Recently I was having a typically heated political discussion with an acquaintance, who expressed his genuine disappointment at some of my radical political stances of late and stopped short of calling me “mad” for some of my opinions and thoughts on South African politics at present. Said acquaintance wanted me to be more, “balanced, reasonable and moderate” in my political opinions instead of being, “radical and extreme” as he perceived me to be. This got me thinking about the words of Corrie Ten Boom, “reasonable people conform to their environment and the world they are in, unreasonable people expect the environment they are in and their world to conform to who they are. The world changes because of unreasonable people.” I realised in that moment that being “reasonable, balanced and moderate” has never been one of my priorities and in fact most of the people who have changed the world and impacted history have not been of the “reasonable, balanced and moderate type.” The world-changers and history-makers are often highly unreasonable, terrifyingly extremist and dangerously radical, whether it is for a good or a bad cause. David Ben-Gurion was a man of such nature, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was a man of such nature, Martin Luther was a man of such nature, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a man of such nature, Napoleon Bonaparte was a man of such nature, so was Shaka Zulu, Simon Bolivar, Patrice Lumumba, Trotsky, Robespierre, Marcus Garvey and Cecil John Rhodes. History belongs to the radicals, the extremists. The ordinary person who leaves no mark on history is often the “reasonable, sensible, balanced” type. Typically questions began to go through my mind: if history is often influenced by the radicals and extremists, why is it that society does everything within its power to make “reasonable” people out of us all? Why is it that the people who are often the most radical and the most extreme and hence who hold the most influence and shape society, are the people who are on the side of evil instead of those on the side of righteousness? To quote the words of the poet W.B Yeats, often throughout history the problem has often been that, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Why is there often greater intensity, passion, focus and radicalism amongst those who are promoting a bad cause than amongst those who are standing up for that which is just, right and true? I looked at my own country South Africa and its recent history and saw how a bunch of extremist, radical Afrikaner intellectuals and political leaders were able to take over this nation and direct it in a path that has had devastating consequences for its peoples even up to the present day. This is epitomised by the words of Hendrik Verwoerd, “I do not have the nagging doubts of ever wondering whether perhaps I am wrong.” This kind of attitude, this kind of uncompromising conviction is what it takes to shape history and change the world, whether it is for good or for bad. Where were the righteous Afrikaner thinkers and political leaders who were convinced enough about the evil of Verwoerd’s policy to stand up against him and present a different vision for South Africa in his day? There were probably many Afrikaner people who saw the evil in the policy of Apartheid and yet none of them had the same conviction and fortitude as Verwoerd and his crew so the voice of evil prevailed and generations were affected negatively thereafter. This kind of scene has played itself out on so many occasions at different moments, in different parts of the world, during various epochs throughout history. Unreasonable, extremist, radical history-makers are never happy to accept things as they are, they never conform to the norms of society and they don’t live according to the fatalistic attitude, “que sera sera”, which is often the attitude taken by reasonable people as they watch history unfold from a spectators’ vantage point. Bono of U2 fame is one such character, “I can’t live with acquiescence. I can’t make peace with myself or the world. I just can’t. To me, it’s like rolling over. So in doing things like Jubilee 2000, I do feel better for actively feeling that I’m getting my hands around the throat of something I care about. If I’m honest, I’m rebelling against my own indifference. I am rebelling against the idea that the world is the way the world is, and there’s no damned thing I can do about it. So I’m trying to do some damned thing.” This is the attitude of a world-changing, history-shaping individual. What is it going to take to get us out of our seats and onto the playing field? When will we stop watching extremist political leaders, ideologues and demagogues destroying our nations whilst we moan and complain as mere spectators? Where are the crusaders for social justice, economic transformation, social revolution and mass interests who have this kind of “unreasonable” passion, whose demands cannot be denied? I am reminded of the words of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, uttered whilst he was still a student at Fort Hare University in the late 1940s, “watch our movements keenly and if you see any signs of “broadmindedness” or “reasonableness” in us, or if you hear us talk of practical experience as a modifier of man’s views, denounce us as traitors to Africa.” Are we producing students of this world-changing resolve on our university campuses? Where are the young Sobukwe’s of our time who will take our nation and our continent forward? Do we have statesmen of the ilk of Nigeria’s founding father, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who fought against the colonialist power of his day with such revolutionary zeal that it was no surprise that he was able to lead Nigeria to independence, “tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm, tell a man moderately to rescue his wife from the arms of a ravisher; tell a mother to extricate gradually her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but do not ask me to use moderation in a cause like the present.” Who will fight the battle for economic emancipation for Africa’s peoples, the war against poverty and unjust inequality with similar conviction and unwavering confidence? Where are the business people in our nation who will swim against the tide of BEE, the entitlement mentality and the exploitation of state tendering processes in order to enrich themselves at society’s expense, but will instead become the entrepreneurial class that this nation needs in order to solve some of its socio-economic problems? Where are the J. Paul Getty’s of South Africa, “the totally successful businessman is essentially a dissenter, a rebel who is seldom if ever satisfied with the status quo. He creates success by constantly seeking new and better ways to do and make things?” Where are the Martin Luther King Junior’s of this continent when it comes to moral leadership that drives society forward and takes us away from racial, ethnic, tribal and religious divisions which often polarise us and produce all sorts of social unrest, civil strife and civil wars which have devastated this continent and kept it from developing? Upon being accused by his detractors of being an extremist, here is how Martin Luther King Junior responded, “ was not Jesus an extremist for love: love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you? Was not Amos an extremist for justice: Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream? Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus? Was not Martin Luther an extremist: Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God? And John Bunyan: I will stay in jail till the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience. And Abraham Lincoln: Thus this nation cannot survive half slave and half free. And Thomas Jefferson: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal… So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremist we will be, will we be extremists for hate or for love?” This generation of Africans needs to answer this question and answer it soon if Africa is going to be turned around: what kind of extremists will we be? Will we be extremists for: corruption, violence, greed, racial disunity, materialism, ethnic hatred, closed society, authoritarian society, passive citizenship, economic injustice, irresponsibility and blame-shifting as the previous generations were? Or will we be extremists for: economic justice, inclusiveness, unity, reconciliation, civil responsibility, open society, a democratic culture, productivity, industry and enterprise as opposed to welfare living, as our current situation demands if we are ever going to emerge from the doldrums as a continent? What shall it be oh Africa? Shall we continue in our passivity? Where are the extremists for just causes in our day? We know that the extremists who stand for evil causes have had their day in Africa and it is now time for the “best to be full of passionate intensity” just as the worst were in previous African generations.
- Lying to Lead
- Workers United Against the Poor