It is a good time to assess the impact of the Arab Spring and the lessons we can learn from it. It was more than a year ago when the young people in Arab countries took to the streets to protest against their dictatorial leaders.
They used social media to pass on the messages through their networks in order to bring about the latest news around the protests. There was excitement because they were making themselves heard even though they probably did not know what the potential outcome would be.
This is a classic example of working for “freedom from” something. The common characteristic of all the Arab Spring uprisings show that they were struggling to get their freedom from their dictatorial leaders. In this regard they were quite successful in the mobilisation of the masses to their cause, however, there was no apparent strategy about what to do if they did wrest their freedom from the dictators.
The missing ingredient in the revolution was to define the details of “freedom for” vision. The lack of the “freedom for” vision in the aftermath of the revolution makes it quite difficult to govern because there would be no common vision that would unite people afterwards. Knowing the details of “freedom for” vision makes it easier to know when to stop the negotiations and revolution.
This also defines the framework for post-revolution engagement between the stakeholders. It is easier to analyse things when we have the benefit of hindsight, but it is essential to pick up lessons from recent history that we can apply in the future. The key learning point for me is that revolutions must have a heart working with the head for them to succeed.
The body cannot work without a heart, which pumps blood to the entire body and makes sure that oxygen is transported to the different parts of the body. In simple terms the heart regulates the brawn of our being, while the head contains the brain.
The head co-ordinates all the critical functions of the body by using the brain to direct emotions, and cognitive functions which distinguish us from animals.
So if a revolution has brawn without the brains, you have chaotic situations afterwards. If the revolution has brains without the brawn, it probably would not succeed and mostly be academic in nature. Successful revolutions require brawn and brain.
The Arab Spring Revolution had the brawn, but not much brain in some cases because there was no discernible stability in the political and economic governance in the affected countries.
What about South Africa’s revolution that ushered us into democracy? We had both intellectuals and revolutionaries with brawn working out the details of the negotiations, like former president Thabo Mbeki and Cyril Ramaphosa on the one end, and Chris Hani along with Joe Slovo on the other end of the spectrum. These two centres within the ANC were at times in conflict with each other because the heart is driven by emotions while the head wants to see results achieved by the negotiations through focusing on the details.
The ANC leaders were clear what they needed “freedom from” and were able to articulate their “freedom for” vision. This allowed the political transition to take place in addition to having leaders that were able to provide a good bridge between the head and the heart. There were times when the heart got disturbed and the ANC leaders allowed the negotiations to stop until the issues of the heart were addressed by the other parties to the negotiations. For example, former president Nelson Mandela knew that if these issues were not addressed there would be no progress in the negotiations.
Fast forward to 2012 when we are grappling with the issue of “economic freedom in our lifetime”. This cause is a very valid one that grabs the heartstrings of many. The ANC Youth League has been able to bring to the fore the issues facing our young people, which makes out the case of “freedom from” economic inequality.
What is lacking are the details of “freedom for”, what the campaign is seeking to achieve. It is not sufficient to keep the vision at the global level and say economic freedom is at stake.
The youth league campaign on the economic freedom in our lifetime and the nationalisation of mines has the necessary brawn, but now needs the brains to work out the details if they are to be successful. - Vuyo Jack