Watching the recent service delivery protests in the Mbombela Municipality in Mpumalanga and in Grabouw in the Western Cape, with people burning down schools and vandalising property, made me realise how much we still need to grow as a people, if South Africa is indeed going to develop into one of the successful nations of the world.
Over the past few years, we’ve had violent service delivery protests all over South Africa, with citizens trashing the streets, burning down buildings, destroying infrastructure and vandalising property, all in an attempt to show their displeasure with the government’s inability to meet their basic needs and deliver services. It occurred to me, as I was watching the latest round of protests that we have not moved on from the destructive mindset of the 1980s and early 1990s, which was so effective in eventually bringing down the Apartheid regime, but which is completely counter-productive in the quest to build a successful nation.
The violent protests are an indication that black South Africans have not embraced a “building” mindset yet. Whilst fighting Apartheid, it was important that we put on a destructive mindset, in order to bring down that evil system, but once that cruel system was defeated politically, it became necessary that blacks embrace a new ethos, that of building, creating and preserving. Clearly, this is not yet the case, given the destructive behaviour we’ve witnessed over the past couple of years, whenever we have protests against the government. The words of former Czech president, Vaclav Havel are most pertinent here, “let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would also be wrong to expect a general remedy from them only. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all.”
South Africa is in need of a new ethos, that of builders, creators and preservers. It’s a mindset that will require ordinary South Africans to take personal responsibility, instead of deferring all responsibility to government. It will require ordinary South Africans to force themselves to become creative in finding solutions to the many problems in SA society, as opposed to expecting the government to magically come up with solutions to all of our problems. It takes creativity to create and build, and this is often lacking amongst ordinary South Africans. As former US president, John F. Kennedy put it, “in your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.” Black South Africans need to realise that the future success of the country is entirely in their hands, and not those of government.
Most of the failures of the African state over the past fifty years or so have been more a failure of citizenship rather than a failure of leadership, as is often assumed. It is because of a failure to engender this new ethos amongst the African citizenry that African leaders were allowed to literally get away with murder and fatally destroy the nation-state project.
We need to instil in our citizenry, a culture of hard, systematic work, sacrifice and competitiveness. In the words of former ANCYL president, Anton Lembede, “we must be action-minded. The philosophy of action must be the corner stone of our policy….in our ranks we have men and women of high talent and ability. Our poor, disorderly position is not occasioned by lack of talent, but by: a) lack of scientific organisation and utilisation of that talent b) by lack of will-power. Africans! Our salvation lies in hard and systematic work.” It’s time we stopped relying on government bureaucrats and technocrats to create the South Africa we desire, and instead got our hands dirty. This will require us to acquire a set of new skills as citizens, master new disciplines, embrace a new ethos, new attitudes, renewed focus and greater commitment across the board in SA society. As stated by American poet, Walt Whitman, “a great city (nation) is that which has the greatest men and women.” South Africa will rise or fall based on the quality of our citizenship. Let’s embrace this new ethos and help build a winning nation.