A divided country destroys its heritage

Madiba was able to tap into our love of sports to unite this country. We need leaders that can once again tap into our common aspirations and unite us, writes YONELA DIKO  

The country is divided. We are divided on almost everything and the divisions are seemingly running deep. We are divided on race, on class, on culture, on inequality, labour laws, NGO’s (enforcing accountability or driving regime change), the role of the media (objective or interested), executive pay and gender pay gap; and on every other issue, we are divided.

One of the key components of Madiba’s special ability to forge unity was to avoid finger pointing and blaming, a quality that has been turned upside down today. We blame everything and everyone: white monopoly capital, business, government, ANC. There seems to be no limit to the daily finger pointing when it comes to our current challenges. This robs us of an opportunity to forge a shared vision and sense of common destiny, something that was palpable during Madiba’s tenure.

Madiba also understood that for a country to unite, some clear and sustained victories were necessary. No country can unite perpetually losing national battles. Here, Madiba turned to sports for short-term victories to sustain the dream. Sports has this proven ability of shared successes and an ability to unite more than any other thing in the country. Last Sunday we all felt like we were in a nightmare we could not wake up from when the All blacks humiliated us in a way we have not tasted in our generation. Mostly because we know what a victory against the best in the world has done for our national psyche and unity.

Most importantly, however, is that a country will struggle to be united when as citizens we are not convinced that we have chosen the best amongst us to lead. Nothing undermines unity as a feeling of being short-changed on leadership, a country punching below its weight because of its choice of leaders. More importantly, the people must be convinced that the leaders chosen share the country’s core values, which inevitably creates a common bond.

Every citizen wants to feel they know and are part of the country’s vision and can articulate that vision with pride into the world. This means there must be both a sense of being fully and highly represented by our leaders and there must also be a concerted effort to tell people what is the country’s vision and what is expected of the people. This builds loyalty and love for country.

Without a vision, then you begin to have what President Mbeki said in 2012 when giving the OR Tambo Lecture: “A deeply troubling feeling of great unease, that South Africa is losing its sense of direction and allowing itself to move towards a protracted and endemic general crisis. Without a vision, a country’s mood and disposition gets marooned and disintegrated”.

Most importantly, unity will happen when we recreate what we already created in 1994, an ability to work through our differences born by our past. How do we become one and strengthen our shared bond?

This is the most important aspect. How do we work through our differences which are running so deep? How do we unite when white South Africans see a black couple at a KFC drive-through and because of a false sense of superiority of skin colour begin to assault them for inexplicable reasons and with cruel rage? How do we unite when white South Africans pick a black youth and throw him into a casket, humiliating him and showing him just how little they think of black men, all for trespassing on their farm?

How do we unite when there is so much corruption, blatant and arrogant? How can we possibly unite when the politicians we elected seem to have handed over the power to govern to a clique for an ounce of gold. It’s even more difficult to unite when the private sector, which is unyielding in its racial inequality, its executive pay-gap, which is unyielding in its oligopolies and barriers to entry for new entrepreneurs, turns out to be dishonest in the actual execution of their business, behaving like a mafia and a cult hell-bent on making money at whatever cost?

The first place to start always is on the things we agree on. We may be black and white but we all want to do well in life. We may be divided by class but surprisingly, a person who stays in Fourways would like to see people in Diepsloot overcome their challenges and live a better life. The same can be said of a person in Diepsloot, they are not jealous of Fourways residents, but are inspired and made hopeful by them for their own futures.

KPMG and McKinsey may have involved themselves in unethical and corrupt business deals but there are thousands of business deals every day which are done with honesty and mutual benefit, by thousands of companies, including both KPMG and McKinsey. That is enough to rebuild from.

The Guptas may have captured enough comrades to effectively control most levers of the state, but the ANC and government have over a million members who are decent and good. These ordinary ANC members hold aspirations no different from others who have had enough of this ceding of their organisation’s power to families that they have never elected or even seen. The ANC remains the most powerful political organisation in the continent and this is in no small measure due to the good and honest comrades who still pump life into the organisation.

So as a country, we can disagree with one another on many factors, race, class, political affiliation, but we cannot deny that if we looked closely, as South Africans, our aspirations are not different. These are the common desires Madiba was able to tap into. That all of us wanted our country to rise and do well. Even today, the country’s mood is celebratory when the Springboks, or Proteas, or Bafana win and we are devastated when they lose.

The question is do we have a leadership, in politics, in business, civil society, that can tap into these common aspirations and strengthen bonds among our people and belief in the success of our country?

I think we do. I hope their time has finally come

Diko is a media strategist and consultant

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