Rites of passage needed for our nation to reach maturity

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IOL economy arrows Filomena Scalise

Transformation and rites of passage go hand in hand. In many cultures there are ceremonies to denote the transition from one stage to the other.

This is marked by undergoing a transformational process which is celebrated at the end to integrate the person back.

According to Wikipedia, rites of passage have three phases: separation, transition, and reincorporation.

The first phase comprises symbolic behaviour signifying detachment from an earlier fixed point in the social structure. There is often a detachment or “cutting away” from the former self in this phase, which is signified in symbolic actions and rituals.

The transition phase is the period between states, during which one has left one place or state but has not yet entered or joined the next.

In the third phase the passage is consummated. Having completed the rite and assumed a “new” identity, one re-enters society with one’s new status. This is phase characterised by rituals and ceremonies.

In the Xhosa culture we have initiation ceremonies that mark the transition from being a boy to being a man. In Zulu the Umhlanga ceremony marks the entering into womanhood by girls. A Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah are Jewish coming of age rituals. In professions such law and accounting you have equivalent rites of passage through doing articles for a specified period of time after which you qualify as a lawyer or as a chartered accountant.

In South Africa, we have three dominant institutions of the ANC, trade unions and big business that determine the direction the country is taking politically and economically. South Africa has turned 18, which under normal circumstances is a legal acquisition of the status of majority from being a minor. All three institutions are in need of the rites of passage.

In business the use of the old mindset from the colonial and apartheid era is not sustainable. Women and black people have become a permanent feature in the business landscape that must be engaged with. The rite of passage needs to be invoked for the current big business leaders.

First, they need to separate from the old mindset that has dominated their business lives for so long in order to get with the programme of the teenage South Africa.

Second, the transition from a compliance mindset to a contribution mindset is going to be rough, but it is a useful process of flushing out what is not needed and putting in place what is critical for the future.

The third phase is the reincorporation stage where they use the new mindset to make sure that business in South Africa is prosperous.

This is what we can all celebrate in meaningful award ceremonies, but not before the new mindset sets in. The black people and women need to also go through their own rites of passage into business. They need to separate from their view of themselves as victims who have to wait for somebody to rescue them. This victim mentality is holding them back.

The transition from victim to warrior is not easy, but it is critical to acquire new skills and warrior strategies to thrive in any environment they find themselves in. This does not mean they lose their identity nor the women their femininity but they add more to their arsenal.

The third stage of reincorporation is an opportunity to practice what they have acquired in the transition stage. After a while they may graduate from being warriors to masters in business.

In politics the rites of passage are needed within the ANC as it turns 100. The key point is that the revolutionary mentality that won us our freedom needs to give way to the governing mindset if we are to be a stable country.

The revolutionary mindset focuses more on strategies that promote freedom FROM something while the governing mindset looks at strategies that promote freedom FOR something. This subtle difference is what can propel us to either be a failed state or a truly developing state.

Trade unions also have to undergo rites of passage where they move their mindset of acting like an opposition party to a mindset that assists in creating sustainable jobs while making sure that our workers get the best development opportunities.


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