No society can hope to progress when the national ethos is that anything goes, says Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.
Pretoria - Whoever coined the phrase “South Africa is alive with possibilities” could not have imagined how inspirational this could be.
Unfortunately, some among us have assumed that it means that anything goes in South Africa.
Take the example now of the world’s most infamous fake sign language interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie.
The fellow has given many excuses and many reasons for why he embarrassed himself, his family and the country.
What he has not said, which is probably what the whole embarrassing episode means, is that South Africa gives too much space to chance takers.
It is alive with possibilities for chance takers.
Jantjie and others like him de-value painstakingly and patiently paying your dues.
They reflect a microwave generation in that they think that “just add water” applies to everything in life.
It has become politically incorrect to say it, but people ought to know their place.
I do not advocate a caste system in which some are born untouchable and are doomed to such a life.
Neither do I propose a system where one’s race or sex or family connection should give one an unfair start on others. I am talking about a place where people are willing to bide their time, and hone their skills until they become the best of the best and therefore qualify for the top positions in their area of endea-vour.
I am proposing a tier system in which one’s years of training and levels of talent mean something instead of being treated as though they are nice-to-haves that, depending on the whims of the decisionmaker, may or may not be considered.
A just and equitable society does not pretend that some are more industrious or talented than others. It rewards and celebrates these and encourages everyone to find an area where they too can be excellent.
When they find such a place, they appreciate that it does not mean that they are now champions of everything. I am talking here about a place where a Chris Barnard, world renowned and pioneering as a heart surgeon as he was, acknowledges that he is no gynaecologist and will therefore defer to others better qua-lified than him in that regard.
We must take it further and make personal probity fashionable. Talent and hard work combined with impeccable integrity should be the mark of those we regard as deserving of our admiration and positions of trust.
I am acutely aware that there are some who would blame this state of affairs on employment equity or on some dubious personal life and policy decisions by those entrusted with state power.
While I cannot defend or explain how some political decisions and deployments are decided, it would be incorrect to blame employment equity policy on its own for the scandals that the Jantjies of this world are.
Affirmative action was never about employing blacks, women or people with disabilities simply because they are black, female or disabled.
Lazy employers have ignored the provision that race, gender and disability not be the starting point in selection but rather the decisive one where there is a stalemate.
In short, employers who take short cuts by employing women and black people because of their race and sex, show themselves to be not deserving of the positions entrusted to them.
It is the same in sport as it is in corporate boardrooms. Contrary to the belief held by some, one’s skin colour or sex do not diminish the personal pride and satisfaction that one has in knowing that one has climbed the ladder of one’s profession on merit, not because of someone else’s feelings of historical guilt.
As a black professional, I know I speak on behalf of many like me when I say we do not ask for handouts but for opportunities to prove our worth and, after that, to let the chips fall where they may.
There is a school of thought that life is not fair. I disagree.
Everyone has a unique talent that they can exploit to make meaning of their lives.
It is only when one starts coveting one’s neighbour’s talents and the rewards those gifts give, instead of making the most of one’s own, that one cries about life’s unfairness.
The person finishing fourth in the Olympics 100m final, even if slower by the smallest margin, appreciates that they will not get a medal.
In South Africa we want medals for everybody regardless of their talent and training. We want this because it is “not fair” or not “nice” that others have medals and the rest do not. Such attitudes as personified by Jantjie can only lead our nation on to a path of ruin.
No society can hope to progress when the national ethos is that anything goes or in which nobody strives to be the best at what they do.
It applies across the board and in every area of our lives.
* Moya is an executive editor at the Pretoria News.