Opinionista Oscar Van Heerden 18 September 2019

Don’t just sit there and whinge – do something

If what we want is a good society, then it has to be all hands on deck — we can’t be bystanders.

Being in a contemplative mood after great interaction with friends at Spier wine estate these last few days, it struck me that we place a premium on government getting it right and making sure that effective leadership and service delivery take place. Nothing inherently wrong with that, I hear some of you say. However, when discussing this with various people, I get the sense that some think government has the panacea for all our problems. I cannot disagree more with that sentiment.

One of the readings interrogated in this regard was a short piece by Mary Oliver, What I Have Learned So Far. It goes as follows:

Meditation is old and honourable, so why should I

not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,

looking into the shining world? Because, properly

attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.

Can one be passionate about the just, the

ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit

to no labour in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a

story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.

Though buds towards radiance. The gospel of

light is the crossroads of – indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

A clarion call towards active citizenry, in my opinion. Yes, we can point at government, yes we can blame President Cyril Ramaphosa for his inaction, but what, if anything, are you doing about curbing violence against women? What, if anything, are you doing about curbing crime and gang-related violence on the Cape Flats and elsewhere? And what, if anything, are you doing about xenophobia and the associated violence?

It seems to me that we as a people require a bit of a mind shift and need to ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country, as JF Kennedy asked so many moons ago.

Another short reading, called A Zen Parable:

Buddha told a parable in a sutra:

A man travelling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him.

Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little, started to gnaw away at the vine.

The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other.

How sweet it tasted!

I am the first to admit that life can be for many a very difficult proposition. Poverty, inequality and unemployment are very real challenges for most in South Africa, but we must still be able to see the luscious strawberries around us. We cannot lose hope. Surely, pessimism and despondency cannot be the only lens through which we look at our challenges in South Africa? What indeed are the strawberries in your life?

And while you contemplate this question, remember that the process of reclaiming the state is underway, though there are many voices from all quarters shouting that the president and his executive must act and act fast on the triple challenges mentioned above. As a learned colleague stated recently, confidence is low, growth sluggish and emigration high. All true.

Much has, however, changed over the last 18 months, as I have written about before, and yes, much more remains to be done, but as the government wheels turn slowly, what of you?

Are you still vacillating as to your role in our society? Or, as Mary Oliver asks, are you ready to become an active citizen and actively participate in the very huge challenge of getting our country back on the right track?

I conclude with Antonio Machado:

Traveller there is no path/The path is made by walking…”

So, let’s define our path, good people. DM


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