Why the mid­dle will hold it to­gether

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - UFRIEDA HO

CAN YOU still say out loud a sen­tence that be­gins “The other day when I met friends for roast duck and sal­mon lasagne”? Has do­ing lunch be­come too petty bour­geois, too mid­dle-class, too priv­i­leged?

Some­where be­tween sip­ping my craft beer and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the per­fect scroll of nap­kins on my friend’s din­ing room ta­ble did I forget about the cri­sis still un­fold­ing at our uni­ver­si­ties? Did I ig­nore that there are com­mu­ni­ties dy­ing of thirst be­cause of more fail­ing ser­vice de­liv­ery?

Here’s the thing: I’m smack-bang in the South African mid­dle and I do care. I care that Ja­cob Zuma is fee­ble but still in his po­si­tion, I care that prof­its come be­fore peo­ple and I care that in­tegrity is up for ne­go­ti­a­tion.

I don’t apol­o­gise for be­ing in the mid­dle, I don’t feel guilty.

The mid­dle may read Eat, Pray, Love, but it doesn’t mean it’s never heard of Frantz Fanon or that it dis­misses the ideals of the Free­dom Char­ter.

This is a mid­dle that only seems silent be­cause there are louder voices on Twit­ter and some­how hash­tags have come to rep­re­sent power, no mat­ter how vir­tual.

At the same time I’m done with the mid­dle that’s com­pla­cent in their com­fort­able cen­tre. The mid­dle is not buffered from the ex­tremes of rad­i­calised reactionaries burn­ing uni­ver­si­ties, or dis­so­ci­ated from fat-cat elites who have the lux­ury of not giv­ing a damn be­cause they have a plan B, plan C or other cush­ions pro­vided by ex­cess.

The time has come for the mid­dle to lead; time for the mid­dle to re­alise it has more power than it re­alises and it needs to use it. The mid­dle’s power lies first in know­ing all parts of it­self, its craft beer self. Also it’s tuned into the real world self – strengths and lim­i­ta­tions.

Be­ing in the mid­dle is not sit­ting pretty on a fence, it’s stand­ing firm on a wide-span­ning bridge that has the power to con­nect two points far apart from each other.

Our world needs more link­ages, more com­mon ground es­pe­cially as we re­main des­per­ate for vi­sion, clar­ity, so­lu­tions and plans of ac­tions. Nei­ther our lead­ers nor the rebel rad­i­cals have come to the party. Mod­els of ed­u­ca­tion from early child­hood devel­op­ment stage through to ter­tiary level need re­form­ing. So does think­ing that job cre­ation is a bloated civil ser­vice or hav­ing six peo­ple op­er­ate a “stopgo” sign.

By con­trast, the mid­dle has honed a set of skills sim­ply by nav­i­gat­ing mul­ti­ple real­i­ties. Or­di­nary mid­dle real­i­ties like how do you bal­ance a bud­get that needs to fill a petrol tank but also needs to do pizza night for kids who ex­pect it? The mid­dle un­der­stands trade-offs and com­pro­mise be­cause it doesn’t have ev­ery­thing but it also has a lot to lose.

The mid­dle doesn’t rely on gee­ing up a crowd on a loud-hailer, or the au­thor­ity from a phony crown placed on its head. Its power comes from deal­ing with dif­fi­cult peo­ple and lousy ev­ery­day sit­u­a­tions with strong in­ter­per­sonal skills sharp­ened through con­stant en­gage­ment, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, lis­ten­ing.

The mid­dle’s learnt flex­i­bil­ity from ne­ces­sity. Toyi-toyi­ing in protest is not the mid­dle, like be­ing at court on Novem­ber 2 sup­port­ing Pravin Gord­han won’t hap­pen be­cause the mid­dle has jobs to get to. But nei­ther is it an op­tion for the mid­dle to climb on to a pri­vate jet with bags of money to bank some­where far from where the blood-tinged tide has been loosed.

But the cen­tre does hold, it doesn’t fall apart be­cause it’s learnt to be adap­tive and re­silient by fac­ing flux. It’s learnt too that when re­sis­tance turns to fric­tion, it burns. The mid­dle un­der­stands per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity and in­clu­siv­ity be­cause the mid­dle un­der­stands con­se­quence, ac­count­abil­ity, also the re­lief of shar­ing the load.

Lead­ing from the mid­dle is lead­ing that does not look to di­rect, to dic­tate. At the same time it’s also not fu­tilely pa­tient. The new mid­dle aris­ing has no room for those who sit on their hands or those who throw them up in the air like ev­ery­thing’s lost.

It’s doesn’t suf­fer from the blind spots of the lead­ers too in­ef­fec­tual to call state cap­ture by its name or the blind rage of the reactionaries who be­lieve ev­ery­thing must fall in­stead of see­ing that we have a na­tion to build.

The new mid­dle may see a way through be­cause when there are no ob­vi­ous paths left to take, lead­ing from the mid­dle is about as good a start­ing point as any other.

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