Omission of the great commission

Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula

Published Mar 21, 2024


Mabila Mathebula

Great leaders are known for their universally inspiring quotations that are capable of charming birds from the trees or stimulating the minds that hear them.

Winston Churchill’s words are worth recalling: “The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.” Importantly, John F Kennedy carved out a US commission when he said: “And so, my fellow American, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Quotations are either a leader’s observation or a leader’s plea for his or her people to act for the collective good. Kennedy’s quotation was a great commission to the American people to dedicate themselves to serving their nation, with all the strength and knowledge God had given them.

Kennedy’s famous antithesis was a huge paradigm shift for people who thought the government could do everything. This kind of quotation is a rare commodity in this day and age, because leaders are self-centred and not other-centred.

Kennedy realised a long time ago that there were no short cuts or easy solutions to his country’s problems. Slogans would not give his people more to eat, and neither would blaming his nation’s failures on any other state.

He believed the brute force of his people’s strengths alone would not be sufficient for the US to excel. That strength had to be combined with the scientific use of every available skill in steering the ship, in coaxing the engine, in changing gear, and in applying the brakes and the accelerator at the right moment.

Party manifestos in South Africa are like a one-way traffic system – political parties simply give us their political, social and economic wish list. Most of these manifestos graphically describe what the country will look like when they get involved in government business. However, they do not articulate the great eternal commission. All these manifestos have a collective short-term commission: “Vote for me and your life will become better.”

In 1999, when the world was obsessed with the new millennium, Clem Sunter wrote Never Mind the Millennium: What About the Next 24 Hours? One might safely say: “Never mind the election: what about the next 24 hours?” Sunter’s words still hold water today.

Former president Thabo Mbeki also gave this nation a great commission by urging all South Africans to take action and do things for themselves instead of waiting for government handouts. Mbeki’s great commission of Vuk’uzenzele has been deferred. It does not matter who the president is – the nation’s great commission has to be borne in mind.

All these political parties have omitted this great commission. In accounting, I was taught that there were errors of commission and omission. Little did I realise that politicians also commit these two cardinal errors.

Our political parties have made promises to their followers on condition that their followers vote for them. Benjamin Disraeli’s apt advice has been ignored by all our political parties: “You cannot have fruit when the tree is still in blossom.”

When followers are not told that the service delivery tree is still in blossom, they become impatient, and their impatience then compels them to destroy the very tree that was meant to feed them. During service delivery protests, when government property is being destroyed, it is obvious people did not understand the great commission.

People who embrace the great commission as their guiding star protect the nation’s infrastructure. Great commissions are not time-bound or ephemeral, but rather eternal and immortal.

Saying to voters they must vote you into power because the ANC-led government is corrupt is an ephemeral commission. If we want this democracy to work, we must all roll up our sleeves and make it happen.

Another issue that warrants our collective attention is sustainable development. For example, the present oppressive heat in Gauteng, Limpopo and other provinces is an indication that the ozone layer is being depleted.

It was Chief Seattle who said: “Man did not weave the web of life – he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” It is sad to say that we are reaping what we have sowed. I am still looking forward to South African political parties that commission people to take care of the environment.

The notion that the government must do everything for its citizens must be abandoned. The state is one of the greatest organisations in the nation. For example, no one can issue a birth or a death certificate except the state. These are stately functions.

By expecting the state to do everything for us, we are disabling ourselves in an able-bodied world. We have been talking about South Africa as a developmental state. A developmental state needs technical competence and the right attitude. Perhaps it is time we spoke about a productive state where people are encouraged to work hard and not depend on welfare.

As a nation, we need our leaders to articulate a great commission which we will hold dear. “Never mind the election: what about the next 24 hours?” would be a good start.

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in construction management.

The Star