I have been asked a couple of times by SAns about my opinions about SA. I think I'm qualified to give a general evaluation on the subject, for my goal in visiting that country in the first place was to make a screening of its social and political situation as thoroughly as was possible. I had the luck of having well informed teachers from different backgrounds and lots of time for discussions, I had the pleasure of meeting people from the Seapoint background (let´s not call them 'rich'), from average income class and from disadvantaged classes. Seriously disadvantaged classes. I have met, talked and become friends with whites, blacks, coloureds, Malaysians, Chinese and others you would not even be able to define their colour (blue people I didn't meet, unfortunately). I met Khosa, Zulu, Malawians, Afrikaans, Anglo-Saxon SAns, Europeans, Americans, Russians, Penguins and Asians and probably lots of other ethnic groups I don't even know. I have lived in Cape Town's Long Street, in the township of Delft. I have visited Pretoria and Johannesburg and I even slept in a Sleepliner. I have seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate and President Zuma's Address to the Nation... and I'm going off the topic again. Basically, I think I got a fairly good overall impression to be able to talk about this subject which I'm more than willing to share with you.
But first of all, I also should explain why this should interest you as a SAn: It's always good to ask foreigners what they think about your country and what is there to change. Living in a place leads you to end up accepting whatever situation that exists as 'normal', and you lose your ability to compare with other possible situations. In some extreme cases of isolation, you can even end up thinking that everyone is as poor as you are, or as rich as you are, if you don't even move out of your usual sphere of life. It's the case of Russia, for example, where tourists never dare to go, and who are completely shut off from the rest of the world due to their linguistic barrier and their political course, and who have the biggest trouble you could imagine to actually understand any other culture that is different from theirs. So, whenever you can grab a mirror, for they usually don't lie. It's the only way you can avoid becoming the naked king in the story to whom no one dared to say he was naked. I hope this personal overview might lead you to some insight or reflection.
SA is a great Nation. It is, at this moment, a land of opportunity and wealth. There is space, there are natural resources, nature thrives and attracts tourists, and people found a way of coexisting peacefully for more than twenty years now. There is a bright future ahead, and an important mission to be done as well. SA is a model to less developed countries in Africa. A model, a mentor and a partner. Success in solving the internal issues of SA will help to further develop Africa as a whole, and to finally embark into the long journey that will at last lead Africa to the position it deserves. A position where the inhabitants of the land that harbours so much richness will benefit from the responsible exploitation of it. A position in which their human condition will be finally respected, not only by people from other nations, but also by every neighbour and fellow citizen. In short, a position of peace and harmony, of equality and opportunities.
To most people, such a great goal is worth being persecuted in its own right. We all recognise the benefits of having our rights respected, of having access to a fair education, a fair and proper healthcare system and fair opportunities to become what we want to become, without our personal circumstances or other people restraining us from it. Bus sadly, not everyone agrees. Sadly, many people live in their own little bubble, unaware of the living conditions of its very neighbours, let alone from the living conditions in places they have never been themselves, like the townships. It's not that they are bad people, but as a Spanish saying goes "what the eyes didn't see, the heart couldn't feel". There are indeed SA's that have never been themselves to a township. Not that the commercial tours to those places will show you much about what it actually means to live there, but at least it would be something. It is not enough to talk about the situation of many citizens and to have a good theoretical knowledge about their situation. The only way to find a motivation is through empathy. If you haven't experienced it, you cannot understand it. And you cannot love what you don't understand. Or would someone argue that a description of what parenthood means is in anyway similar to experiencing parenthood?
Furthermore, as it is common in all nations of this globalised world, our perception of how things are in reality is very biased. We are overwhelmed by all the problems that are presented to us, and on top of that we have our own problems to look after. In the end we feel powerless, and what is worse: we end up thinking that our ideals and goals are not worth it. 'What is a drop of water in an ocean good for?' But if every drop would think so, the ocean would have disappeared long time ago.
To follow some sort of argumentative line, let me briefly summarise the problems that exist (as far as I could perceive them) in SA. I will then expose all the positive points SA has to counter these problems, so as to proof that; in fact, there could not be a better moment to start taking actions but now. I shall proceed explaining what things need to be done and dedicate an extensive paragraph to giving examples and ideas about how this can be done at different levels. But first I will attempt to explain why all these changes should be done in the first place, for dummies.
In the name of the self-interest: for dummies
As far as I have explored the writings of Adam Smith, the father of capitalism (very little, I'm afraid), one of his basic ideas is that our economic system should be founded on the self-interest of humans. Adam Smith was quite pessimistic about human nature (unlike myself), so he thought that the only way to create a flourishing economy was by harvesting the egoism of individuals. Individuals want to increase their wealth. They want to prosper and expand. In their effort to ameliorate their own situation they will nevertheless require help. They will need employees. They will need assistance. And through these actions they will rise the living conditions of their peers. Furthermore, Adam Smith thought that the ambition of the rich should be harvested by the country as a whole, through the institution of the state, who is the guardian of society (for what is a nation if not the sum of the people living in it?). That is why taxes are necessary. And why the state needs to regulate such things as salaries, public services and the health of the population. The state is therefore the main responsible to avoid that the greed of the expanding rich people turns against society (and its own interests), since it will try to exploit it in an unsustainable way. Smith's idea was to trap humanity's greed, represented as a dragon, in a cage, which represented the interest of the nation and of society as a whole. Was the dragon to grow, he would have to expand the cage from the inside. And he would, because all he wants is to grow. But so, unwillingly and maybe unconsciously, the dragon will expand the nation's wealth, will rise it to a new level. The only rule Adam Smith set was that the cage must not be allowed to break, or the dragon would become a threat to society and to itself.
In the end, when the dragon escapes, in his blind logic of maximising benefits at all costs, he destroys himself. This blind logic includes actions enterprises usually like to do, like reducing salaries, increasing working hours (instead of employing new workers), avoiding taxes, and in general fleeing from all kinds of expenditures that could be written off under the heading of "social investments".
Most part of this section I owe it to a publication of Jorge Serrano called "General Theory of Sweets" (only available in spanish)
But the very basic principle of the liberal free market is based on fact that enterprises cannot rise, wealth cannot expand, if there is no one to support it. Without the myriad of little ants working daily in a business, that business would not exist. Without the infrastructure of society and the nation as a whole, no enterprise could be created. Imagine how a industrial plant could work if the employees could not go to their working place because the public transport system was so hopelessly underfunded that it didn't work at all. And haven't hundreds of scientific investigations already proven beyond any doubt that a happy employee is worth more than ten unhappy and unmotivated ones? It more than adds up to invest into his well-being (invest "socially"), for his productivity will pay off the investment. More crude and simple even than the previous examples is the sheer logic of numbers, when it comes to sales and purchases. To increase the (apparent) wealth of your business, you can decrease salaries. If you depend on selling products (as most businesses do nowadays), your survival as an enterprise relies entirely on the consumers being able to purchase your products. And in the end, even your own employees are the consumers of your very products, as this is a globalised society. If everyone follows the logic of decreasing salaries (as it's happening in Spain and Greece, for example), fewer and fewer products will be sold. Fewer business will be made, and enterprises will have to close down. This is often more straightforward than people think. In 2008, as the economic crisis hit Europe in its first wave, the automobile industry was severely beaten. People could no longer afford to buy a car, which is a luxury good that sucks up a lot of money and which is easily dispensed with and replaced by public transport. But see there, that this industrial branch relies heavily on a continuous flow of sales. So much money is invested in each car, and so few money is left over, that a new car has to be sold in order for the next one to be produced. You cannot stock up cars and continue producing even if now nobody buys. You cannot do so precisely because the system of production was already so streamlined as to require the income of a sold car to produce the next one. And you cannot send everyone home either. The costs of re-starting a business are actually higher than the one of maintaining them based on losses. In the end, in Europe, in Spain, cars were being sold for a lower price than what it actually cost producing them in the first place. They simply needed to get rid of them in order to sustain the production line.
Is this what you want for your business? It is very easy to take society and its services for granted. We do the same mistake with nature. We take all its free services for granted and exploit it, only later on to regret not having invested in reforesting felled forests as a torrential flood sweeps away our village and our wood extraction business. End of the game. Morale: hire more people, pay higher salary, pay more taxes, and then you will sell more. Do the opposite, and sooner or later you will be out of the business.
And there is one little point to add which I think is relevant. The actual economic system is destroying all the barriers to business growth that Adam Smith warned us not to remove. But besides being businessmen and businesswomen we are also citizens of the place we live in. Of course, as part of the higher class, we can shut ourselves off from the worst part of the misery we helped to create. But fencing ourselves out from society doesn't take away the fact that we live in a degraded environment. Here is where SA finds some of the biggest problems it has: criminality motivated mainly by poverty and inequality. Not being able to feel safe on the streets. A landscape panorama of fortified houses with barbed wire and electric fences everywhere, creating an atmosphere of fear and misery. For SA's this image might be normal, but for an European citizen like myself there are only 2 things I could relate to: First World War's trench warfare and the concentration camps of the Second World War. And both stand out as some of the darkest episodes of human history whatsoever. And you, fellow SA's, live entrenched in such an inverse concentration camp, playing very close to the edge where the knife actually cuts and hostilities break out.
It is in your hands to avoid such a grim future. It's in your hands to reverse this sick trend of exclusion and golden cages. In Europe we live free of constant pick pocketing and violent assaults. We don't have razor wire around our gardens, let alone electric fences. Yes, we sacrificed part of our own personal wealth for it, but this freedom and tranquil security more than pays off. You decide.
Problems in SA
The political problems of the country cannot be understood without facing SA's history of apartheid and the long struggle of the oppressed majorities to gain equal rights and an egalitarian society. With democracy being as young as 20 years old, and the vast majority of its voters not having had any kind of education in regards of how a democracy works, I would expect the situation to be quite worse than it actually is. As I have been explained once and again by former ANC members, this party is in power because it has an important recent history to which many people feel indebted. The situation of the ANC can be compared with the political relationship SA has with President Mugabe from Zimbabwe. This president is ruling over a country where in fact democracy does not longer exist, and as such surrounding democratic countries should cease their support. But this very president supported for many decades the struggles of oppressed SA's with their quest for equality and justice and therefore all SA's are largely morally indebted to him, even when nowadays he himself doesn't represent the values SA's fought for.
This problem of political and democratic unawareness, once again, is not exclusive of SA, and many modern countries in Europe and America suffer it as well. Spain is a very good example once again, as it entered a democratic system only 40 years ago and also hasn't grasped yet what democracy is all about. And this is normal, of course, for neither in schools nor in university does anyone learn about what democracy is in theory, nor in praxis, nor how it works. Neither does anyone learn or teach about the administrative organs that exist in a modern democratic state and what they are there for.
People feel hopeless when they see that funding of public education in SA is increasing exponentially and yet the quality and the results are dropping in an inversely exponential way. They blame the government and the situation and everyone but themselves. Instead, I think that this situation should be approached as a challenge to be breached. In fact there is a huge "market" in SA in regards to "education in democratic systems" (let´s not call it "political education"). Be it as serious business, as NGO's or as free discussion meetings (or even as a SA version of Hyde Park's "Speaker's Corner"), there are lots of ways to approach this challenge, which by the way is not to be understood as the need to educate others, but the need to educate oneself through the noble art of debating and questioning, as the good old Socrates used to do.
In contrast to the well advertised problems broadcasted in TV (like politics, economy and the private life of SA's famous people), the problem of inequality (which in the end is a problem of absence of justice) is without any question the most severe one. Of course there is hardly any need to explain to a SAn about the townships and in what conditions people live there. But, as I have already mentioned, there is a essential difference between knowing that something exist and is going on, and having experienced it oneself. Here the Spanish saying is of vital importance: “what the eyes don't see, the heart cannot feel.” And to solve this vital issue it's our hearts that we need to use. It's not about numbers and statistics, it's about human lives. Individual lives of thousands of people who have to live in marginal circumstances, often under the breadline, while in Seapoint people drive around in luxury cars worth millions of Euros (and 12,6 times more in Rands). Of course people are entitled to be rich if they became rich legally. Of course there is a right to property and to enjoy the fruits of one's' labour. But those rights are not almighty and above all else. Human rights are higher on that hierarchical ladder and it is absolutely unacceptable that there is even one single luxury car in a city where thousands of people are not sure if they will have food for themselves and their children when they go home after work because they don't even receive a salary and depend entirely on tips. And it is not only a fault of those people owning such cars and wealth, but a problem of the entire society who allows the existence of such a big discrepancy in wealth. Society needs to intervene and force (even) higher taxes for those rich people or undertake other corrective measures.
In my opinion, it is sad that most people in Cape Town when they come across a luxury car they gaze at it in ave and wish that they themselves could afford one. The correct reaction should be that of taking offence towards such a waste of money in a country that so desperately needs it for humanitarian projects. Of course the vast majority of people cannot do anything about the existence of such luxury, but a real change means nothing different as a change in attitudes. If owning a luxury car was socially as unacceptable as walking around naked in a mall, nobody would own such a car. And it is more than understandable that people love those shiny pieces of speeding metal and noise, but the change humanity dreams of bringing about in this world is a change similar to maturation: adulthood is about giving up wild dreams to take up real responsibilities. It's about eating less oneself to leave more for one's children. Is anyone capable of imagining what sort of a father someone would be if in adulthood he continued applying the childish logic that the strongest is right? He would eat more and first because he is capable of beating up his kids. Maybe they would even die of starvation because childishness implies such a lack of awareness and empathy towards others that this hypothetical father wouldn't even notice that his attitude is starving his own children. Of course no one accepts such behaviour. From adults adulthood is expected. It is about time that from adult society adulthood in its attitudes and values is also the rule. [In this respect it is interesting what the Spanish Episcopal Conference says about the relationship between wealth and poverty in Spain, only available in Spanish].
If I approach the problems of inequality and poverty in SA from this perspective, it is because this point of view allows for actions to be taken. It is an empowering perspective. Of course when it comes down to hard facts, no one is responsible for this situation, and therefore no one is willing to take any action or sacrifice. This is why I reinforce the importance of attitude and mental disposition, for everyone is singularly responsible and accountable for his own thoughts and believes. And everyone is capable of changing them. You literally just have to start telling yourself which are your new values, and the rest will follow.
But why do it? What for? That's where empathy comes into play. If there is a problem in SA it is that people have no direct experience of the problem. They don't care to know how their neighbours live, let allow to experience themselves what it means to live in a township. I have been told once and again about the numbers of people still alive ('old apartheiders') which haven't even seen a township from the distance. But I have lived in Delft for a week, I have known its people, and I have learned to respect and value them instead of pitying them, and this true empathy is way more powerful than any other false mercy and insincere compassion.
In chinese 'problem' and 'opportunity' are synonyms
In the face of all this problems, SAns might feel there is nothing that can be done to change the situation. Often I have heard with some despair that the government invested has never been so high while the results at school are reaching the lowest levels ever. And if the government itself is powerless, what can a simple human being do?
But in my opinion this is probably the most important moment in SAs' history. It is now when Mandela’s dream of a united democratic nation can actually become true, and with it the development of all southern Africa could be possible. How can this paradox be true? But then, doesn't the night seem darkest just before dawn break?
SA has a great asset for a bright future. Mandela's legacy is not so much about having brought democracy and equal rights to all SAns, but more the fact that he gave the inhabitants of this nation a new identity and a common goal. He created (or popularised) the ideal of the "Rainbow Nation", and with it the idea that SA's diversity is its strength rather than its weakness, and that all cultures could live along peacefully and prosper. I personally think that this is more than a mere dream or a utopia. It is a reality that multiculturalism can bring about more wellbeing and prosperity than any segregation or monocultural society. The richness of diversity produces exchange of ideas and points of view; it fosters creativity in overcoming what separate us and reassures us in those vast majority of things that unite us. It is not simply a wish, but a historically proven reality, as we can see from medieval Spain, where for many centuries Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together and had Spain's cultural richness peaking before it plummeted in the 16th century when Muslims were finally defeated and Jews sent into exile. There is the example of medieval and modern (16th century) Switzerland, where its multilingual, multiethnic and multiconfessional social assembly managed to survive as a loose unity while preserving its own identity as almost the oldest country in Europe. And especially from Switzerland there is a clear lesson to be learned: in spite of its appalling differences, they had a common goal that was stronger than any differences amongst them; their love for freedom and independence.
To me, the lesson is not about the value of freedom and independence, though. But rather the importance of having a common goal of higher value than any individual differences. This is why I'm optimistic with the "Rainbow Nation". I'm optimistic because I have seen that SAns of European origin does not look up to Europe anymore, as Australians for example do, but rather have developed their unique identity as Africans. They no longer consider themselves colonialists, with all the bad connotations this has, but rather are implementing their knowhow of European origin for the wellbeing of the entire society, while they are more than happy to adopt a distinctively African way of doing things. I see already that the time of pretended superiority of any part of society above the rest has ended. I see cooperation and adaptability. I see an essential flexibility to leave behind those values that are detrimental to the wellbeing and progress of the nation (understood here as the sum of all its inhabitants and their cultures), and to freely adopt and combine values of different social groups for the sake of the interest of the nation. And this is probably the essential message that not me, but the renown professor Jared Diamond puts forward in his book 'Collapse' as the key for the future of any society.
The attitude I just described is important, and despite it many "advanced" countries are in fact moving away from such an ideal of unity and back into dark ages of constant conflicts based on separatism and various nationalisms. But of course it is not the only ingredient necessary for success. To have a greater goal or long time objective is also vital. Most nations have had a Golden Age at some point in their history, and usually this moment of fame and expansion came about through the appearance of a common goal important enough to set aside all differences and personal interests. We can see it especially in Napoleon's France, a country that never ever won a war (by itself), and then suddenly managed to conquer half of the world and implement huge cultural advances in Europe (like the use of Constitutions and Constitutional Rights, the idea that individuals had rights that were above any other earthly laws or wills, etc.). But there are literally thousands of examples of how this principle works: Genghis Khan, the Roman Empire (or the fall of the empire of Cartago as a counterexample), the Arab expansions in the 6th century, the conquest of America, the colonialist empires... Good or bad, all these historical examples have in common that the nations involved left aside their differences in favour of a new idea that had arisen at that time. Thus, having a long term objective, a dream about one's place in the world, is essential to bringing about major changes.
Does SA have such a goal or can it find one? I think yes. As I explained before, the colonialist attitudes in SA are coming to an end. A truly African and integrated identity is clearly emerging, and with it the expectation to create a prosperous and flourishing nation. But SA's future is directly dependent on the destiny of Africa itself as a continent. This is not bad news at all. In fact, this might be the common goal I have been talking about. How long is Africa supposed to remain underdeveloped and exploited by foreign powers (be it governments or private corporations)? The time for Africa is due and I expect SA to have a major role to play in this regard. In the era of information, everyone knows easily who is doing what to whom in the world, and exploitation is becoming less and less accepted, and even prosecuted, in the "previously exploiting nations". Globalisation and the realisation that natural resources are limited and of vital importance for the global ecosystem also fosters a change in attitude about the management of those resources at a planetary level. The time is ripe for new models to be implemented, models that are not only to bring justice to those countries and its people, but that are also productive and lucrative at the same time. Therefore, SA being the culturally, economically and politically most developed country in Africa, as well as the closest, makes SA the ideal platform to bring about this changes.
In the chapter about the apology of self-interest I already touched the subject of the wisdom of altruistic approaches. Buddha’s words 'the altruist is the most intelligent of egoists' can be easily applied to a mundane level of investments and economy politics. Let me explore deeper into this perspective, even if it takes us a bit far, as I think it will convince almost everyone of what I'm trying to explain.
Let us first analyze quickly what the economic situation of SA looks like. Accustomed to a high living standard, SAns are in need of importing many goods that are produced mostly in western countries located in the northern hemisphere, and thus require a huge expense due to transportation of those goods. Being surrounded by poorer countries with relatively reduced purchase capabilities also means that any industrial production of SA has to put up with the added costs of transporting those goods to the markets in the northern hemisphere, and this makes them less competitive and attractive. Not only the products are more difficult to offload on the market, but it is also less likely that foreign capital is invested in SA, as SA's consumption rates by themselves would not add up for the costs. Worst of all, in this description, is that there is no such thing as a stable non-moving state of the matter in regards to economy. Either we are looking at a spiral of growth, or we are faced with a descending spiral of economic degrowth. And whether you like it or not, SA has been already on a spiral of degrowth for several years: its energetic crisis being only one more symptom of this slow collapse. This is important: I'm not doom mongering about any hypothetical dark future for SA, but rather explaining the reality that every citizen can give testimony off by himself.
But like a coin, which has two faces, also SAs economy has a bright future in hands reach if it takes the adequate steps now. SA is the first interested party in developing its neighbours, for their well-being means well-being and wealth for SA itself. Imagine a realistic near future in some 15 to 20 years, where the countries lying immediately next to SAs borders had reached a political, economic and social stability and were on an upward trend. The more those countries develop the more economic wealth they would archive and bigger investments they could make to further develop themselves. Where would the technical and economic support likely come from? Having a stable and comparatively rich country like SA as a neighbour is nearly a guarantee that they will be counted upon to provide that support. But support is here a synonym with business opportunity. Know-how is provided by qualified individuals, and the need for know-how means there is need for those professionals. It means jobs are being created and wealth generated. Materials are also needed, and having to choose between importing machinery and technology from far abroad or from the country that is right next door usually grants the closest country a huge initial advantage. And having goods to sell and an emerging market to offload them unto is the definition of a perfect business.
But let us not focus only on the developmental phase of this international interaction. Once the neighbouring countries have started an industry of their own, far from being a negative competitor for SA, it means that SA would have producing countries nearby and therefore could start avoiding the need to import at high cost from the northern hemisphere. In his book 'Collapse' Jared Diamond explains various scenarios in which a close commercial partner is an essential factor determining whether a nation (or society) will ultimately prevail and prosper or collapse and disappear, and I definitely advice you to have a look at those chapters if you are interested in getting a closer understanding of the phenomenon.
Last, but not least, I would like to focus on a very important aspect of this development (actually the morally most important one): the fight against poverty and inequality in SA. Recently (and while I was in SA), we had to witness a xenophobic movement which, with the originality of a genius, was baptised 'Xenophobia'. This attack against the poorest and most vulnerable estates of SA society is, in my opinion, no coincidence. Illegal immigration is a big problem in SA, as job availability is a dwindling resource and poverty is widespread anyway. Whether my predictions about economy come true or not, it is clear that rising the living conditions in the surrounding countries would have a positive impact on SA's living conditions. Drawing the frontier of poverty further away from SA means illegal immigration will significantly decrease in SA itself. Finding acceptable living conditions nearer from their countries of origin will deter most migrants from going all the way to SA, and would instead settle in other countries. Further, reducing the amount of countries in which poverty prevails would also diminish the total number of migrants, and proportionally also the total number of migrants arriving in SA. This would be the ideal moment of respite to further solve the internal problems of inequality and poverty inside the country. It is important to understand this issue correctly: as I see it, the solution lies beyond the borders of SA rather than within. As long as immigrants keep flooding the country, any attempt of social development will be nearly in vain. The higher the living conditions, the more immigrants will try to enter the country; and there are way more poor people than means to help them. In this respect, I only see this one solution: developing the surrounding countries. The biggest pitfall SA's could end up falling into. To keep a long story short, imitating the European Union and USA in their pursuit of closing up their borders in a hopeless attempt to stem the flood of immigration from Africa and Mexico respectively, would be worse than apartheid itself. Not only is this approach not feasible considering the huge border SA has, but also it would criminalise the most vulnerable of all people and those that need protection rather than prosecution. After literally destroying thousands of lives and sucking up huge amounts of money in transforming SA's borders into a new Maginot line, the entire system would end up collapsing anyway. Why bother then in the first place to attempt the wrong approach? Do it once, do it right. Cheap solutions end up being more expensive than expensive (and correct) ones.
To come back from this little excursion, once again it is worth mentioning at least one example of the functionality of the ideas I am proposing: Switzerland, one of the few countries in the world which has consistently maintained a strict neutrality towards all external conflicts and confrontations. Despite their deeply conservative ideology of leaving 'foreign affairs to foreigners', since 1999 and until today Switzerland maintains an important contingent of troops working in Kosovo to ensure peace and the reconstruction of the country. How is it even possible that a conservative and isolationist country like Switzerland risks its own citizens to ensure peace in a country that does not even have a common frontier with it? The answer is very simple: As good bankers, they calculated the immense cost that the assimilation and integration of kosovar refugees has had in Switzerland ever since the war broke out. They found out that it is way cheaper for them to actually rebuild Kosovo and have the population remain there, than to accept further immigrants. Obviously, refusing war refugees is not an option, as it is against all human rights imaginable.
What can I do? The 'Don'ts'
I hope to have been able to explain so far what SA's situation looks like from the exterior, what possibilities are awaiting in the immediate future, and what reasons there can be found to take action and interest in the well-being of the nation, which for me is precisely its people. We reach therefore the last part of my exposition where I will try to point out examples and ideas of what can be done by all individuals to foster and promote those attitudes that ultimately will lead to a development of the country in the lines I presented above.
Trying to bring about a change in the world is not so much about doing things but about having the correct attitude and mental disposition. Changing oneself is the really difficult part, but it is also the one thing that actually will help. It is difficult because it means leaving your comfort zone. It means assuming extra responsibilities and refraining oneself while others don't. And it's about doing so without the pretension of changing anyone else or becoming a nuisance to others (like vegetarians do). But, what does all this mental-disposition-thing mean? There are thousands of little examples we could give:
Some people go quite a long way to separate different kinds of rubbish and waste and try to recycle. They have no guarantee that their work will be useful, as maybe the garbage guy throws everything back together. And anyway we don't fully understand how this recycling is going to work: what do they actually do with plastics? But recycling is essential as an attitude. If you are the first one who doesn't separate and recycle, for sure there will be no other person separating your garbage for you. The process might fail in some other step, but that is 'the others guy problem/fault' and none of your business anymore. You did your part, and you did your part right. And that's all it takes. There are two equally important lessons to be drawn from this example: firstly, it is important to do one's work properly, regardless of if it works or not (that's why we call them 'principles'). Because if you don't do your job, you are being part of the problem instead of part of the solution, and definitively no one will do that job for you (nor should anyone have to do your stuff). Secondly, but as important or even more, you have to remember that you are not God and therefore limited to act in your domains. This means that you are not responsible for what your kin does or doesn't do, and that you neither have to take on the world nor launch any moral crusade against anyone. You will only exhaust yourself and give up (like 80% of vegetarians do). Just content yourself with the knowledge that you are already part of the solution and not part of the problem anymore, and go on living a happy life. Eventually others will follow because of what you do, not of what you say.
Of course there are other examples that are equally important even if they are not so straightforward. I'm thinking of the current pest of corruption that is ravaging my country, Spain. How can it be that, literally, every single politician is corrupt to the point where they are being investigated by the police? There is only one explanation: people have the governments they deserve, meaning that a corrupt society will elect a corrupt government. Corruption within the realms of power is no different from corruption within the normal population. With the economic crisis and the staggering unemployment rates, we are witnessing the fastest salary reduction I have ever seen. Only six years ago a person that hat a salary of 1000 Euro per month was considered part of the 'low middle class' or even 'working class'. As of today, such a salary is the one people dream of in Spain, the norm having dropped to around 500-600 Euro per month. But don't get confused in the complexity of this argument. This has very little to do with the crisis itself, and everything to do with individual people (managers and intermediate chefs) trying to 'cut down expenses' (a.k.a. cutting on salaries) to look as if they had archived an extraordinary management by 'earning' the business more money. Since everyone played this game, everyone lost its salary, and because nobody could afford buying anything anymore, businesses and enterprises lost market.
Corruption is a very good example about how the wrong attitude can cause massive problems. Usually, a job, a position, comes with a set of responsibilities that have to be accepted. All of them are important, even if they seem irrelevant. Corruption can set in at many levels. But once it starts, it’s like a rolling snowball down the hill. One step after the other corrupt people start daring bigger and bigger misuse of the powers they hold. It's difficult to stop, or to pretend that there are some kinds of limits you won’t cross. The only way of avoiding crossing a border at all is not beginning with corrupt activities in the first place. But the thing about corruption is that it doesn't seem that wrong while you are committing the crime. We think it is a scandal when a politician misuses a couple of millions of Euros, but we ourselves don't think that, say, not paying our ticket in the metro is such a terrible thing. But what is the difference in reality? To that politician, a couple of millions are almost nothing compared to the amounts he uses to administer in his daily work. Hardly an amount anyone could even notice. The same goes with our bus ticket. Who would notice, it’s not even worth a Euro. But when you start adding up all the people that don't buy their ticket, the company actually loses many millions a year. Millions they need to keep operating, and therefore the result is that they have to increase prices all the time. So when you don't pay your ticket, you are not stealing money from that company, but from all the other citizens that regularly use and pay for that transportation system. And in the case of government officials and politicians, when you start adding up what they misuse, you can arrive at numbers that are a real scandal. A wild guess for Spain could be something around 30-40% of the tax revenue is actually misused and disappears? Can you imagine a private company that was so inefficient that it lost 40% of its income? It would hardly survive. Yet the taxes is nothing else than our own money. They money that has to be put to good use for our own benefit. We should look to it, I guess. But if we can't look for our own interest when it comes to basic things as the cost of our transportation system, how are we to cope with the entire governmental corruption?
The corruption of society in Spain is quite astonishing. With the crisis people feel entitled to exploit their fellow citizens like if it was the end of the world and your own survival was the only rule. Through my sister I found out that there are such people who actually offer "jobs" where you work full hours and not only not get a salary, but you actually pay to work there. Some 500 Euros a year or something like that. The logic behind this is that you need working experience to get a good job (or any job, nowadays), and since no one is hiring, there is actually a market for "selling work experience". That such a concept is not perceived as being inherently and deeply wrong scares me. It means that the situation is so bad that nearly everyone acts in such an immoral way, and therefore people have lost perspective over what is wrong and right. Seemingly no one is doing the right thing anymore.
Acting against corruption is essentially difficult because of peer pressure. When people are doing wrong, it's not even necessary that you tell them so to make them angry. The simple refusal of acting the same way they do is enough to grant you their enmity and hate. Because in comparison it is self-evident that they are doing a moral wrong, so they need at all costs to annihilate that source of comparison. Added together, it takes a very strong minded person to withstand the peer pressure and to remain true to their values. First because it is easy to overlook the severity of any kind of transgression, and furthermore because it is necessary to keep your morally correct actions nearly in secret, if you don't want to be attacked.
In the face of this staggering amount of corruption, dismay is also a usual response. Why fight against the current? I usually tell myself that I rather have a clean conscience myself, even if nobody would know about my corruption. I would know, and I have to live with myself my entire life. But even so, it is difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the situation and the behaviour of others. This is why I consider, once more, that the only correct attitude is to stop being on the side of the problem and instead be part of the solution. You don't have to change the world, but if you stop being part of the problem, you already did your part. You already did enough. Tranquillity of soul and mind is the reward for those who do the right things.
The last example I wanted to mention is about getting carried away by trends or by fixed ideas. It is important to remain flexible and to think individually. Good ideas can lose their real meaning when they are adopted by wider circles of society as they get dumbed down and passed on. A few years ago an event took place in Spain which might yet bear some fruit. People from all social classes and political ideologies came together in a protest against corruption of the government and out of dissatisfaction with the system. Although the basic ideas were more than correct, as people came together to put forward proposals and projects they started to dumb down many high ideals into near banalities. Furthermore, people always stick to the old ideas, even if they have been outdated for a long time and do not help in any way. It is really necessary to think critically and to analyze ideas with numbers and calmness. One of this ideas, which I want to talk about, regarded the (supposed) need to grow your own food. The idea was simple: grow your own food and stop depending from the society of consumerism, with all those bad intermediaries and all that waste of food that comes with big chains of supermarkets and so on. It was also a very iconic proposal: people would grow vegetables even in their gardens in the cities, and during the protests in the central square of Madrid they transformed the ornamental gardens into orchards. At first I didn't see anything bad in this, but since some friends showed a great opposition to such a 'green movement' I decided to have a closer look at it. I did not reach their conclusions, which were more political objections than anything of practical value, but I did find out that this ideal was actually counterproductive: it makes things worse, not better. Essentially, food is produced already in excess in Europe and prices are so low that they are nearly starving farmers. Growing your own food on top of that would produce even more food and flood the market with free food that could actually bring down the entire farming system. That's not fighting against capitalism, but actually destroying the income of normal families that work hard farming all year round. But this is not even the worst part of it. The worst part is that this course of action would not actually serve any of the purposes it was meant to address. In the first place, growing vegetable in an urban setting is not an 'ecological alternative' because such an environment needs to be fertilized externally. You would actually spend way more money buying fertilized earth than you would spare from the price of the vegetables you avoid having to buy yourself on the market. But furthermore, it is not even sustainable because those fertilizers and fertilized earth are created by the chemical industry, precisely the one you don't really want to support when you are fighting for the environment.
But I didn't stop at this point with my analysis and decided to find out where the problem actually lies. Fact is that families have very little money and they need to save. But at the same time, the price of food is already at its lowest, you can't have it cheaper even if you grow it yourself. How is it possible that food is then still perceived as taking up too much money from the total income of a family? Well, here is my conclusion: it is because families stopped cooking by themselves. Woman emancipation was all right, but we ended up having no one who stays at home and cooks and we became more and more dependent upon already prepared dishes. The prices seem acceptable to us, but they are actually not if you compare them to the price of the individual ingredients. Buying a simple already-made-sandwich easily cost ten times more than the price of the ingredients separately. Or consider that ready-to-eat salad you buy in the supermarket. You really think that a few pieces of lettuce, some low quality cheese, transgenic tomatoes and some olives are worth the price you pay for it? I bet that you could buy all the ingredients of that salad in its "raw" state for the same price and make twenty times as much salad. And it would be of better quality. And you wouldn't be throwing away every day those polluting plastic boxes the salad comes in. Just think about how much money a family could save if someone would take up the cooking and the kitchen again. But of course, the kitchen hasn't the charm and the iconic value of gardening in public squares. Cooking is something you do in your home without anyone seeing you and telling you how cool and progressive you are, and how much you care for the planet. In fact, the kitchen has a deep stigma as being the place of oppression of women and therefore a place to shunt. Well, this is the price of doing the correct things that really help: they are not necessarily glamorous and can be indeed very demanding. And often it is not self evident what is the right thing to do till you sit down and analyze them calmly.
In the end, everything comes down to putting up with our own responsibilities as individuals in regards to politics, to our society, to our planet, etc. It is sort of a growing up and maturating, it demands critic thinking and decision making, and assuming personal accountability over those decisions we take, instead of blaming others. And any pretension of change that does not start with this basic prerequisites is deemed to fail or to turn against its own ideals. This is why I feel the need to talk here about hippies. Nearly fifty years ago the generation of our parents started their own ideological revolution, based upon premises very similar to those we face nowadays. How is it possible that we are confronted once again with those very problems if our parents already did so and, so they say, they changed the world? Well, I say it is because they fell into the pitfall of self-indulgence (a.k.a. drugs) and ended up destroying everything they were actually fighting for. Society changed, yes. Society always changes when a minority questions the foundations of that very society. But the most essential change, the one that was core to the movement, evaporated in fatuous speeches, small talk about changing the world and the utter confusion between universal love and self-indulgence with drugs. And self-indulgence, my friends, is the exact opposite of trying to achieve a change in attitude.
Precisely in SA, where a change in attitudes in every realm of society is so desperately needed, the drug-problem is as big as it can get. Because you have a drug problem in SA. And the drug-problem is you. You take drugs, you are the problem. It doesn't matter what else you do in life, how good you are, how much you help or how Buddhist your lifestyle is. You engage in drugs, you are the problem. And when it comes down to drugs I don't even concede you the excuse of being only 'part' of the problem. You are the problem as a whole. You are definitively not being part of the solution, that goes without saying, but what I want to make clear is how bad you actually are. Because you are the worst kind of moral criminal there can be: the one that is two faced. The one who thinks he is doing so much for society, but then engages in self-indulgence and directly contributes funds, maintains the entire drug system of SA. You say you didn't pull the trigger of the gun that killed that kid, but I say that you were the one who put a gun into the hands of the gunman in the first place. No money, no guns, no dead kid. Yes, my drug-engaging-friend: you have blood on your hands, and it's very real blood. You say you only buy "soft drugs", but the mafias importing and distributing drugs make no distinctions. With the money they get from your weed, they also spread heroin. Every time you buy drugs, you are helping that drug dealer to continue in the business of poisoning people. But above all, you are fostering his hopes of making big money in that industry. By fostering his greed you are directly contributing to the wars between mafias which ravage the townships killing hundreds of people every year and destroying even more families. Your constant financial support to those mafias helps them to expand and diversify their business, so that even if you do not engage in prostitution, you are actually supporting it. You are supporting human trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation, destroying the lives of hundreds of women and their families. You are supporting child slavery in the countries where drugs are produced and synthesised. You are directly contributing to the corruption of all government institutions, as part of your money is put to good use bribing all kinds of state officials. You are making urban areas unsafe due to the risk of being caught in a crossfire or stabbed by a drug addicted person. You are helping crime to look like a better alternative to hard, honest and legal work, and therefore are entirely responsible for all the evil you unleash with your carelessness and self-indulgence. You-Are-A-Monster. You do all of this just because you want to get high and have some fun. How fun do you think it is to have your child mowed down in a gunfight? You take drugs because you want to evade yourself from your exhausting daily routine. So, tell me again how hard your life is compared to the life of a sexual slave that is kept working by forced addiction to hard drugs? Of course you wouldn't go around killing people just for fun, but why do you think that engaging in drugs is any different from that? Just because you do not pull the trigger it doesn't mean that it is not your money that is putting that gun against the head of that kid. It is your gun, and you put it into the hand of that gunman. Grow up and face it: there are whether "ifs" nor "onlies". SA has a drug-problem, and if you do drugs, you are the problem. You want a change in your country? Then just stop it. You want to calm down? Go and fuck yourself (literally, go and masturbate, as normal people do). You want to get high? Either do sport or jump out of the window, but stop killing people. You want to feel well and that your miserable life seems worth something? Then stop being self-indulgent and do something for someone, take your life into your hands and make it worthwhile!
Have you ever thought about how much money you actually spend on drugs? Can you imagine what that money could do if you decided to put it to a good end? Can you even imagine what all the drug money could do if it was used for good purposes? Probably not, as even soft drugs cause irreversible brain damage. By the way, you will be ending your life in paranoiac schizophrenia thanks to drugs. It's not even about not living longer: it's about living your last 20 years in miserable pain and destroying the rest of your family, which will have to care for you and pay for your illness. Your very own family... Honestly, the world would be better off without two faced, self-indulgent hypocrites like you.
What can I do? The 'Dos'
After addressing this difficult but important issue (for SA has a bigger drug problem than most countries I know) and thus creating a low in my dissertation, I want to arrive at the last section of this essay and put forward some ideas about how you could actually contribute with your personal means to make SA a better place for everyone. I hope these are genuine ideas, but by no means exclusive or limited only to what I'm going to talk about. I'm sure that there are hundreds of things that can be done and you should feel free to improvise.
All in all, there are three categories of ways in which you can contribute to the common well-being of society: with your money, with your time and with your comfort level (or any combination thereof). The three categories are quite self-explaining and we can easily find a clear example for each of them: contribute spending money by making donations and financially supporting development projects or other programs. Contribute spending your time by personally collaborating with NGOs, institutions, volunteer projects or any other means you find. And finally, cut down on your personal comfort level to increase the one of your fellow citizens: You can decide to use public transport instead of driving (or even owning) your own car. You can spend less on yourself and more on others. You can cook more at home and buy less fast food. Be creative. In the following I'm just going to describe some of the ideas I came up with and that could be especially beneficial in SA, but they are in no way exclusive. Also, I'm not going to address the money issue, as it is quite simple to understand how to make financial contributions and donations. But throughout what follows I will give examples of how I would save money, and therefore how to make money available for this first line of action.
Personal comfort level and house sharing:
As far as I could see, SA (and especially Cape Town) has a very serious accommodation problem. It seems there are not enough houses available and prices are rocketing up. The fact that wealthy Europeans come to live here and are able to pay exorbitant prices also doesn't help the locals in any way. Flat sharing would be therefore very useful if it became widespread and common, as a higher availability of shared flats or houses would decrease the price for renting them. It would make mobility within the city much easier (an important issue when it comes down to searching for a new job) and this in turn would have beneficial effects upon traffic. Of course most young people live in shared flats and houses, but this is universally considered as a transient period in their life until they can afford renting a home for their own or even buying one. Instead, my proposal orients itself to the consideration that shared homes should be the norm rather than the exception. And we all know that this is usually not as comfortable as having all the space for oneself: but isn't this what we are talking about? The basic assumption when looking at this section is that we want to help to produce a change with effective and precisely defined actions. And this is one. We sacrifice part of our personal comfort in order to help. We help the society in general by providing a service (we are putting our spare rooms on the market) and at the same time we are helping specific individuals which we take up and live with. Especially I'm thinking about the difficulties single mothers with small children have to find a decent accommodation. It is messy and uncomfortable to live with children, more so if they are not our own. But see, here is where people can make a real difference. The simple sacrifice of sharing your home with a person with children instead of sharing it with a student (for example) is all you would have to do to transform your normal flat sharing into a socially aware and responsible flat sharing.
This proposal has not to be misunderstood as being a free service to society. Flat sharing is a normal commercial interaction and should therefore have a price. It is the sacrifice of personal comfort and privacy that already represents the social commitment towards society in general and there is no further need to pretend to provide that service for free or for a unjust price (be it too high or too low). In fact, such a thing would be counterproductive: people tend to respect those things they pay for and I would not be surprised to find out that people living for free or nearly for free in someone else's house would end up misbehaving. Also, trying to share a flat in a responsible manner doesn't mean you have to accept anyone and everyone just because they are in a worse socioeconomic situation than yourself. Living with other people is difficult enough as that you even try to do it with someone who isn't compatible with you. Furthermore, you want this activity of flat sharing to be a long term activity for you; you don't want to have a burn out caused by too many bad experiences.
Finally, a couple of reflections more on this matter: flat sharing is an enriching experience which can bring you into close contact with people from all over the world and from all kinds of socio-cultural and economical backgrounds, and therefore an incredible opportunity to learn about different peoples and their traditions. The only other activity where you can get such an experience is travelling. But travelling is expensive and you certainly don't get paid for it. So, isn't this a great alternative to get the same personal enrichment? Furthermore, flat sharing with people from the so called "previously disadvantaged population" is an ideal means of breaching the socioeconomic barrier existing in SA and a very good means for discovering why to care for those people at all. As I have often stated throughout the text, you can only care for things you know, and sharing your apartment is maybe the easiest way to get to know that other part of your country you have so far only seen on TV. In a nutshell: sharing is caring.
New trends in employment
This section is actually an excurse into other aspects of how society is about to change and the influences it might have. This ideas also come in part from the article about "the general theory of sweets" I mentioned in the beginning. But it is relevant because it is also part of the shift in conscience and in maturity that we are looking for.
The situation we are facing nowadays is that there is not enough employment for everyone (or so it seems), while salaries are correspondingly decreasing as there are people willing (or needing) to accept any job, no matter how low the salary. Further aggravating the situation is the fact that more and more low-qualified or heavy jobs are being taken over by machines and robots. Manufacture and production of industrial goods has already been automated a long time ago, but now other jobs are also being affected: in supermarkets it is more and more common to find self-payment machines with only one employee for every ten machines whereas before at every teller there was one employee. Whether we like it or not, this is the progress and the future. There is no going back. The result of the actual trend is leading to an increased disparity in wealth between people who had access to studies and therefore can obtain qualified jobs (more and more in demand) and those that didn’t. But at some point, this will be counterproductive even for the system itself (a consumer society needs to have consumers with money to spend), and we will be facing major changes in the concepts of employment and the employment types that will exist in the future.
As a first step, I would like to defend here this change towards a new employment model, even if the result doesn't look as shiny as we could imagine. I have heard many people complaining about the job destruction that comes with modernisation and technological progress. But I find that their complaints lack coherence and consistency. In fact, if it was about employment only, we should all go back to the Neolithic age, a period in human history where every single hand was needed for farming, and no one was spared for other activities. Indeed, to harvest an entire field of crops you can either employ one tractor and an entire day, or a hundred peasants for almost a week. If it was about employment, why aren't people running back to their villages
2 Yaers Ago, Saturday, August 22, 2015, 10:17:09