Young black people, leverage your power
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