I am, among other things, a presenter of an overnight talk show on Talk Radio 702 and CapeTalk and the socio-economic realities of my listeners dominate the discourse on any given night. I suppose people want to express, and often vent, whatever feelings they may harbour about a country they all love for as many reasons as there are opinions. Perhaps more importantly, these expressions are about their expectations, hopes and desires for their current state but also for a future that many of them seem uncertain of.
So often the discussion is more of a whinge session which provides little or nothing by way of solutions. On some occasions, when the discussions become heated exchanges of a racial nature, or whichever polarising labelling is applicable at that given moment, this become most uncomfortable. On the few occasions that someone may propose a solution, more often than not it is a well-meaning, narrow-minded rendition of sentiment often based on some prejudice, ignoring the reality of the multiplicity of persuasions that make up our beautiful land. I suppose this is not too surprising given the history of division and isolation we come from; a history of apartness and otherness which inevitably created silos of perception as a result of little contact with others, thus cementing the false idea that “my ideas and those who think like me are the only ones which matter” – the unfortunate burden of myopic certainty. There are indeed lucid moments of engagement and they, as rare as they may be, they make it all worthwhile.
These conversations are reflective of the dominant issues in South African minds but also indicate the level at which we are willing to engage with these issues. The general tone is one of wanting to convert others to my way of thinking, an infantile one-upmanship and not one of a genuine desire to understand the reality of the other. And so there is more grandstanding, in most cases, than conversation or discussion. A strange sort of intellectual masturbation. Invariably this generates despair and hopelessness for a citizenry in desperate need of truly engaging and finding one another. Is it possible for South Africans to rise above this communication quagmire we so often find ourselves in? Is it possible to suspend our rabid belief in our self- imposed correctness and righteousness in order to find each other?
It was this unfortunate myopic world view that birthed the notion of “superior races” whose “moral obligation” was to, “civilise and educate the lesser peoples” of the earth, usually by brutal force and violence. This was the language of dominance and oppression, underpinned by the values of secrecy, exclusivity and inequality. It is this language that has created the precarious and violent civilisation we currently live in. Is it possible to create a new language for a new reality a new civilisation?
It was the expressed ideas (language) of Jahangir Khan that mobilised a force so great that it obliterated the different Mongolian tribes of the Far East and created the great monolith now known as China, thereby robbing the world of the unique, peculiar contributions to the development of civilisation those tribes could have made if they had been left to just be. We are constantly amazed by the rich insight into human spirituality expressed by the monks of Tibet, a people who have never bowed to mainland China’s dominance. Long may they live. We have seen how the language of colonialism gave impetus to the colonial masters of Europe who invaded, pillaged different continents in the name of their form of “civilisation”, destroying cultures, religions and the sanity of the aboriginal peoples of those lands. We have seen how the language of tribal dominance moved the armies of King Shaka creating a nation called the Zulu, absorbing and decimating other tribes such as the Hlubi, the Mthethwa, the Bathwa (Koi-san) and Basotho, annihilating and displacing others, wreaking untold havoc in Southern Africa at the time. We have witnessed the diabolical language of Hitler and his lust for world dominance. The language of Stalin, and his sins. The list is endless.
Each of these empires was inspired by the notion that it possessed the solution to all human woes and that it was its moral duty to bring the world into its “light”. Each turned that notion into a language through which it could spread its ideas. From this language an empire could organise the concepts emanating from this notion, inspire poetry, art and architecture, develop a theology and a belief system that invariably justified at a deep psychological level, dare I say at a spiritual level “the absolute and divine righteousness” of the idea of empire. The armies were a natural inevitability. These notions are further crystalised by customs, traditions and monuments built over time, giving them a “legitimacy” achieved only by longevity. This is true for all societies, whether it is the ancient Romans or the Zulu or the Boerevolk. They all have the same narrative, the same language of dominance. They have all in their wake left deep scars on the face of the earth and yet there remains a longing in the hearts and minds of many for a “greatness” associated with whichever “civilisation” one identifies most with. Even in the face of evidence pointing to their complicity in untold damage of other people and their way of life. South Africa’s conversation about various issues seems stuck in this unfortunate nostalgia.
So as we talk about South Africa and our various experiences within her borders, one can’t help but notice the nostalgia for a bygone “greatness”, a yearning for the days when “there was law and order”, when “children obeyed their parents and women knew their place”. I even hear sometimes of a past “when the white man had not come to our shores” and the “millennial” peace which Africans are said to have enjoyed. The nostalgia for the efficiencies of Apartheid, minus the brutal racism of that period. These sentiments are untrue and mischievous. Untrue because they are selective in their interpretation of history. Mischievous because they wish to perpetuate an idea that it was better then, than it is now. The truth is all periods in time have had times of prosperity, joy and relative peace, usually at the expense of another group that was experiencing the very opposite in order to sponsor the good times of the other. We, however, have the benefit of hindsight as we deliberate not only to identify where the mistakes of humanity have been made in the quest for civilisation, but to alter the hindsight that burdens us with a romantic but dangerous certainty – my way is the only way.
Perhaps as we embrace such values as transparency, equality and inclusivity we are, in fact, creating a new paradigm, a new worldview and therefore a new language. A language which, as we clumsily struggle to grasp the true, lived meaning of these values, will begin to create a new world. In the same way as the current reality was created by a language inspired by different values. Those of secrecy, exclusivity and inequality. Perhaps the whinging and often acrimonious discussions of the wee hours of the morning on radio and in publications such as this is, in fact, the birthing of this new language for a new reality. An opening up of a new consciousness that dares to believe that there is perhaps another way other than mine.
Perhaps we are realising that we can’t continue to move forward into a future while looking at the rear view mirror and that the discomforts of the South African conversation about issues such as race, gender, inequality and nature conservation are the literal formation of a new lexicon. A process we need to embrace with all the authenticity we can muster. Let’s keep talking SA. DM
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.
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