Thursday, November 6, 2008

The world as we know it is coming to an end

The world as we know it is coming to an end. Barack Obama has taken over the White House. Global capitalism is facing the worst crisis in its history. Millions across the world face losing their jobs. A young man who by his own admission has trained at the feet of Nelson Mandela has been propelled onto the center stage.

Few expect that he will be able to effect great change immediately. The constraints of the American economic and political system will limit him in the same way as it has always limited others before him.

His election however does bring with it a strong message of hope at a time when the world most desperately needs it. For the past eight years, the international reputation of the United States has steadily declined. Obama's election signals that ordinary people can make a difference when they exercise their democratic vote. It also moves issues of race and racism onto another level. No longer will people of colour have to submit to the prejudice that they are inferior. No longer will they in turn be able to pigeon-hole all white people.

Not only does Obama epitomise the fusion of black and white, he also brings into the equation an Arab- Muslim dimension that potentially could help subside present-day hostilities. His name Barack derives from the Arabic word baraka which means blessings.

His refreshing and easy connection with millions of people in his country and across the world paves the way for a symbiotic relationship which may just release fresh energies of ordinary people as the world struggles to deal with a crisis of unprecedented proportions.

We in South Africa are so insular that we spend a great deal of time bemoaning our fate rather than carefully examining our strengths and weaknesses. The United States has lived through at least eight years of terribly poor leadership but has come back fighting for the ideals envisioned by their founding fathers. Obama's election creates the kind of space in the world for those with fresh ideas to come forward without fear.

His election is also an indication that citizens want their leaders to lift them beyond themselves. They want their leaders to provide a moral compass and create a context within which they can help create a decent and respectful life.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the East-West divide, the world has endured a period of unfettered change that has left greater poverty and spiritual dislocation.

In South Africa, our Obama stepped into our lives during this time. Not only did Nelson Mandela lift us beyond ourselves, he also inspired Obama and countless others around the world. Strangely we seem to have forgotten that we have been blessed with a legacy of great leaders – Luthuli, Smuts, Tambo, Sobukwe. Mandela who took this legacy to its greatest heights is 90 years old this year and perhaps not too long away from leaving us. Either we recognise that this legacy has today been championed by one of the most important countries in the world or we miss this moment and tie ourselves up in internecine warfare.

The weekend's national convention in Sandton contains within it the possibilities of both paths. It is too early to say which path will dominate. It depends on how those who were part of the national convention conduct themselves over the next few months. It also depends on how creatively the ANC responds to this unexpected upheaval. The world as we know it is coming to an end.

Old ways of dealing with this new situation is not going to advance the quality of life much. Terror Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa as well as the existing opposition parties will have to realise that they too can be left behind by the groundswell of change that is taking place. They may garner 15 to 20% of the vote next year and secure seats in parliament for loyal party members but will they have understood that we are living in a time of the internet, and an economic and spiritual crisis that cries out for something wholesome and different.

The South African electorate is not as unsophisticated as many may want to believe. Those who characterise this national convention as purely the response of petulant losers will find they have misread the signs of the times. The convention leaders must also remembers that people are aware that they were in positions of leadership during the past 14 years when the floods of change swept through the country. In a short space of time, they have played a part in dashing the hopes of many who fought alongside them.

Some South Africans have benefited from the end of racism but many can be seen scratching in bins for food. They say they scratch for food and clothes that people throw away in order to feed and clothe their families. There is no stronger indictment against this democracy. In a land of plenty, millions eat very little daily.

Lekota and Shilowa made some of the right noises this weekend when they spoke about the need for respect, their commitment to family values and non-racial inclusivity. However they are a loose group of individuals that have yet to forge an identity. They will have to bear in mind that large numbers of the South African electorate has experienced Obama's direct and simple appeal. They also carry within themselves the memory of the grandness of Tambo and Mandela. Rudeness, insults and uncouth conduct will not win many votes. Constantly excluding sections of citizens from public life also does not bode well for democracy. Empty promises will not fall favourably on the voters ears. Both they and the ANC will have to come to terms with the fact that the world as we know it is coming to an end. What lies ahead is unknown. The only message that will make any impact is one of hope and change expressed through respectful personal conduct.

However weakly organised they might turn out to be, there is a great chance that South Africans may decide to give the new kids on the block their protest vote. The ANC will have to shift from sticking to positions and conduct that do not resonate with large numbers of South Africans. By calling them "the black DA" and "counter-revolutionary", they may further unleash the groundswell of disappointment and anger that is definitely simmering below the surface. If it chooses to use this unexpected turn of events to recognise fully the feelings that have emerged and respond to these creatively, it may yet undermine those who have broken away

Both the ANC and the new group will have to come to terms with the fact that the world as we know it is coming to an end. What lies ahead is unknown. The only message that will make any impact is one of hope and change practically demonstrated through respectful and thoughtful personal conduct. No one person has the answer to the difficulties confronting us. There is a desperate need for political space that will give a wide range of South Africans the opportunity to help solve the many challenges facing us.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

I agree....

The current election campaign (ANC and DA) posters that are coming out are showing hints that the parties know about this change.

But there is a lot to be done. For example, the IEC's website can only be viewed in Internet Explorer - pathetic considering it's been like that for several months now. The DA is gaining good support from social media marketing, especially on UCT campus with their Facebook group. The other contending parties need to catch a wake up call and use creative campaigning strategies across various platforms. This is how the Obama campaign was won, mobile downloads, wallpapers, smses and of course the smear campaign TV adverts which I hope doesn't transfer over here.

You are absolutely correct, the world as we know it has come to an end in this sense, and I hope that old struggle alliances will be challenged by this and shake political parties into action in service of the electorate.