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Fumani Mthembi says with Nelson Mandela’s death , the year that could’ve been #bleh transformed into an epoch - the end of a mighty era.
A month ago, 2013 was due to go down as many have before it – a year peppered with some newsworthy peaks and troughs, but mostly on the #bleh side of history.
But that was not meant to be. In its dying moments, 2013 brought to an end a sadistic flirtation it had courted for the latter part of the year. 2013 took Madiba’s life. And just like that, the year that could’ve been #bleh transformed into an epoch – the end of a mighty era.
Madiba’s passing marks the end of the physical embodiment of greatness among us. And now that he is gone, it is the ether and not the body that we must embrace to connect with our best selves. Unable to sink into the arms of our great leader, to find respite and reassurance in his presence, ours is now to respond earnestly and courageously to Lenin’s standing question: “What is to be done?”
This is the burning question of our time because in many ways Madiba’s South Africa has become author Mark Gevisser’s characterisation of Mbeki’s worst nightmares: a deferred dream, sagging “like a heavy load”. It is my contention then that what we ought to do is race towards greatness – to become a brilliantly capable nation.
I use the language of competition and capabilities to specifically highlight elements of development that South Africa seems to have lost sight of. We are a developing nation that behaves like an honorary member of the OECD – a club of rich countries – growing sluggishly, harbouring a deep cynicism about any form of progress, reluctant to be our best.
As we find ourselves on the cusp of a new era, we need to eschew this complacent attitude and earn our place among great nations. Madiba is no longer here, and with his departure comes the end of a free ride on the shoulders of one great man. We must now become great as a collective, as a nation.
Indeed, many things are to be done now, but chief among them is a holistic focus on enhancing our nation’s capabilities and, therefore, competitiveness. As we usher in this new era, whose first main event will be the 2014 election season, we must correctly identify capabilities as the key conversation. In referencing capabilities, we go beyond the maths and science dogma and speak of everything from basic cognition to the epistemic confidence that is necessary for humans to claim their dignity. It is not the sole duty of the government, but the shared responsibility of us all, to make ours a capable nation.
We must fight for the language of capabilities to be central to our lexicon – that all South Africans understand their entitlement to an education as meaning formal schooling as well as continuous learning in every sphere of their lives.
It is not schools alone, but also homes and places of work that must become dedicated sites of learning, industriousness and excellence. It is not teachers alone, but also grandparents, artisans and professionals that must bear the responsibility of imparting soft and hard skills.
For let us not fool ourselves, the greatest enemy of all we seek to become is our perpetuation of an incapable nation with a 30 percent grasp of reality. It is the lack of relevant skills for economic participation that will make a mockery of any natural resource boon or radical land reform programme that may be on the horizon.
It is the lack of capabilities that will continue to undermine the participation of the majority in the nation’s civic and cultural life. To be capable is to have dignity.
Therefore, to focus on capabilities provides us with a technical pathway to that which remains at the heart of our struggle: human dignity.
It is only those of narrow training, blind to the full meaning of existence, who can diminish the importance of this pursuit.
So in thinking of Madiba, let us be reminded of this truth: that he imagined us. He imagined that we would all come to be – that we, like he, would want to express our light in the world, but not as multicoloured rays on the sky’s horizon.
What he understood was that our full expression required us to wield the weapon of education, or, in broader terms, capabilities. For there is simply no other weapon as adept at making equals of men.
What we ought to do now, for the sake of posterity, is to aggressively pursue learning, to burn excellence in knowledge into our DNA and thus turn the tide of indignity forever more.
History may not have the generosity to lend us the shoulders of another great man to stand upon, and so it is ourselves that we must look to.
This year refused to be #bleh, and in so doing has reminded us that our shared calling is to #becomeagreatnation.
* Mthembi is the MD of Knowledge Pele. She writes in her personal capacity.
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers