers. We will die a painful, intellectual death if people perpetuate a certain school of thought because they want to preserve jobs, or because they are too afraid that they might not be able to find employment because they might have expressed an opinion contrary to that of some powerful figure.

We have forgotten the principles on which the country was founded. Instead we spend our days fighting petty battles. We have become a nation of the petty and arrogant. We slice and dice one another. Our internal battles have become so intense that we are slowly forgetting that we are still trying to fight for our position in the global arena. We have become so inward-looking that we have forgotten that we are competing in a global field. Since president Thabo Mbeki left the scene, our global standing has shrunk at an incredible pace. To this day, AU still sends president Thabo Mbeki to the UN to represent it. Those outside our borders see his value. Jesus Christ was right, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.”

Our inward-looking extends to the economy we’re trying to grow. We make it virtually impossible for foreigners to work here. One of the reasons America became such a force to be reckoned with is because it embraced immigrants with open arms. Immigrants come with different ideas. According to Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, 25% off all high-tech businesses in the US and 50% of all venture-backed companies were started by immigrants.

Dubai is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies because it has no qualms about getting foreign skills. It knows that to be the best, one must get the best. In his book, Florida points out that economies that open up to diverse peoples, immigrants and the likes are much more likely to be innovative and grow because they embrace different ways of thinking.

I am not unmindful of the fact that some will call me idealistic in my thinking. That is the beauty of youth. I am not old enough to know my limits. The reason I have hope for this country is because there are many more young people than older people. We don’t see a reason why we should doubt and limit ourselves.

Please, you are welcome to disagree with me.

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