Updated: Jul 13
I was born in 1980. I was too small to be part of the struggle and to comprehend any difference. I can’t pretend that apartheid didn’t happen because I did experience some of it. I was 14 in 1994, and I watched (on TV), the unfolding of our first democratic election. Although I couldn’t vote, I remember the elation in my parents when they went to stand in the queues to vote and left my brother and I with the neighbors.
For the best part of my life, I don’t remember signs that said “whites only” because for the most part, I grew up in a free country and I’ve loved it mostly… until I became a mother and a whistle-blower.
I’ve been a mother for the past 8 years and a whistle-blower for the past 4 and for the first time, I see this country in a different light for a few reasons; as a mother, I have started looking to a future that I may not experience, and as a whistle-blower, I have expectations of my country right now. On both counts, I find myself disappointed and despondent. Hence, I ask the question, what happened?
Coming back to my parents elation in 1994 – I remember their hope. Their hope of the future was intoxicating and infectious and it spread unto me. It was a feeling of paralyzing hope… things that could only get better when compared to the past. The grass was ‘willed’ to be greener on the other side. That hope lied in the ANC and at that time, it was in Nelson Mandela.
For the longest time, my parents, and I guess me too, lived in that hope. The hope that a new South African would yield greener grass. The thing is this, I am not a kid anymore. I’m a mom and an adult. And for me now, I’d be lying if I said that I still feel that hope. Rather, in the place of hope I have disappointment and despondence.
During the apartheid era, most South Africans were forced into a culture of hustling. There wasn’t enough of anything to go around so if you needed something for yourself or family, you had to hustle to get it.
It seems to me that since the 90s this ‘hustle’ mindset grew legs and tentacles which were unrestricted by the freedom that democracy affords. In the early 90s I believed that the infectious hope was created in the promises that the leading party offered. It wasn’t so much the free education and houses; it was more the promise that the leading party represented. They were seemingly your average South African. They were seemingly a branch of the Nelson Mandela tree and they had good intentions and they were committed to serving the people of this country before serving themselves. I know that this is the hope that my parents had and past unto me. Why would my parents think differently? They were never and will never be the people who live in skepticism and paranoia. So, they believed these people and they lived in hope.
More than twenty years later and the truth has revealed itself. The truth has not revealed itself through commissions of inquiry nor legal action against some. Rather, the truth is evidenced through our sovereign debt levels, our unemployment rate, the number of people who live below the poverty line, the high number of heinous crimes that we experience and the blatant lack of service delivery in our communities.
So, what happened? I have a hypothesis which I have alluded to already ..
South Africa has not yet rid itself of the ‘hustle’ culture especially with our country’s leaders. What do I mean by this? I understand hustle to mean that one does whatever they have to do to progress their interest and usually the interest is either power or financial gain.
We see that when a public servant progresses in leadership roles, their windfall almost always extends to either their friends or family or colleagues. It’s as if people have inherently believed that their lives will not succeed nor progress without some sort of quid pro quo arrangement! I recently experienced an example of this; my niece wants to obtain her driver’s license. As a family, our initial reaction was, “who do we know in the department who can help?” Although we believe in my niece’s ability to pass, we inherently believe that the process is corrupt or rigged to some extent and that the only way to succeed is via ‘a connection’. We have lost all hope in honesty and integrity and hard work. We don’t believe that anything is fair anymore. Although we are free, we are economically trapped much worse than during apartheid.
Our society is riddled with this cancer and as long as we allow it to fester, the worse our society will become. This mindset perpetuates corruption and unethical behavior. We celebrate success in society based on the unethical practices used to achieve it. I cringe because I realize that I will not win in teaching my daughter the right values. I see this in my life as I have been ostracized for taking an ethical stand. It is this society that has created the despondence and disappointment.
As a country we all know that something is wrong and we all have views in terms of what has created it and how to rid ourselves of it. Some political parties feel that we are stuck in the consequences of apartheid… ahem, some 30 years ago. They claim white monopoly capital because the largest wealth owners reside in a specific race group. What they don’t see is the emergence of millionaires over the past 30 years from diverse race groups. Our leading party simply cries that they will stop corruption although it was their roots that have created this cancer. Other opposition parties simply cry foul and no one really knows what they are crying about.
My thing is this – perhaps conduct a root cause analysis in our society?
So where do I see our country right now? I perceive our leaders to be headless chickens running around in a chaotic and random pattern based on the wind direction.
South Africa needs new blood. We need people that are not gonna cry foul over our past. We can not move forward whilst looking back! We need people who have demonstrated integrity and an unfailing ethical backbone. We create these leaders in our homes. We don’t sculpt them once they are in power. Its my opinion that this new blood does exist, but just not in any political form that we see at the moment. I believe that this hope resides in ‘youth’ i.e. the forty year oldies like myself. I believe that we need a youth uprising – millennial style. We need leaders who are brave enough to have hope in a seemingly hopeless place and brave enough to fight relentlessly to achieve it for generations that will come. We need leaders who are accepting that they may not live to see the benefit of their efforts but they will be named in history as the right kind of “influencers”.