A sensible place to start our spring clean-up is with our anger management. Underneath our sunny skies and often child-like optimism there is much anger. In many ways Africa is an angry continent. There is anger at past hurts and anger at the promise of new beginnings that haven’t materialised. There is anger at injustice and at leaders who are unfair. There is overwhelming anger at unfair labour practices and leaders who exploit their people. There is a rising tide of youth anger. It is an anger of not seeing a future, of being trodden upon by those who could make their lives better and who could create a meaningful start for them into adulthood.
What do we do with all this anger? We come at it with violence and destruction. When the youth are angry about education they burn schools. When they are dissatisfied with transport they burn buses and trains. When workers are angry about unemployment or poor compensation they bring pangas and knobkerries. When Africa gets angry the first reaction is to fight and to burn and to murder those they think are responsible.
In the dissatisfied Northern Cape this last week, municipal buildings and vehicles were torched. Houses and cars of two mayors were set alight. A mobile library in Cassel and a municipal library were burned down.
Perceived injustice between ethnic groups or tribal factions can result in rape, murder and maiming of innocent people, especially children. The trouble is that it does nothing to convince those who could make things better. It simply strengthens their resolve to counter the anger with more police and tougher controls.
We can’t resolve anger by snapping our fingers and making it go away, but we can decide to manage it in a way that enables us to resolve the issues that created the anger in the first place. In the slashing and burning response the people who are hurt most are the slashers and the burners themselves. Violence begets more violence and feeds on itself if a decision is not made to stop it.
This is not just an African problem. Anger causes riots and violence on every continent. Around the world, the anger that drives domestic violence continues. Women are beaten up and raped because men are angry for having their manhood and traditional claim on authority thwarted by poverty and abusive circumstances in employment.
So while we are cleaning up, how do we address the greed and corruption that comes from excessive materialism? Could we not do ourselves and our children the favour of talking about what really matters in life? What happened to kindness and sharing and “Ubuntu”? Just look on any day – especially holidays or rainy days – how everyone flocks to the shopping malls, our new places of worship. We know how to consume and to let our lives be governed by the power of the brands and the ever-growing need to have more. It is to live the good life and to let it show. The Minister of Communication, a civil servant, Dina Pule has to strut her stuff and show off her red-soled R10,000 Christian Louboutin shoes at the ICT Indaba. How can we find a sound value system when these people, employed by the government to serve their constituencies will sacrifice any reasonable constraint to live like movie stars?
It’s not the government or business that must fix this. It is parents, the people who set the example and who can talk to the next generation about values. Parents must start cleaning up. It is often they who want to have everything better and bigger and set up the consumer competitiveness of their children.
We should also clean up on the blame game. We have become great at solving problems by identifying the guilty party and assigning the blame. We are good at blaming. People like Angie Motshega and Nathi Mthethwa, among others, have come in for much of this, but when the blood-sport of blaming was done we let go of the issue. Then we think the problem is solved. Holding people accountable is right, but then they have to move on and solve the cause of the problem
And wouldn’t it be good if we used this spring cleaning to focus properly on the environment and sustainability in our lives? We’re getting there with our solar heating panels and hand-wringing about acid in the water, but we still pollute and throw away litter out of cars and taxis. Look around the parks and green picnic spots on a Monday morning and see how many empty bottles and how much plastic rubbish is left strewn around from the weekend. But this is the tip of the iceberg. The real sustainability is about poverty and food security and the water to maintain life.
Cleaning up the environment is one thing, but cleaning up our polluted values and our dysfunctional reactions to problems will take us much further. DM