We need to change the narrative of South Africa!!
I am privileged in many ways. Being a white male in this world I have seen with my own eyes how the world around me often treats me preferentially. Like when sitting next to a stranger in a public place and her asking me if I can watch her stuff while she goes to the toilet. How would you feel if someone wouldn’t ask you because she didn’t think you could be trusted just because of the colour of your skin?
One “funny” story from my Langa diaries when I was walking home one day. I was chatting to someone on FaceTime (yes I used to walk home in the streets of Langa speaking on my iPhone much to many people’s disbelief) and a group of small kids walking home from school were “photo bombing” me! It was fun. When last did you walk home from work/school and exchange smiles and body contact with other humans? In our collective excitement I wanted to show the kids “Snapchat” and the fun functions it has where it creates cartoon faces and various epic animations with face recognition technology! The idea fell flat on its face when the only “face” it picked up was mine! As much as we tried it just wouldn’t work! We were all so disappointed and I could definitely see the funny side! Albeit this is not a malicious example of daily prejudice that is faced by some human beings not based on anything relevant or anything they had any control of, you can imagine how incidents such as these, that are perhaps not even malicious or conscious can add up and effect a persons psyche. It’s like taking a jab to your ribs every day reminding you that you are different and not good enough for a reason you cannot understand.
I have been so vocal against “hand outs” and how they are a curse to the potential of society as often they lead to a great sense entitlement and lack of personal self efficacy and determination. Why bother working when I just get given stuff for doing nothing ?
But my privilege (whether I like it or not) also extends to the fact that I have had many “hand ups/ handouts” along the way. When I was 18 my parents gifted me a car. And supported me throughout my private school education and tertiary education. I remember thinking at the time I didn’t receive any “hand outs” because I “deserved” them, I worked hard for them, my parents were “hard on me” – I also got the sports scholarship at University of Cape Town, a full bursary for my MBA from University College Dublin including residence. Irrespective, the bottom line, did I receive support or didn’t I? I received support.
I have also benefitted from Apartheid. In 1986 my family left South Africa for United Kingdom and so I could argue that I didn’t benefit from it. But that is bullshit because the foundation my parents had and my parents parents had was made easier by Apartheid. No doubt my parents worked hard and came from relatively humble backgrounds but nonetheless we benefitted. The very fact we could travel overseas and choose to live overseas showed our immense privilege.
Without some form of “hand up” we would all struggle but too many “hand outs” is probably more harmful. And this is not just an issue for the “poor” or “under privileged”, there is perhaps an even greater problem with the rich, people sending their children to fancy private schools. They are given so many handouts that it is basically impossible for them to fail no matter how they choose to play their hand. But they are so far removed from the reality of our country and its people and together with it the prospect of having to develop character, courage, resourcefulness and resilience is almost impossible.
A Langa boy. You show me a Langa boy without character, courage, resourcefulness and resilience? He might very well be misdirecting it. But it is there.
This is the bit I think we are missing. Where we need to change our perspective. Our narrative. BEE is not a sympathy vote, BEE is about unlocking all this untapped strength in our nation. We need to unleash all this character, courage, resourcefulness and resilience that is developed on the streets of Langa, Khayelitsha, Soweto, Tembisa, and in similar communities right the way across the land.
A Springbok Rugby team with 10 black South Africans – God help the global rugby playing community!! They ain’t seen nothing yet!
I recently watched a video that sums up how we have to change our narrative. It was about a young man named Tsepo Nyirenda from Diepsloot Mountain Biking Academy in Gauteng who was given the chance to take part in the Cape Epic (for those that don’t know it’s a tough multi stage mountain bike ride) who some claim is one of the most challenging things you can do. After Tsepo completed the Challenge the narrative was about how it was extra amazing to see a man with Tsepo’s background finishing the Epic. WE DON’T GET IT! A man with Tsepo’s background completing the Epic is like a walk in the park. Try growing up with limited choices in a township in South Africa and try every day to play the best you can with the hand you have been given? This is more resilience, resourcefulness, character and courage than any mountain bike ride, I don’t care how hard could ever ask of you. The only thing stopping the Tsepo’s of our country taking part in the Epic is MONEY, its certainly not anything else because if we unleashed this part of South Africa on events like this I have no doubt what we would see. BLACK POWER!
The same goes for running the Comrades, doing IronMan or taking part in Unogwaja – the physical, mental and emotional challenges are there but try experiencing this every day and having your life depend on it? This is education. This is the school for the leaders of tomorrow. This is why that during Apartheid amidst some of the greatest adversity in recent human history some of the world’s greatest people emerged – Mandela, Luthuli, Tambo, Tutu, Sisulu, Sobukwe – the list goes on.
This is why today we are short of great leaders. We are not mining the right places. Places of adversity breed champions. Places of comfort breed wankers! (Like soccer players who are getting way too much!)
This is why Unogwaja is not just about the bike ride and the cycle. We are not doing something tough and inspiring that deserves sponsorship or support. The people who are doing something tough are the people Unogwaja is trying to recognize and support and let them know we see them and we are with them.
It’s about standing together through adversity and allowing champions to surface. We don’t create the champions, they create themselves. They are already there. We just have to open our eyes and give a hand up. And just a hand up will do, these champions don’t need much.
I will never forget Mkhululi (MK), Unogwaja volunteer and inspiring South African in 2014 standing up at a Hospice in Robertson saying “when I was growing up dreams were a luxury I couldn’t afford”. Dream MK dream. We cannot afford for you not to dream. Unleash your power my friend!
Thank you Mom and Dad. For all the support you have given me. Thank you also for not giving me too much. I am because you are.