South Africa: It’s time we got our act together!

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Despite twenty-four years of democracy, we need to admit that South Africa is still largely a segregated society BUT we can still fulfil the Rainbow Nation promise.

Lately, whenever I open my social newsfeeds or read the news, I see one group of South Africans having a dig at another. The tone is often subtle at first then swiftly blatant and it’s palpable in that it’s felt as much as it’s heard. We sway from one divisive issue to another thinking that we standing up for “our side” but instead, we are just perpetuating the disunity.

And so, I have a simple message to all South Africans: Unless you’re planning on leaving the country soon, it isn’t in your best interest to antagonise each other. For us to truly move forward as a nation, we need take some time to understand the world from each other’s perspective. Everything else is treating the symptom rather than the cause.

THAT’S WHAT THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT!

I believe the real underlying issue is that South Africans don’t really understand each other or the ramifications of our treacherous past that are still affecting us all today. We tend to mix with other races but only at surface level because we are just so different from one another.

We all know about Apartheid but its true effects are lost on many because its history has only ever been taught to us from a one-sided perspective. For decades, South African culture was formed around segregation, so it only makes sense that we learn about the past from those that are like us.

There are definitely people who are trying to make the effort to understand life from the opposite side but they are the minority which is what’s biting us on the arse.

The latest emotionally-charged topic ripping the nation apart is land expropriation without compensation. It includes phrases like “all you whites…” or “you black people…” and this language immediately fires each side up to dig their heals in the sand and defend.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

It’s simple really. Do we want peace or distress? Because the small decisions we make every day pushes us toward one or the other. Peace can only come about when we stop for a second and see things from the other side instead of immediately getting our defence in order.

MY VERSION OF OUR RECENT HISTORY!

In the early 90’s, South Africa finally agreed that Apartheid had to come to an end. Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and we were told that the first ever democratic elections were to be held in 1994. Score.

As you can imagine, this was such a radical change from before that the masses got really excited and welcomed the much necessary change. When I say masses, I mean everyone except us white people… I was rather young but I remember most white folk shitting themselves which is largely why Australia gained a whole load of white South African immigrants around 1994.

None the less, most white people had no choice but to stay and to our surprise, we survived because we basically said “sorry okes, what we did wasn’t cool, also please don’t kill us” and miraculously, black people didn’t slaughter us the second they came into power. Nelson Mandela labelled us the “Rainbow Nation”, we believed him, and the world remarked how incredible we all were to be able to overcome this massive transition. Double score.

But looking back, I think we all missed an incredible chance to secure a unified future at the time because we didn’t include implement the necessary systems to make sure the entire country gained a deep understanding of what Apartheid did to the psychology of our nation.

To make matters even “worse”, we won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and the African Cup of Nations in 1996 further leading us to think that we were on course to truly live in harmony with each other without doing much other than believing it would happen.

SOUTH AFRICA CAN LEARN A LOT FROM GERMANY!

Today, Germany has one of the strongest economies in the world which is quite incredible when you consider the state they were in when Hitler was defeated by the Allies. After the defeat of the Nazis, their situation was so dire that nothing short of a miracle could have saved the country. It was also one of the most unprecedented situations in world history; no cities have been through anything quite like Germany after World War 2.

In other words, Germany was economically wounded but even worse, they were psychologically bruised. Their people were brainwashed by the Nazis into believing that everything was going just fine in the Fatherland all the while being taught to despise the Jews. Sound familiar?

The point I’m trying to make is that hope is not a strategy. To this day, the Nazi past is treated as a history lesson. Germans are taught at the age of ten about the Nazi atrocities on an ongoing basis and every student is required to visit a concentration camp. The consequences of past decisions are drilled into young Germans.

The German federal Government’s educational-monitoring agency urges that the Nazis be subject to an “intensive and thorough treatment” in schools and that “the memory of the Holocaust is kept alive.” It is part of the attempt by a postwar generation to explain why the past must not repeat itself to those who will one day run Europe’s economic and political powerhouse. This process has helped the majority of Germans understand the true ramifications of their past actions and has had a healing effect on the nation.

As a white South African, it has taken me a long time to understand what really happened and that understanding came from effort I made personally. This is why I say we missed the boat back in 1994 because we put a plaster on a broken bone and twenty-four years later, we can’t seem to understand why there is so much racial tension in our country.

THE OTHER TRICK WE MISSED!

One of the major reasons white people (being the minority) were able to rule South Africa for so long is because we had exclusive access to the best education systems in the country. In other words, we acquired skills that made us really valuable and we passed these skills down the generations while the Apartheid system made sure everyone else had access to subpar education which also had its trickle down effects.

If by wave of a magic wand, I was the man who became president in 1994, I would have made sure that education became the absolute priority of the nation above all else. Education is the only sustainable liberator; not BEE or affirmative action (these can help in the short term). Our goal back then should have been to help previously disadvantaged communities gain vital skills so that they could add to the economy in a meaningful way. I would have spent more money on this than anything else.

Instead, we did the total opposite. Today, we have an education system that is so woefully inadequate and archaic. We have lowered the pass rates across the board which has resulted in white people sending their kids to private schools. This further widens the inequality levels because the majority of South Africans can’t afford this level of education. As a result, the Apartheid system may have been abolished in 1994 but its structures were left in tact and remain still.

With lack of education comes lack of equality which breeds contempt and resentment. We will continue to pay for this dearly if we don’t fix it soon.

IT’S TIME FOR US TO GET OUR SHIT TOGETHER!

This can only happen when we actually take the time to understand each other. Not just today but even how something that technically ended twenty-four years ago still has a bearing on most of this country today. Empathy is everything!

I read a fascinating status update by a friend of mine named Malusi Cwele the other day which I think all South Africans need to take heed of:

“When we ignore the needs of the majority of people who are mostly poor, violence ensues. The elite of all races and ethnicity must return the land and reigns of capital to the majority, so that all people can have equitable access to our abundant resources. We are the most unequal country in the world – something has to change. We can’t ignore the reality of the poor, as they grow impatient.

Politicians and our political system have failed us as citizens. The ANC, DA and EFF have failed us, by continuing to negotiate people’s dignity. The private sector is rampant with corruption, yet we ignore the reality of business today – a systematic rot in the global system, fueled by greed. Refuse to be complacent in your corner. Don’t be told not to have a view on land because it’s uncomfortable. Hold your leaders at work and in government accountable.

The time for talking is nearing its end, we as a society need action and change. To be pro-poor doesn’t mean being anti-rich. To be pro-land redistribution doesn’t mean being anti-white. To be pro-change doesn’t mean being communist. Change will happen, let’s make sure to avoid the murder of the innocent.”

ONE LAST THING…

Most South Africans alive today are not part of the generation that created the Apartheid system but we can’t just ignore it, or tell those who suffered from it, that “it’s been twenty-four years so just get over it”. In fact, quite the opposite. We should be doing everything we can now to rectify the problem and to be part of the solution because the outcome impacts us all.

  • We can heal this nation if we made it our priority to understand the true nature of our history and how it still impacts us all today!
  • We can heal this nation if we all did our bit to fix education because that’s the only sustainable way we can create growth and prosperity.
  • We can heal this nation if we all become active citizens instead of waiting for government to do the work for us.

This is the South Africa I believe in. The South Africa I think about every day. The South Africa I long for. I will do everything I can to help heal our nation. Will you?

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Mark is an entrepreneur, writer and speaker. He is the founder and CEO of Suits & Sneakers and also founder of the Impello incubation hub. Mark loves to travel the world and is hell bent on disrupting education for people of all ages.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Hey Mark great insight on these critical issues threatening our democracy and I wish more people can be exposed to these facts of life and start acting differently .
    Great article and thank you for for challenging us on another way of thinking !

  2. This article needs an article just for a reply…
    “We can heal this nation if”
    What follows that “IF” is crucial. If we get our Shit together, if we grow up and start behaving like adults, if we TAKE RESPONSIBILITY etc… These are big “IF’s” Lets turn these IF’s into “WHEN’s”.
    Stop waiting for government to solve the problems which we as a people created. We let the suppressors suppress and we let the greedy and corrupt run unattended, no wonder we are sitting in this position.
    Education is Key, the question is: What will we teach and who will learn?
    Stop teaching what is irrelevant and meaningless and start teaching what is important and applicable.
    School is designed so that you test well, not live well. School teaches what can be tested, like dates and facts, but not what is needed like how to love each other, how relationships work and how to ethically make money and contribute to society.
    Not everything that can be counted, counts and not everything that counts can be counted.
    The message behind this article is whats important. Do not look for where this does not agree with our point of view, but rather stand up and ask:
    How can I get behind this?
    How can I be part of the solution?
    How can I get my shit together to help others get their shit together, to make this a better country and planet to live on?
    South Africa is not “the most unequal country in the world”. This is what fuels violence and “the murder of the innocent. This is just more whining and making excuses to not stand up and stop the bull shit. This is as true as saying that the whole world can fit into Africa. South Africa is beautiful and it can be made great and that is what I can get behind. The only time colour and inequality play a role is when you see colour and inequality. Why not only see people and opportunity. Perhaps if we turned the same energy that we use to fight each other into the energy to love each other, This would be a different Country.

    • Great article and Great response Andrew! I like that everyone is on a similar page. As an entrepreneur I feel that the BEE and dare I say reversal of colour has affected my business to a very large extent. but I havent used that as an excuse to fail, but rather a reason to succeed. Education is the key. jobs are important. dignity is respect and all deserve it. I had nothing to do with apartheid but get judged on it, not fair but means nothing to me as I want to succeed and provide for my family. I have come up with many solutions to assist with education, job creation – entrepreneurship programs as well and many other do able business ventures. I will keep pursuing these as there is opportunity in this beautiful country. I actually have my lawyer looking into a large scale crowd funding mechanism that will allow us to assist the police through acquisitions of security companies and intensive training. To create business opportunities while bringing dignity to areas, this will be a employment opportunity with training courses and at the end of the period the entrepreneur will have a thriving business in which he/she could invest in more and create jobs and pay vat and taxes which does a full turn. we have created an intelligent school module App that can basically teach any subject to any grade anywhere in the country. this can assist university level right down to basic reading. I feel by crowd funding we will take 1 million people at R100 per month and grow that money to a point where we can actually offer returns. We can lead by example with 100% transparency and hopefully show our politicians what a public servant actually is. In this country we have two different types of nature, those who want to see SA burn and those who want to see it thrive. there are far more people who would like to see this country excel. those are the people I want to inspire. no race, colour, gender. we are all equals and the only way we can all succeed is if we all work together.

  3. So the concept is to understsnd each other, and then predictably it is only whites who have to do the understanding. Anyone who says that whites were “miraculously not slaughtered the minute Mandela came to power” is trading in malign revisionism

  4. The DA haven’t failed us-Mashaba and Trollip????The ANC has failed us.And yes the public school system is important and the government controls that.

  5. It is so obvious that you are young and like most only look at black/white inequalities and blames apartheid. Our history goes much further. Segregation started with the invation of SA by England for gold and diamonds. They created 1st, 2nd and 3rd class and started segregation way back in 1900. All children were FORCED to go to school in English even though the language was foreign. Farms were burnt and white and black women and children put into concentration camps where thousands died. These were the first concentration camps. Afrikaans schools were demolished. Boers started their own little schools on farms to educate their remaining children and thus Afrikaans schools and universities were established. NOT BY GOVERNMENT. In 1948 the English were voted out of government and Natonalists inherited segregation as eastablished by England. However different black tribes could not even live in peace and Apartheid laws only came in 1961 not meant to separate black and white but rather different cultures Not all whites agreed. I certainly did not. All races had a shortage of teachers but in the 60’s most people who chose to become teachers were Afrikaans. English children rarely chose the profession and there were very few black teachers although they could attend universities (English in Jhb and Cape Town) and in own language in homelands. Educated blacks did not go to teach in their own communities. I worked in a school for black children and could not persuade a black therapist to join me in a rural area. They only wanted to work in cities. It was sad. Schools and universities in many areas built by government were burnt down. Many black Children chose NOT to go to school and parents took them from school as soon as they could read because education was not compulsory and there were just not enough teachers. We were ALL poor after the Anglo- Boer war. Afrikaners had just burnt down farms. Our grandparents had to start from NOTHING but built our own education system In SPITE OF English oppression. I never received help or grants or a house from any government. When students we were so poor we shared clothes, books, jewellery, hair dryers…..That was in the 60,s. But we did not kill English people in the country and did not blame every failure on the war that killed a large percentage of women and children. I always admired the different black colourful cultures and I was sad to see them discarding their own home languages, their cultural heritage, colourful traditional clothing and housing structures. Ndebele houses were unique and beautiful. Xhosa huts were warm and cosy. I sat for hours with Xhosa children listening to old Xhosa men telling us stories ( in Afr). There were never hate speech in the 50’s as we hear now. We all played and worked together and learned from one another. I could sing Nkosi Sikelela when I was only 10. I taught our black playmates reading etc. We respected each other. Black and white did not hate each other and called each other names. Politicians on both sides created the dilemma of the present and mostly for their own gain . It is time that people recognize that together we are the strongest nation THAT SURVIVED TOGETHER for 4 centuries. Why do we tear apart because of radical politicians who deliver hate speeches and ignorant individuals who know
    NOTHING about our true history and post hateful messages on social media? Wake up. A country is not made up by politicians but people who all want a better life for their families.
    This country belongs to people born here. The only indigenous Khoi an d San intermarried with Dutch and German Men who came Just to plant food for ships and there we had the start of most Afrikaners ( white and coloured) Blacks migrated from North Africa to the South until they eventually met the Boers moving North (away from the English who invaded the Cape). Nobody owned South Africa.Together we made it a country. Do we need to break it down so everybody fails? Do some research and stop listening to what you are fed. I lived through most of the past political desert and more lies than truth are told. Apartheid which only means ‘being separate’ is but a drop in the big dam of a long sad history. By blaming others for poverty and grabbing what they have will not make you rich. It is only when you work and only have children if you can feed them and provide for them that poverty will vanish. In the end we are resposible for our own destiny

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