I’ve become a born-again South African.

May 21, 2009 § 3 Comments

I have finally decided to break my self-imposed silence on our recent elections.

The first thing I would like to do is congratulate our new president, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. Whatever one thinks of the man, you have to admire how he managed to clear every single obstacle in his way. I know that many people have mixed feelings about him. Whatever you feel for the man, it is imperative we support him because if we don’t we won’t be able to solve the unemployment problem.

It is for this reason that I believe we need to look forward to his success as president. If he fails, we fail. If he is a disaster, we become one. If he succeeds, you succeed. Wishing him to fail will be counter-productive to the goals we have as a country. We have to put the country above whatever personal feelings we may have towards him. Our support does not mean we blindly follow every decision he makes.

As some of you may or may not know, and in the interests of full disclosure, I would like to point out that I campaigned for and voted for Cope.

It is a mistake for Cope supporters to wish that the president or his government fail. Our success as a party should not be built on the failures of the ANC but rather on our ability to communicate a superior message and an improved articulation of our positions. To wish that the government fails so that we can succeed is self-defeating. It puts party before country. We cannot afford that. When Barack Obama took over, one of America’s most famous conservative radio talk-show hosts, Rush Limbaugh, said he wanted Obama to fail. Of course, if Obama does fail Limbaugh will not suffer because he is a multi-millionaire but those people who lose their homes will feel the failure.

During these past few months I have become a born-again South African. We live in a truly beautiful, surprising, resilient country. My faith in this country was renewed by the debates I saw, the interest young people showed in politics for the first time. We live in a new South Africa again. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But it is being perfected every day by those who know they have a responsibility to the country, by those who know their success depends on the political success of the country.

There is something remarkable about how the ANC achieved its overwhelming victory. And I am not talking about the huge percentage it got. I’m talking about the small percentage it did not.

Think about it. They needed less than 1% to achieve a two-thirds majority. So, what is so remarkable about that you may ask? They could have cheated so easily just to get that, yet they chose not to. That is evidence that we live in a true democracy. This small, yet great, temptation was resisted. This achievement must be commended. We just have to be grateful our votes weren’t counted by M-Net. On the flipside one can also say why congratulate them on doing the right thing? As Chris Rock once said: “Some men like to brag about never having been to jail. Well, you’re not supposed to go to jail!”

So what’s next? We cannot talk about what’s next before we have talked about what has been. The future is always connected to the past. We should not talk about the future while we forget about the past. It is often said, “forget the past”. “No,” I say. To remember the past is to pay tribute to the future. The past may shape us but we decide who we become. Maybe the real question is what kind of a people are we deciding to become? We are either shackled by the past or freed from it. We are either shaped by it or we use it to shape the future. The choice ladies and gentlemen is ours. First as individuals, then as a people. The destiny of this country is not written for us. We chose the kind of future we want. And the people chose a Zuma future.

As a people we need to realise that we come from different pasts but what we all want is the same future — a better one. I would like to drive through Khayelitsha without being assaulted by shacks all dressed up in poverty and nowhere to go. Many of the residents there see a bleak future for themselves, a vicious, poverty-stricken future, with no way to escape, except through crime, drugs and violence. The social consequences of this endemic poverty are too depressing to enumerate. We don’t want that to happen. We want to see all South Africans employed. And we as South Africans can have solutions to these problems, they are not going to take a generation to solve, but we can’t just close our eyes and pretend there is no problem.

If there is one man living in a shack, then I am not yet free. If there is a farm worker who still endures being called a “kaffir” by his bass on a daily basis then I am not yet free. If there is a white farmer killed simply because he is white then I am not yet free. We are not free. If I bribe a traffic officer for my freedom, then I am not free. All of us are still striving towards freedom.

We have to hold our government accountable. We must question them without fear or favour. We need a youthful, respectful academic militancy. We need to cultivate the celebration of intellectualism. There has been a rise of anti-intellectualism in our political discourse. Anti-intellectualism is something new, we cannot accept it and to abandon it is to insult the Sol Plaatjies, Oliver Tambos and Steve Bikos who celebrated intellect.

For us to turn this into an extraordinary country will take a few ordinary people to take ordinary steps. If we all do what we are supposed to do, what we must do, we can turn this into an extraordinary country. Small things like not jumping a red robot. Refusing to bribe a traffic officer, refusing to bribe that home affairs official, demanding good, not great, just good service at the restaurant. Doing our best at work. Starting a business instead of being employed. All these small ordinary actions will turn us into an extraordinary country. If we have high ethical standards for ourselves, then we have every right to have high expectations of our leaders. But as long as we continue to cut corners, lie, cheat and bribe, we deserve the leaders we get.

So, what is next? The truth is we don’t truly know what is next. None of us are prophets. The important thing is we all know what needs to be done. But what’s even more important is doing what needs to be done. What young people need to do is turn us into a generation that future South Africans will talk about, we should be a tribute to the 1976 generation that fought despite insurmountable odds. The odds we face today are nothing like the ones they did. Maybe we are not desperate enough to see a great South Africa. Maybe we are too comfortable to change anything. Maybe we are not restless enough. Natives of South Africa, be restless, the country needs you to be.

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§ 3 Responses to I’ve become a born-again South African.

  • Kgaugelo says:

    Nice one Khaya…

  • Emil says:

    Stunning piece. The imagery of “free” is simply astonishing, and vividly true.

    For me also, not supporting the ANC – for the first time since I gained my political awareness (paying the tradition “swartskaap van die familie” price for that – small, in comparison to the majority of this country) – that small percentage is remarkable.

    Yes, we must give President Zuma a decent change. It is in times of uncertainty that a people has to be most vigorous in defending its civil liberties, for that is often when governments take the opportunity to limit them, preaching necessity (hence my earlier remark or concerns about banning a piece of cloth). Liberty is about allowing alternatives and promoting open-mindedness. It does not come free, and as Thomas Paine so aptly asserts, “he that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression.”

    This is fast becoming another favourite reading den! Khaya, you should consider following the example of Ndumiso Ngcobo and publish! Here certainly be enjoyment of fine prose and agile thought!

  • Johan Swarts says:

    Well said, Khaya. I concur.

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