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.

ANC, DA or EFF? The Appeal of None.

I absolutely love elections! I get genuinely excited about the whole messy process of democracy.

My wife says I’m a nerd and that nobody loves elections. She says they only love the fact that they get a day off work. But the way I see it, elections give the little people like me a chance to have a real impact on the course of history. Who wouldn’t get excited about that? But this election, not so much. I find myself not only lacking my usual excitement, but apathetic. Having been a lifelong advocate of the crucial importance of exercising ones right to vote, I find myself conflicted over what I shall even end up doing come the 8th May. In the end, I will of course vote – we all must. And hopefully I will find my mojo and enjoy it. But I’m not feeling it; I am depressed at the fact that our country’s politics and corruption, has knocked the guts out of my excitement for democracy and especially our unique, much-celebrated democracy. I am sure I will get this back…I am working on it. And so, to the big question of who to vote for. I literally have no idea. Can we return to power a party that has quite literally defecated on our dreams; told us that our lives are meaningless in the face of their insatiable needs? A party that has delivered lie-upon-lie-upon-lie and still lies to us? Can we give our precious vote to a party that has no visible leadership of any kind? That uses the identities of dead people – yes, people who died at the hands of the ruling party – but actual deceased human being’s names, for political gain? I mean what the hell have we become when dead people are fair game to win votes? Identities stolen and used without even asking for permission? And it mustn’t go unchecked that these people were the most vulnerable of all society. And then there is a party who if proven guilty can be called nothing but evil incarnate; what has happened to the soul of mankind when it wins votes by wooing the hearts and minds of the poor and then allegedly robs their bank? ROBS THEIR BANK!? This is how I see it: If I vote for either the ANC, the DA or the EFF then I am complicit in the vile and utterly contemptible abuse of the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of our country. Forget all my private middle class concerns of land and the Rand and stock prices and whether we have load shedding today and I can’t power up my laptop. Our poor need not to be poor anymore. Period. So again, who will I vote for? I am open to suggestions. All I do know for sure is that I have a couple of months to answer this one question: Which party honestly and truthfully has the alleviation of poverty at the heart of not only its manifesto but its track record? That is the party that must get my vote because at the end of the day, poverty – which encompasses the issues of education, unemployment, housing, land, crime, the economy etc – is the only issue that really matters. Instability is guaranteed if poverty is not addressed – fast.

Storming the Stage – the New South African Drama

Writers and commentators have been referencing South Africa’s politics in theatrical terms. Words like “Shakespearean”, “tragi-comedy” and “drama” have been used to describe recent events.

Depending on which side of the political divide you occupy, central characters –  Pravin Gordhan, Mcebesi Jonas, Jacob Zuma, Ahmed Kathrada, Gwede Mantashe et al – would be to you either villain or hero. And then came the recent Easter break when the curtain fell for interval. Apart from the unseemly off-stage spat that played out between the two drama-queens playing the part of Police Minister Berning Ntlemeza and Fikile Mbalula, the actors took a break and the audience enjoyed some well-earned respite from the break-neck pace of the show.  But the theatrical metaphor is good only to a point. Thereafter it becomes misleading and possibly even demobilising. Whilst it works for the main characters, it assumes that the citizenry plays the part of the audience; passive spectators laughing, clapping, crying and jeering with no impact on the unfolding narrative after buying our tickets – read paying our taxes and voting. This of course has – with some notable exceptions – been dishearteningly true, as we have sat back and watched the unfolding story of the first two decades of our democracy. There are two main reasons for this passivity: either we believed what the show’s poster promised, or we hoped that that the whole production would be a flop so we could say; “I told you so!”. Either way – we are all now in a witch’s brew of Macbethian proportions asking how we got here and wishing we could go back and rewrite the script. Perhaps something like: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? But take heart; the end of the first half saw the drama take a turn. As Pravin Gordhan became an unlikely romantic lead, the thing became edge-of-your-seat edgy; alive; even dangerous – in a good way.  And as the tension rose, so too did the dissatisfied rumbles and dissenting mutterings of the audience; the resultant metaphorical raining of raw eggs and tomatoes on the underperforming players, turned into a full-on storming of the stage. And apart from the usual antics of the leads and some very unusual dramatic timing; Ahmed Kathrada’s death, Zuma and Gordhan sharing a birthday in the middle of it all – stuff you wouldn’t script for fear of being dubbed corny – the audience is what has made this the beginning of the end of this current drama. For the most significant time in nearly two decades, huge numbers of us rose, donned our costumes, took up our props and stormed the stage.  And whilst the whole devilish plot was designed to force us to look stage left whilst the villains walked off with the treasure stage right; whilst crafty sleight-of-hand was being used to sow division through carefully constructed PR campaigns and the manufacture of terms like radical economic transformation- the fog was clearing and the audience was murmuring about the rottenness in the state. And from here – more and more – the show becomes totally interactive; the audience is now on stage and in many cases becoming the lead players. This is the drama of democracy at its best; it’s most healthy. He is a very calculating President but not even he could have predicted this. He took a chance that we would – as we have always done – sit and watch. But it backfired badly. Ironically his attempts to divide and conquer resulted in us uniting and fighting back.   And a new narrative has begun; of that there is no doubt. A caution as the bell rings for interval: we mustn’t be tempted to return to our seats. The show is nowhere near over. The break simply allowed us to draw breath, gather our strength and storm the stage again. Who knows how many times we must do this?  I imagine many, many times more. And this must not be interpreted as just marching – that’s just the marketing campaign for the show. I wrote recently about each of us taking the time to determine our unique role in this drama. But this is very tough for most of us because we simply do not know what to do. But we must not sit. We must stand up and walk out; onto the streets and into the malls, offices and places of worship in our communities. And once there, we must be better than those who are working to destroy us and our country. Yes, we must speak out against them, but then we must be the opposite of them too; defy the label of “racist” by being uncompromisingly non-racist; enact “radical economic transformation” by being radically generous with our time, money and expertise; be unscrupulously honest and incorruptible in all our dealings. This is the formula for a new narrative: we must push and pull.   That means that we do not only protest against something old and rotten but we create something altogether new and healthy. The excitement is building as we enter the most challenging but also the most exciting stage of or drama. Thank you Mr President for creating the perfect conditions. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens and Emmanuel Josias Sithole.