Defend Truth


Siya Kolisi and the National Question


Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic and public servant. He writes in his personal capacity.

Kolisi and Mapimpi are living examples of how taking full responsibility of your life to fulfil your dream can give you and the nation happiness, no matter how fleeting it may be. It does not mean indifference to black suffering and misery in the face of a ruthless capitalist economic system.

Now that Siya Kolisi is the first black Springbok captain to lift the Webb Ellis trophy in almost 130 years, political cynics, detractors and pseudo-radicals dismiss this as meaningless.

They insist that this euphoria does nothing to return the land nor bring about economic equality.

No doubt the question of land dispossession and economic injustice continues to haunt South Africa 25 years into freedom and democracy. There was a time when fighting for the land was both exciting and tempting. Almost every politically conscious young person desired to go pick up arms in the name of Struggle.

Long before the 1976 upheavals, there were countless young men and women who sacrificed personal ambitions to fight for the land.

They filled the ranks by joining Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army, among others.

Yes, there was a time when carrying guns and planting bombs in restaurants was considered worthwhile as opposed to chasing rugby, soccer balls in the field or becoming rich and famous. But not any more.

Young black men are tired and exhausted of the Struggle and just want to live, work, play and laugh.

Frankly, they now desire to make the best of the bad, to live their lives, work, raise a family and retire at 55.

Even if they want to contribute to the struggle of Andile Mngxitama or Julius Malema, the desire dissipates because all that they have witnessed and experienced is nothing but empty promises and betrayal.

Siya Kolisi and Makazole Mapimpi have spoken openly and honestly about how they grew up in poverty, unemployment, hunger, degradation and dehumanising circumstances.

In all their utterances, there was no mention of the Struggle in the political sense.

These are young men who have not yet reached 30 years. They were born when Nelson Mandela and the Rivonia Trialists were free and the liberation movement was unbanned.

The dawn of freedom and democracy should have flung open the gates of opportunity to make it easier for them to fulfil their ambitions. Their schools and communities should have provided the facilities and infrastructure for them to fulfil their dreams.

But they soon had to confront the reality that “black man, you are on your own” to make of your life what you will.

They had, at an early age, to learn to break out of poverty and hopelessness through sheer self-determination and whatever little help they could get from friends and caring individuals.

For decades, from a young age, young black boys were turned into men and Struggle foot soldiers. They were blackmailed to think that the return of the land and introduction of economic equality are a prerequisite for personal fulfilment, joy and happiness.

Those that did not fall for this political gimmick were criticised and condemned by armchair intellectuals and fake politicians that live and enjoy life to the full while talking too much about land dispossession and economic justice.

Over the last few years, the land issue has found a way to be part of social conversation and petty bickering. The politically sober fully understand why. South Africa is the most unequal society on earth.

Of course, it can be argued, this is directly tied to land dispossession. But to dismiss Kolisi’s historic victory as meaningless to political advancement and transformation is disingenuous.

Perhaps we may have to ask our psychologists to explore the scientific link, if any, between individual fulfilment, personal happiness and the return of the land.

Political tricks are played on how young black men must give up their dreams, aspirations, hopes and, above all, happiness and joy to fight for or prioritise the land issue above personal interest.

This issue is now being used to manipulate courageous young men and dampen national spirits by underplaying the impact of the Kolisi victory.

But Kolisi and a few of his black peers have worked hard to achieve the best they can under the most difficult circumstances.

No doubt, the issue of land dispossession and economic inequality remains central to the ultimate resolution of the national question. However, it would seem these issues are increasingly fading as effective political drugs or tools to hypnotise and attract young black men to the Struggle.

What needs to be understood is that the life of political leaders, public servants and corporate professionals has made it clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with striving for immediate rewards, including money and happiness.

Politicians, public servants and corporate super-achievers have not been required to delay gratification until the land has been restored.

This is a class whose lives make the statement that it is possible, nay, preferable, to enjoy life and, above all, be happy even if the land has not yet been returned.

Their attitude has been Ses’fikile – we have arrived. Radical politics and pursuing the interests of the people can wait.

It is really unfair and unreasonable to expect a black captain bringing the World Rugby Cup back to South Africa to be burdened with the political responsibility of (fighting for) the return of the land.

That is not his mission nor part of his key performance assessment.

Kolisi and Mapimpi are living examples of how taking full responsibility of your life to fulfil your dream can give you and the nation happiness, no matter how fleeting it may be. It does not mean indifference to black suffering and misery in the face of a ruthless capitalist economic system.

In fact, it only holds the promise that if South Africans work together towards a common vision they can, ultimately, build a just and equal society.

The greatest lesson offered by Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis cup is that everything that we achieve or fail to achieve is a direct result of what we choose to do or not to do in our little corners.

As a nation, we all have to play our part wherever we are and in whatever we do.

Yes, the land has not been distributed among all who live and work in it. This is simply because people delegated with that responsibility have failed to do what they have been delegated to do. Or they are moving far too slowly.

They keep on holding commissions, appointing panels, hosting seminars and conferences and releasing reports.

There is nothing wrong with consultation and engagement but now the people demand to see results.

Maybe gaining access to land and economic justice means that future Kolisis and Mapipis will be able to do what they were born to do: focus on personal fulfilment to be happy and thus contribute to happy nation-building.

But lifting the Ellis Webb Cup shows that in order to fulfil your dream to be happy, it may not matter whether you come from a large farm or a township matchbox.

What is important is where you want to go and the work you willing to do to achieve that.

It is up to the politicians and those that monopolise the land to speed up the process of land distribution and building a just and equal society.

Dismissing and criticising a black captain for winning the World Rugby Cup is just not helpful.

Sports provides an inspirational example of how setting goals, working as a team and sharing a common vision can turn a nation into victors. The same principles can be applied to the issue of the land and economic justice.

We commend and celebrate with Siya Kolisi and his team for lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.

The purpose of life is to do the best you can with what you have to create a happy life and inspire others.

Siya Kolisi has fulfilled his historical mission. DM


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