As South Africans, and particularly young ones, we seem to be people of the big picture. We are impatient with details and small things.
We don’t speak of individuals, but of the masses. We don’t complain about the man’s acts, but of what he represents. You know, the big picture. The details bore us. It isn’t the principles we live up to among our own friends and family, but the grand views we share on social networks among hundreds, if not thousands of people.
Otherwise, why is it that even though so many of us have made strides to rise above poverty and underdevelopment – out of rural or township living – we haven’t closed the gap for our own families? Why is it that our own mothers live in the same four-roomed houses in which they raised us while we live in exclusive suburbs and drive fancy and expensive cars.
Our own family members can’t afford decent healthcare or education while we spend thousands on champagne and whiskey. We straddle two worlds, two economies – that of are our poor families, and the other our glamorous, opulent “new” lives
But we get the big picture. We know that the gap between the haves and have-nots has to be breached. We know about economic freedom and economic emancipation of our people. So we find that our parents and grandparents are still working. I met a woman recently who at the age of 75 still works in the suburbs of Sandton. Her son “works for a large company here in Sandton” and lives on an estate in Midrand. She still works for her money and the survival of her grandchildren, travelling between Zola and Sandton daily.
But isn’t that the reason why Mamphela Ramphele must continue activism 50 years later? Why she must allegedly be punted to lead the official opposition? Isn’t that so many leaders continue work beyond 80 years of age?
The point is that those who struggled to put us where we are today, who helped give us freedom, and even education under almost impossible circumstances, continue to have to work and we aren’t showing much by way of taking over and letting them rest. We talk about “economic freedom for the masses in our lifetime”. The Constitution guarantees it. But we, the young people of vision, ideas and ideals, are not taking up the challenge nor acting.
We recognise the challenges of society. But as Margaret Thatcher once said, “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.”
In this sense, the social ills we speak of and lament so often are in our roots. They are here with us. It doesn’t require that we become politicians in ruling or opposition parties. It requires only that we do something with who we are, where we are. We all want to be seen to be something or doing something. But we are not doing it.
There will be no narrowing of the great economic divide if it is not occurring among us as individuals and as families. Transformation and change must happen wherever we may be through our own acts.
The words of Ghandi, unfortunately, apply to all of us, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
It’s not that we don’t see the big picture. It’s the small pictures we are betraying. DM
While we have your attention...
An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.
Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.
Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.
Xhanti Payi is a writer short of a few best selling books and a Nobel Prize. He works as an economist, researcher and advisor to various institutions. A staunch believer in clever blacks and would-be clever blacks short of opportunity. Proper pronunciation of the click is optional.
"We spend the first year of a child's life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There's something wrong there." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson