Attending conferences provides me, an introvert, with opportunities to grow. By nature, I would prefer to sit in my room, or to be alone in the dining room. I choose not to do so. If I do, I know I will be the only one to blame for missed opportunities. So, I choose to sit with strangers and get to know their stories. During free time, I force myself to leave the hotel and walk around. I choose to deliberately take the back roads, not the main routes, because this is where the locals hang out. Surprise follows, discoveries are made and I get to practise my limited Italian (this time) with people who call this place home.
During meals, I have come to get to know people from the UK, Estonia, Belgium (with whom I speak Afrikaans much to all of our enjoyment), France, Germany, the Netherlands (they prefer to communicate in English) and other parts of the world. When they hear where I come from, interesting questions emerge. They mainly want to know two things. First, how Desmond Tutu is doing, and second, about Nkandla and whether South Africa is following failed African states into the abyss of corruption, nepotism and self-destruction. Needless to say, no-one has a kind word to say about the current South African political leadership. How do I respond? Regarding the Arch, I comment that politicians love him when they agree with him and sideline him when they don't agree with him. He might be getting on in years, but he is not afraid to speak truth to power. Regarding the leadership, I remind them that we are a democracy. Yes, our leaders may be questionable, but the real problem is that in South Africa, we are quite good at transferring blame. We blame politicians for corruption, maladministration and poor service. We blame past political forces for lack of progress and while all this appropriation carries some weight, I do not think that this is honest.
In my view, we have, for some unbeknown reason, chosen to place our hope in politicians. We wait for a messiah who is not only popular, but who has a proper manifesto and will lead our country forward. In my view, it is a misplaced hope. Even though the different political parties promise to fill this hopeful void, we repressively know that politicians have lost touch with their constituency. They won't fix the problems, not as long as they live in comfortable houses, drive fancy cars and live life which carries no resemblance to the lives of those whom they court for votes. Yet, they are not the real problem in South Africa.
The problem, in my view is not them, but us, the citizens. Who are the officials and clerks who work in government offices, taking bribes to expedite services? They are us, not politicians. Who are the companies who provide substandard contract work? They consist of us, not politicians. Who prefers to sleep on the job and not fulfill their responsibilities with a strong work ethic and personal drive to advance South African society? Us, and okay, politicians. Of course this is a generalization, but the fact remains, we can try and blame systems, policies, politicians, Apartheid, affirmative action, but unless there is a general change of heart and an attitude to go along with promoting well-being for all, I fear no election will produce the change we would like to see, no matter who wins. As the saying goes: "Be the change you want to see". Participatory democracy means that we elect leaders to positions, governed by a constitution that belongs to all of us, and which comes from all of us. Second, we all have to pull our weight to do our best to advance society. Third, we hold each other accountable through elections, properly regulated tendering processes, just policies, accountability and pride. Sadly, we are far from this.
Truth be spoken, we lack this because we simply don't trust each other. We don't trust politicians, we don't trust political parties, we don't trust the legal system or the police, and trust is even in question along racial lines. Politicians don't trust the people, labour does not trust unions, employees don't trust employers, learners don't trust teachers and the list goes on. We too easily pass blame to everyone else, except to take an honest look at ourselves. So, we can't just blame president Zuma for the difficulties in South Africa. As a nation, we put him in this position of power - that is the nature of the vote.
I then proceed to tell these friends that I have great hope for South Africa as we see a new generation of people who are willing to get on with the job, who will not vote out of sentiment or historic affiliation. There is a breath of fresh entrepreneurialism, open-mindedness to explore possibilities with partners with passion, experience and most of all, strong moral convictions. There is a wave of people who strive for a non-sexist and non-racial society. These are people who will not stand by idly while shortsighted, hedonistic vacuum cleaners suck South Africa dry while it lasts. Enough is enough.
I look forward to my opportunity to vote on Wednesday. I don't know who I will vote for, but I know who I will not vote for (excuse the double negative). I will vote strategically to make sure that politicians have to earn their keep and argue well to pass bills and not simply depend on the weight of a caucus (and caucuses have significantly increased in weight since 1994).
I hope to see in South Africa what I have seen in different parts of the world - a people who collectively own and who are proud to be associated with their country, who stand together and who will live with the same passion as Tata Madiba, O.R. Tambo and the Arch to just get things on track.