Young black peo­ple, lever­age your power

CityPress - - Voices - Mamphela Ramphele voices@city­press.co.za

We urgently need to com­mit to work­ing to­wards emo­tional and so­cioe­co­nomic set­tle­ments to strengthen the foun­da­tions of our po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment. We need to heed the words of Fe­rial Haf­fa­jee in her book, What If There Were No Whites In South Africa? “When black fury meets white de­nial, you have the com­bustible and fun­da­men­tally changed race re­la­tions we live in to­day.”

I was jolted to at­ten­tion by the fury of a young man on Judge For Your­self, a cur­rent af­fairs de­bate pro­gramme on eNCA. He boldly de­clared that Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma was a lackey of white cap­i­tal and had no power, ad­ding that whites had no right to crit­i­cise any black per­son, given the priv­i­leges that they con­tin­ued to en­joy.

His words echo the sen­ti­ments of mil­lions of young black peo­ple, who feel pow­er­less and un­der­mined at ev­ery turn by white peo­ple’s de­nial of the priv­i­leges of the legacy of apartheid.

Racist out­bursts, sub­tle and not so sub­tle, have not helped. They are fu­elling the in­creas­ingly rag­ing fires across the coun­try. There are dis­turb­ing echoes of 40 years ago, when young peo­ple took it upon them­selves to change the course of his­tory.

The le­git­i­macy and cred­i­bil­ity of our con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy is com­pro­mised by our fail­ure to fol­low through with the so­cioe­co­nomic restruc­tur­ing that is es­sen­tial to build shared pros­per­ity for all.

In­stead, young blacks see a grow­ing chasm be­tween them­selves and whites, whose in­her­ited wealth of cap­i­tal, prop­erty, and su­pe­rior ed­u­ca­tion and skills guar­an­tee their suc­cess.

And black pro­fes­sion­als la­ment the daily on­slaughts on their dig­nity and self-con­fi­dence by white-male dom­i­nance, which con­tin­ues to equate white­ness with com­pe­tence. Black peo­ple’s lan­guage, cul­ture and tra­di­tions are ac­tively un­der­mined in most cor­po­rate cul­tures. There is an emerg­ing con­sen­sus that to suc­ceed in to­day’s cor­po­rate world, one needs to check in one’s iden­tity at the door to be­come a trusted team mem­ber.

It does not help that our gov­ern­ment has not de­voted enough ef­fort to over­haul the “gut­ter ed­u­ca­tion” re­jected by young peo­ple in 1976 to en­sure that ev­ery child has ac­cess to high-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion ap­pro­pri­ate for a 21st-cen­tury con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy. Our fail­ure to de­velop the tal­ents of our youth is a be­trayal of the strug­gle for free­dom.

It is time to de­vote our en­er­gies to na­tional con­ver­sa­tions to heal the fes­ter­ing wounds caus­ing fury in the ma­jor­ity black pop­u­la­tion.

Per­sis­tent white su­pe­ri­or­ity – fu­elled by in­her­ited ad­van­tages from apartheid – needs to be ac­knowl­edged and dealt with.

Per­sis­tent black in­fe­ri­or­ity – driven by dev­as­tat­ing poverty, in­equal­ity and un­em­ploy­ment that un­der­mine the dig­nity and self­worth of the ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion – needs to be ac­knowl­edged and tack­led sys­tem­at­i­cally.

Black and white peo­ple need to com­mit to reimag­in­ing and re­build­ing our so­ci­ety into the pros­per­ous democ­racy it has the po­ten­tial to be­come. We need to ac­knowl­edge the achieve­ments of our 22-year democ­racy and com­mit to strength­en­ing it by de­vot­ing our­selves to the un­fin­ished busi­ness of an emo­tional set­tle­ment that would open the way to so­cioe­co­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.

Some ini­tia­tives are un­der way to en­gage in tough con­ver­sa­tions about what cit­i­zens love about our coun­try and how they can build a South Africa they can be proud of. Oth­ers are fo­cused on talks about how to un­der­stand our emo­tional in­vest­ment in the sta­tus quo and the ef­fect of this in­vest­ment on our abil­ity or in­abil­ity to lis­ten to one another and build a shared fu­ture.

We need to mul­ti­ply th­ese ef­forts in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, where youths from preschool to ter­tiary level can talk freely about how to be­come proud cit­i­zens of a di­verse and just so­ci­ety.

Ac­ces­si­ble high-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion with cur­ricu­lums that cel­e­brate our African her­itage, en­hance sci­en­tific en­quiry and pro­mote in­no­va­tion is af­ford­able – if we make it our na­tional pri­or­ity.

We need the pub­lic sec­tor to trans­form its qual­ity of ser­vices so that pub­lic ser­vants reimag­ine them­selves as proud ser­vants of the peo­ple and work to en­hance the dig­nity of cit­i­zens. Lead­er­ship as ser­vice needs to be the hall­mark.

We need a pri­vate sec­tor that pro­motes the sus­tain­abil­ity of the planet and its peo­ple, and chan­nels its profit for the ben­e­fit of so­ci­ety. Wealth cre­ation can only be sus­tain­able if it con­trib­utes to tal­ent de­vel­op­ment, en­sur­ing that all have a stake in our suc­cess.

We need civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions that help us to reimag­ine and re­build our so­ci­ety be­yond projects that deal with the symp­toms rather than the causes of a fail­ing sys­tem. Char­i­ta­ble projects han­dling emer­gen­cies must be com­ple­mented by in­no­va­tive and sus­tain­able pro­grammes in which civil so­ci­ety, the pri­vate sec­tor and the pub­lic ser­vice col­lab­o­rate. Ex­am­ples across sec­tors, such as ed­u­ca­tion and health, serve as mod­els for such in­ter­ven­tions.

Above all, we need to lis­ten to young peo­ple. They are the ma­jor­ity. They have the en­ergy and in­no­va­tion that can help solve some of our dilem­mas. But we need to en­gage the youth where they are, not where we think they should be. Bridg­ing the gen­er­a­tion gap and cre­at­ing sup­port­ive bonds would help to lever­age the en­ergy of youth and the wis­dom of older peo­ple.

The sta­tus quo is not sus­tain­able. White peo­ple need to ac­cept the lim­i­ta­tions of con­tin­u­ing to dom­i­nate the so­cioe­co­nomic space through lever­ag­ing first-mover ad­van­tages. Black peo­ple must free them­selves from the bondage of an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex and as­sume the power we now have. We have done so be­fore, and de­clared our­selves black and proud. We need to do so again and free our minds from dom­i­nance by any­one, black or white.

All cit­i­zens must de­mand that the gov­ern­ment takes bolder ac­tion in pro­mot­ing the com­mon in­ter­ests of all cit­i­zens. It is not good enough for our gov­ern­ment to con­tinue to fo­cus on re­tain­ing po­lit­i­cal power. The fu­ture de­mands much more from all of us.

Ramphele is an ac­tive cit­i­zen

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