We need to shake off the fear

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Pic si Sej motau INLSA Sejamothopo Motau. Picture: Phill Magakoe.

Dear Dr Ramphele

Your response to Rorisang, “We must not let SA die in our hands”, struck a few chords with me and I would like to take up some of the telling points you made since, in my view, they go to the heart of what we need to do to make South Africa the country of our dreams.

I am always impressed with the manner in which you are able to say what you mean and mean what you say, leaving no doubt about the message you wish to convey.

I agree with you that, “We do not need another generation to be prepared to die. What is needed is for citizens to take ownership of our country and shape it,” and “Taking ownership requires us to shed our tendency to show deference to leaders to the extent of electing, appointing and tolerating mediocrity, incompetence and impunity in corruption in the public sector.”

I have been urging South Africans to take ownership of their country since 1990 when I had the privilege to give a motivational address to the matriculating class at Kimberley High School. That talk, that started as a mere handful of small ideas, has since crystallised into a presentation called Spirit of Nation – building a positively patriotic South African nation.

One of the strong themes I raised then, and which has remained a mainstay of the talk, is sub-headed “Patriotism and ownership”.

I truly believe we need to inculcate a sense of “being one” that will engender a genuine patriotism that transcends our diversity in ethnicity, language, religion and other cultural aspects; economic ideology and political affiliation. In this way, each of us can take ownership of our country and give true meaning to the simple but potentially powerful statement: “I am a South African.” Taking ownership means that none of the citizens of this country should feel less equal than anyone else and as such, each of us will be proud of ourselves, our families, our communities, our villages and cities; our institutions and organisations and our country. This sense of positive pride is vital for our sustained viability as a nation.

Regrettably, it now seems that many of our compatriots feel somewhat politically marginalised and want to abdicate – many have already abdicated – ownership of our country. Clearly, this is a disturbing manifestation of what you refer to as “deference to leaders”.

Taking ownership also means we need to look out for one another and truly be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We need to treat our women and children with love and respect and not abuse them. We need to teach our male children to grow up into providers and protectors and not abusers of women. They must become the upholders and defenders of the human rights of the aged and feeble. This is how it should be because it is the essence of botho/ubuntu (humanness).

Without this critical ingredient, the rebirth of our nation will remain but a shadow.

Sadly, while we pride ourselves in having one of the best constitutions in the world, we treat political leaders like our masters and owners and worship at their feet like their dutiful servants.

We have become a country that rapes its infant daughters and frail grandmothers. Most of our municipalities are dysfunctional because some of the administrators have no clue what they are doing and are there simply because they are “deployed cadres” of the ruling party. All they worry about is to ensure they are on the right side of their political bosses.

And of course, the consequences are mediocrity, incompetence and rampant corruption.

I am very concerned that the points I made to the young Kimberlites about positive patriotism can still be made today nearly 20 years after 1994. I believe, as I did then, that we, the people of South Africa, are not yet a nation. We need to forge and nurture the “Spirit of Nation”.

This need is more urgent today.

We need to believe, feel and behave as “one people, one nation”. Sadly, more often than not, I get this sinking feeling that we are not making much headway in this regard. In addition to having political insiders and outsiders, we now also have economic insiders and outsiders.

To achieve nationhood, we must put South Africa first in all our rehabilitation efforts and collective endeavours. However, our efforts at forging a nation are frequently frustrated by selfishness; social, political and economic myopia and greed. We have lost a sense of common purpose – the common vision we shared during the days of the Struggle. Now we think of ourselves first as members of this or that ethnic group, political party; black, white, not-black enough or even red!

Some of our compatriots now strut the country flaunting their political affiliation and ethnicity as if these entitle them to be more equal than others.

This is not taking ownership but is divisive and destructive holier-than-thou arrogance.

This is a total distortion of the essence of being a South African.

While I can understand the anger and frustration of young patriots like Rorisang, I totally agree with you that no generation of young South Africans needs to be prepared to die to realise the fruits of our hard-earned democracy and for us to build the country of our dreams.

Far too many South Africans have died for that already. What we need is a mindset shift in our relationship with the nation’s public servants; from ministers to parliamentarians to provincial legislators and councillors.

Sure, we need to treat them with respect but not obsequiousness – and hold them to account. After all, every South African citizen over 18 years, has the power to change the country for the better – the right to vote. Make it count.

Many of us also need to shake off the inexplicable fear that seems to pervade our nation.

Sometimes I get the feeling that many of our people live more in fear of our leaders today than they did under apartheid. Positive patriotism is about us being able to make our contribution to building our country as best we can.

On many occasions we have to be highly critical of those who lead us. Being afraid to do so is a betrayal of our nation building effort.

I recognise that many South Africans were damaged by apartheid. Some were brainwashed to believe they were superior while others internalised inferiority.

The dawn of our liberation in 1994 should have set us free from these debilitating handicaps.

You may be interested to know that following my talk at the high school, I received a number of thank you notes from the young matrics.

In one note, a youngster wrote: “Dear Mr Motau, thank you for inspiring us. I am one of the pupils you touched.” I think that is the message that started me on my “Spirit of Nation” journey.

I truly hope you have touched Rorisang and the many young South Africans like him who now feel disappointed and frustrated.

Thank you for touching me.

I will not let South Africa die in my hands – and that is a promise I intend to keep.

Yours, Sejamothopo.


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