We’ve degenerated into a level of rot that has drunk it all…

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the country from Cape Town City Hall to deliver his unique Sona (State of the Nation Address) from a venue never before used in the entire history of South Africa. South. He provided much food for thought regarding what he called “the battle for the soul of this country”.

What is the soul of South Africa? This question is on contested ground. During the first blush of our democracy, it appeared that leaders of the caliber of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu were embracing the deepest elements of the national soul. The concepts of Ubuntu and reconciliation became essential spiritual notions that the country needed to pursue and embrace.

It is unfortunate that their bugle called for the spirit of a rainbow nation to flourish from the seeds of a spirit of reconciliation and that Ubuntu was largely faded or lost along the way. Greed, corruption and gross materialism have emerged in the rush for wealth and the abuse of power.

Concepts and issues around our national soul were tossed about and tossed about like the occasional confetti; seen, but not seriously considered for their underlying implications. Armchair theorists and bravado politicians, most of whom have never had a serious fight in their lives, use ‘Ubuntu’, ‘reconciliation’ and ‘decolonization’ as convenience terms to induce feelings of guilt rather than address the serious underlying challenges they each require. .

In the provocative cry for a return to African authenticity, the usual examples cited of changes that could be made are those of history; and then the examples dry up as the logic winds down because it would be too awkward to go any further. None of the protagonists wishes to give up their Gucci shoes, their luxury cars and a range of colonial luxuries and concepts introduced by the colonialists. All hot air is popcorn to the masses; some ideas even receive some applause, but the enduring lack of authenticity simply exposes the hypocrisy and superficiality of our national discourse.

I have been in the fight for freedom (not power) for over 45 years. I was part of a massively successful fight against pushbacks and pass laws and was involved in the various initiatives where blacks and whites stood side by side in solidarity for rights rights, a struggle in which Archbishop Tutu played a key role.

What was significant were the thousands of women who emerged at key moments demonstrating their monumental spirit by embodying Ubuntu.

In one significant case, they approached the white policemen who held them in bondage in the infamous “Nameless Camp”, with beautiful songs and encouragement to let them go free to join their husbands. This demonstrable Ubuntu worked to the point where police officers began to question their own role and apartheid-inspired behavior. So much so that many of them burst into tears and then broke ranks. They returned home – the role of holding innocent women and children hostage when their only cry was the right to live as a family – was not their calling.

Likewise, Professor Nico Smit was pushed to stand up and not just speak out against apartheid, but demonstrate his Ubuntu spirit by resigning from his cushy job at the University of Stellenbosch and taking on a humble role as a pastor. ordinary in Mamelodi in solidarity with the blacks. to struggle against. He lived out his days in Mamelodi serving his congregation.

It would be difficult for me to name a current leader who would take such a decisive step in his life. Some claim he had a guilt problem that he needed to deal with. This suggestion misses the point, because he could have approached guilt in so many different ways, within his own university where he had influence. Instead, he chose to live among the poor.

The embodiment of Ubuntu in so many of our black communities influenced so many whites during those heady days of the struggle against apartheid. It has unfortunately degenerated into a smelly cesspool of greed, rights, animosity, racism, massive corruption and abuse on a scale never seen before.

The spirit generated by our late Arch and Mandela was to set a future tone where the holders and embodiment of Ubuntu would continue to exemplify their legacy and those wonderful everyday women of our Struggle. It was the platform to continuously build a path for all in a spirit that would help for years to come to create a future for the country, united in its diversity, as envisioned in the concept of a rainbow nation. sky.

The adoption of Ubuntu largely depends on the teaching of this spirit by those who manifest it in their lives — just as it is with Christianity and other religions.

I remember all too well when I invited church communities in the EU to send their young people to South Africa to get away from endemic materialism and absorb the spirit of Ubuntu into our African communities. Teams arrived every year and stayed for a year, many of them living in rural communities and even in shacks. Twenty years later, with over 100 centers established in rural communities as a result, we have seen the fruits of these young people. They came as an adventure and left with lasting impressions and shifts in perceptions and behavior with lasting relationships that continue to this day.

Passing on the spirit of Ubuntu is hard work – it gives insight into what leaders like Archbishop Tutu and Mandela had to endure. Their amazing example is what has encouraged many foreigners, whites and a large base of South Africans to adopt Ubuntu.

Let’s face it: what challenges do we face to live up to the legacy of our icons? In fact, we seem to have degenerated into a level of rot with such a stench that all good citizens find distasteful. The stench obliterates any idea of ​​Ubuntu. All we hear are the cries of the poor at all levels in the face of daily manifestations of anti-Ubuntu behavior at all service levels.

Our hospitals, schools, municipalities and police departments are some of the institutions where the poor experience nightmarish quality service daily. We experience the shameful behavior of many of our politicians with words that scream in all our media, often tinged with racism. Comments like “I have not struggled to be poor” and “Our time has come to eat”, “Kill the Boers”, are indicative of an attitude and a spirit which have permeated our whole society and corrupted our youth.

Is this the wonderful Ubuntu that our Rainbow Nation, our youth and all others are meant to learn and embrace?

This is not what we expected from our struggle – this is not what our Ark and other leaders have struggled to achieve. From our new dispensation, we expected something very different from our colonial past. It’s no wonder you hear insane comments like “life under apartheid was better – so you knew what to expect”.

The poor again bear the brunt of suffering. Go to any institution of service and experience what the poor go through. We must fear for our young people, they are our future. Two-thirds of them are currently unemployed.

The cancer of corruption, much like Covid, has taken hold with such deep roots that it is now engulfing the whole country, so much so that many of the main aspirations of our young people are to find ways to get rich quick, knowing right means or wrong doesn’t matter as we are anti-corruption free functional.

The Zumas, so many politicians and their offspring, and so many thousands of other kleptocrats have demonstrated the practical way to success with their mansions, fast cars, lavish braais and offshore accounts. All were carried out with complete impunity, accompanied by praise and applause in some circles.

So many of our communities have degenerated into frenzied violence – make a quick buck selling land illegally, join gangs or mafia-style extortion operations, and even sell drugs and sell their neighbors’ children with the good cooperation of certain corrupt elements within the framework of the law put into force.

Our communities have turned into a living hell of fear where women and children are the targets of all types of acts of violence. Xenophobia increases exponentially as jobs become scarce. It is not reconciliation; this is not Ubuntu in action.

What is clear is that the spirit of Ubuntu has largely died out with a few exceptions, such as the wonderful response to the July 2021 violence in KwaZulu-Natal.

I fear that the way now is the struggle to rediscover Ubuntu. It is everyone’s responsibility, not just one sector. Those who claim ownership of Ubuntu have an even greater responsibility.

The challenge is for all of us to grow and rediscover Ubuntu through faithful and faithful implementation of the values ​​of our Constitution — “the best in the world” according to the President. An honest and pragmatic meritocracy must rise from the ashes of our Parliament consumed by fire. This is possible by farming Ubuntu. DM


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Steven L. Nielsen