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LETTER FROM THE DM168 EDITOR

A Jozi road explodes, Ramaphosa’s diplomatic dilemma relief and ancient wisdom on leadership

A Jozi road explodes, Ramaphosa’s diplomatic dilemma relief and ancient wisdom on leadership
The aftermath of the explosion in inner-city Johannesburg on 19 July 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Maybe out of the chaos of potholes, burst water pipes and exploding inner-city roads, the people can discover that the true leaders they are looking for are not the clowns on the voting ballots, but can be found in themselves.

During the winter school holidays, my 17-year-old son discovered an old book of mine, a treasure from my turbulent youth in the 1980s, when it felt like things were falling apart all around me.

It’s a translation by Dr John Wu of an ancient Chinese book written around 400 BCE, the Tao Te Ching.

I was intrigued by what attracted my son to this philosophy of a balanced way of being, written in an almost riddle-like form as a set of poems.

Taoism can be boiled down to three basic principles of living: simplicity, patience, compassion. According to Britannica, the Tao Te Ching was a way of life intended to restore harmony and peace to a kingdom racked by widespread disorder and self-seeking rulers.

As Damian Walter explained in The Guardian, “the central thing the Tao Te Ching asks us to be aware of is not the world, but our self”.

In a very similar sentiment to the second commandment of another self-aware sage from the Middle East about 2,000 years ago, verse 13 says: “Love the world as your self; then you can care for all things.” And the best part of this ancient wisdom is what it says about leadership.

“The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words, when his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it’.”

Why was I attracted to this wisdom when we were living through the death throes of the brutal system of apartheid that treated the majority of us as disposable, inferior subspecies?

One thing is certain, the economic heart of South Africa is in need of not just a bypass but a transplant.

And why does the simplicity of this wisdom attract my teenage son many deca­des later, in a country that has a wonderful Constitution that cherishes every­one as equals, but is falling apart because of an avaricious, uncaring, myopic elite?

What is this attraction to the yin and yang of Tao, especially when things fall apart? Maybe it’s about staying calm in the eye of a storm. About acceptance of  life’s duality. That things need to fall apart for a new way, a kinder state of being, to emerge.

Light and darkness

This week’s news epitomised the yin and yang of light and darkness. On Tuesday, the birthday of our first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, it was amazing to see so many well-meaning South Africans doing their best to act in the spirit of ubuntu.

Then, BOOM, the very next day, we watched in horror the CCTV footage of the massive explosion that ripped through Lilian Ngoyi (formerly Bree) Street in central Johannesburg, flinging minibus taxis and cars into the air, injuring 48 people and killing one.

Speculation has been rife about possible causes. Some have blamed the zama zamas, the desperate, illegal artisanal miners who risk life and limb to extract what’s left from abandoned or closed mines. Others have blamed the lack of maintenance of the city’s ageing infrastructure by both the ANC and successive squabbling coalitions. City manager Floyd Brink said the most probable cause was accidental leakage of natural gas into the service duct reaching explosion concentration levels of 5% to 15% that was ignited by an unknown source.

Whatever the eventual cause is determined to be, one thing is certain, the economic heart of South Africa is in need of not just a bypass but a transplant. Instead of playing political poker, the various coalitions recently running the city and the ANC, which had the longest reign of the city since 1994, should have come up with a plan to fix, maintain or replace its ailing infrastructure.

Maybe those companies that most benefitted from the extraction of the gold should also be asked to play a part in its repair and a post-mining future that is not as apocalyptic as the present.

Johannesburg, Jozi, Egoli, the Place of Gold, where millions have migrated seeking their fortune or just plain hand-to-mouth sustenance, is literally falling apart, its cavernous underbelly under the centuries-old buildings built during the mining boom is collapsing in on itself.

Fortunes were made in the gold mines that dig deep into the arteries of the city using cheap labour to create the generational wealth of some of the richest families in South Africa and indeed the world.

As the rich depart to their next mining mecca and the mines close down, communities that remain are left with unemployment, pollution, crime, desperation to put food on the table. Maybe those companies that most benefitted from the extraction of the gold should also be asked to play a part in its repair and a post-mining future that is not as apocalyptic as the present.

And perhaps the people of Joburg should also think more carefully about who they choose to manage the apocalypse, as the current bunch are failing fast, with potholes, burst water pipes and exploding inner-city roads on their watch.

Maybe out of this chaos, the people can discover that the true leaders they are looking for are not the clowns on the voting ballots, but can be found in themselves. No razzle-dazzle. No false promises. No rascal rhetoric. Simplicity. Patience. Compassion. To get the slow, long, hard job of fixing Johannesburg done.

In this week’s paper, dear readers, you will find stories about this and other matters of state, the heart, art, life, sport and poetry to reflect on.

In our lead story of the week, our international affairs specialist Peter Fabricius and our political writer Queenin Masuabi explain why they think we in South Africa, our democratic institutions such as our opposition parties and our courts have forced President Cyril Ramaphosa to shrink Russian President Vladimir Putin’s world.

This feat has been achieved despite our procrastinating Pres, who laughably told the high court he didn’t want to stop Putin from coming here because he feared Russia might declare war on South Africa. Yeah right. Vlad, the beloved of so many ANC cadres like Jacob Zuma and David Mabuza who trek all the way to Russia for that magical muti unknown and unavailable to South African doctors or traditional healers, is just sommer going to declare war on us?

The world is truly crazy. I’m off to take a break to read some more wisdom from the Tao Te Ching.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts, which I will publish on our letters page, by writing to [email protected]

Yours in defence of truth and balance in being,

Heather

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29. DM168 is available for sale at all retail stores from Saturday, 22 July, to Friday, 28 July.

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  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Great commentary – thank you.
    In response to your comments about the majority under apartheid being treated like an inferior subspecies…. By rising to the level of their own incompetence and relying on BEE policies to overcome the stigma but not solve the problem is just as bad! BEE policies are racist and undermine the smooth operation of Government, our Economy and the very lives we live. They have no place in a country that should be united under a great Constitution …and they remove the very dignity that so many fought for 30 yrs ago.

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