There has been many shocking incidents that have rocked the foundations of our new South Africa. I will not dwell on any one incident but will rather note our collective sensationalist reactions to them. Most importantly note the self destructive characteristic it reveals in us in that our focus has not been to fix but to find fault. There seems to be a big disconnect between the hero/leader and the person on the street. It seems we only see South Africa through the actions of our leaders, we do not have our own ownership of it. That could be why we do not try to save it. Expressing shock and throwing our hands in the air in exasperation is not enough, it is just blowing hot air. It is especially hot air if our mood is dependent on populist sentiment. I see how we crush leaders, dust off our hands and move on to the next crash site without a concern for the well being of our country, the shambles these crashes leave it in. I want to say we allow ourselves to be swayed by populist sentiment. We have given others the power to play us like a yoyo. The question that lingers is, what is it that destruction feeds in us? Just as much as leaders must own up for their actions, so must the public, we are not absolved of patriotism just because we have appointed leaders. We do not sit aside, heckle leaders as they destroy our country and say “look at what they are doing!”. We should have our own dream for SA, a standard that we hold our leaders to. When they fail to meet that standard we act for South Africa, not against leaders. The leader becomes an impersonal factor once this becomes our equation. That way we would not be easily swayed by populist sentiment.
Could it be that our collective ego surpasses our awareness of our surroundings? Or do we treat recklessly information about the well being of SA because we think our voices do not matter anyway? Or maybe both? What if our voices matter? What if the system is shifting and changing to accommodate our sentiments? What kind of a system are we then begetting, born out of everything we express we are? We believe strongly in becoming what you express in African culture, that is why we name our children carefully. Yet we are so reckless with our words. We forget that our leaders are the people we become. We are constantly shaping leaders into who we are, not who we aspire to be. We have not even begun to face ourselves.
We are setting our leaders up to fail if we think the responsibility of patriotism lies solely on their shoulders while we deal with our everyday issues. We are collectively playing the victim and setting leaders up as the big bad wolf. And we will not stop till we are proven right. Sadly we will be proven right the same time the country falls apart. Sounds like we are giving our power away. I personally would rather the country did not fall apart than be proven right. Pass me with that. We need more honest debates amongst Abahlali. Ones not rooted in self-aggrandizement. Preserve the ones who preserve our memory. With humility of purpose it is possible. We cannot all be leaders but we can all lead. If we shift our focus to fix-mode it puts us at the center of the future of our country. In that we will put in our personal experiences in coming up with realistic solutions. Because this is our country, we know it best. We have walked its dirt paths and its pavements. We have just unharnessed ourselves from the responsibility of its semantic. The meaning of being born of this scarred country of ours. The blood in the gold that exchanges hands so people can get salaries every month end while others get sweat and cents to dull the pain in the nearest sheeben. The huge speck in the eye of democracy. Whose hands are equipped to carry it if not ours? Perhaps only then will we know whom we can trust with it.
Article first published in Sowetan, 28 August 2013