South Africa: Igniting Hope – SA will not fail

South Africa: Igniting Hope – SA will not fail

In her latest column in City Press entitled “There is Hope for SA”, Professor Thuli Madonsela gives us a host of reasons why we should be hopeful. She cites her recent Social Justice Summit in which a broad community of powerful stakeholders ratified her social justice M-Plan and where proverbial lions lay down with lambs: Former President FW de Klerk and Professor Ben Turok agreed on the catastrophic legacy of apartheid; Helen Zille and Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib shared a vision for our country; students from Rhodes and Fort Hare held constitutional dialogue sessions with no hint of the vitriol we see in our politics. We have come so far and yet our South African narrative is so massively skewed towards the negative.

Living with hope

The piece that is missing from Prof Thuli Madonsela’s powerful exhortation, only we can scribe. And the question we must consider is this: How do we wish to live our lives in SA? With hope or without it? Madonsela has clearly decided how she is going to live: Hopeful and actively involved (of course these are two sides of the same coin). But how do we – whilst not ignoring the many deep challenges and often ghastly horrors of day-to-day life in our country – do the same? We know that to live with hope whatever the circumstances is the only way to lead a happy and productive life. Yet amidst the relentless noise of bad (often fake) news and the constant resulting barrage of negativity, it can be so hard to find flickers of hope. To cope, many of us settle for cynicism. It’s a way to survive. But I invite you to consider this:

Taking the high road

There are two roads in this country. You might imagine them as a flyover suspended above a highway. The flyover is used by scores of people each day; good people who are busily making this country work. They are hard-working; they don’t do corruption; they don’t spread lies, fake news or negativity; they have integrity and are passionate about seeing our country succeed. They are school principals, policemen and women, businessfolk, politicians, parents, domestic workers, engineers, NGO workers, advocates, judges, religious leaders, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, taxi drivers, admin clerks, labourers, entrepreneurs. They ensure that the single story that South Africa is failing, is a false narrative. 

Then there are the ones on the low road. The media has much to say about them. Contrary to News24, braai-talk and social media, my lived experience of our country is that this is the quieter road.

Madonsela’s implicit challenge is this: Which road do you and I want to travel on? This is a choice that only we can make, knowing that if we choose to join the high road it will take work and a constant commitment to fanning the flames of hope into being, for a better future for SA.

South Africa wont fail

But it will be worth it, because here’s some exciting news that most serious thinkers locally and abroad know but that gets very little airtime: Africa is rising – it is the next big thing. And South Africa is not going to fail.

Join me on the high road.

This column is proudly sponsored by Partners for Possibility

If you would like to find out more about Partners for Possibility visit www.pfp4sa.org

Let’s Be Whole-Makers and Bring Unity – Not Religious and Bring Division

Let’s Be Whole-Makers and Bring Unity – Not Religious and Bring Division

If we replaced the words used to describe our faith i.e. Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Hindu/Atheist etc, with the words “Whole-makers” – I think it would have a profound impact on the world.

This is not a new idea; disciples, scholars and mystics of all faith traditions have pointed us to the fact that our work here on earth is to unify; to make whole; to embody oneness. I like these terms because they denote action; they don’t describe who we are by what we believe but by what we do and how we live.

For those of us who are non-religious (or trying hard to be non-religious) I think we could probably buy into this notion of “Whole-making” far easier than religion.  Imagine the conversation:

Me: Hello, my name is Justin

New friend: Hello Justin, what religion are you?

Me: Oh, I am not a religion as such, I am just trying to be a Whole-maker like Jesus was.

New friend: How wonderful! I am also trying to be a Whole-maker like the Buddha was. Let’s make whole together.

New friends exit together as one.

Don’t Turn and Look Away – Stand and See, and Act

Don’t Turn and Look Away – Stand and See, and Act

As I get older, I find it increasingly difficult not to turn and look the other way.

I find it harder and harder to bear witness to the suffering of people and creatures and our planet: The decimation of forests, the poaching of endangered animals, the neglect and abuse of babies, the lack of education of our children, the ravages of extreme poverty and the rank unfairness of excessive inequality. I used to be able to look at all this and it used to enrage me to the point where I would act.

But recently I have found myself less and less able to keep my eyes open. I have found myself turning away. In fact, I think this could be a very neat description of privilege: The option to turn away.

At times like this I need a good dose of Pink Floyd. They remind me that turning away is no way to live. This is a Momentary Lapse of Reason. This is the Dark Side of the Moon.  They remind me that turning away can never be an option.

Be reminded too – and enjoy! Watch the video here

On the Turning Away – Pink Floyd

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand

“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”

It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known

Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud

On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord

Using words you will find are strange
And mesmerized as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside

Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?

What Happens Beyond the Ballot Box?

What Happens Beyond the Ballot Box?

I have always believed that one must vote.

But an insightful piece by journalist Ranjeni Munusamy before the elections questioned this hitherto unquestionable logic and I must say – as I saw how many voters chose to spoil ballots or simply stay away – I now question it too.

Choosing to withhold or spoil your vote, is also a democratic choice. Whilst it won’t assist in putting a politician into a seat in parliament, it does send a message that you are gatvol and no party deserves your vote. This year 235,449 people spoilt their vote. Well over 9 million people registered to vote but abstained. This is massive. People are clearly tiring of a system that does the same thing every few years, but for them doesn’t produce the promised change . Surely, we are entering a “post-democracy” era? 

I have also heard it said that if you don’t vote you have no right to complain. Well, this is absurd. Firstly, everyone has a right to complain if they will. But more importantly, if you aren’t going to vote surely you should do something else to contribute to change? I am not a big fan of complaining but if you can’t vote, get involved in other ways. Write letters to your local press explaining why you chose not to vote. Get hold of your local ward councillor and demand accountability for specific needs within your community. Resolve to tackle racism in yourself and others. Get active in your local community: Start a community dialogue in which you discuss how to help your local school to perform better. Join your community block watch. Fix something that’s broken. Pick up litter. This is all doable regardless of who you are and what your situation is.

I did vote and I was excited to exercise that right. But as far as political choices were concerned, I was deeply conflicted. Had I been true to myself I wouldn’t have voted.

The truth is that to vote, withhold or spoil our vote is the end of our role as citizens of a democracy, unless we are prepared to participate for change beyond the ballot box. We can no longer delegate the running of our lives and our country to politicians and bureaucrats. This dance is up, and it didn’t work particularly well in the first place.

We must show up as active citizens every day between elections and contribute in ways that build our people and our country.        

Then we will watch our country rise.

Only When Minds Change Does Power Change

Only When Minds Change Does Power Change

We are just days away from our South African general election and still I feel undecided over which party to vote for.

Most of the people I speak to feel the same and the wildly differing research polls seem to confirm that many of us are conflicted over this election and all bets are off.

This was demonstrated to me on a recent work trip I had in the heart of the Northern Cape. My stereotypes got a severe beating when two wonderful middle-aged ladies – both white and Afrikaans – stated quite frankly that they were voting for the EFF and the ANC respectively. Change is in the air, ne?

As I reflect on this dilemma – an unusual one given the fact that loyalty to political parties can be hard to change – my sense is that this is just where we need to be. 25 years into democracy, we need to be confused, questioning our old patterns and looking at fresh options. This makes the possibility of change real.  And we desperately need change.

When I work with my clients, we often use the words attributed to Albert Einstein: “You cannot solve problems with the same mind that created them.” In order to improve the world, we need to literally change our minds (not only our decisions, but rather the actual way we think about things) in order to solve problems and create new realities. This involves changing the way we think about the world; it involves shifting our single-story narratives and it involves changing the ways we show up in the world. Christians call this “putting on the mind of Christ”. Buddhists call this sunyata. It all points to emptying the mind of the thought patterns that created the problems in the first place in order to discover a new reality and way of being.

Democracy without citizens involved in active processes of changing their minds (and hence their governments) is autocracy. We can kid ourselves that we are a democracy – and on paper we are – but robotic, repetitive voting patterns create Mugabe’s and indeed Zuma’s. Only when minds change does power change. That is what makes democracy good (citizens have the power to change who is in power) and terrifying (if the people are trying to solve problems with the same minds that created them).

Could this election be the start of a new consciousness in South Africa; the start of us changing our collective mind? Could it be that we stop thinking/voting/not voting the same way we have done since 1994? I am talking to all of us here – regardless of political affiliation. I believe so. Power won’t change, but how power shows up and how we respond to power most certainly will. We are putting power – all power – on terms. This election is a big moment.

Come on – let’s change our minds.

I’d love to hear from you and how you feel about the upcoming election, and your process of deciding who to vote for. Send through your comments and let’s be an involved community sharing our thoughts and experiences.