Can someone explain to me what national pride actually is? What is patriotism? What makes Americans gather in their millions on the 4th of July and parade in pride down the nations streets in spite of their political bickering and tension of the moment? What makes them (mostly) proud to be American? Or any other countries citizens for that matter? What makes Hollywood movies always have the hero belt out those patriotic last stand speeches? I think I may have known once… at some distant point in our rainbow nations past but I seem to have forgotten. Anyone care to elaborate?
This is not a post griping about all the things that are going wrong in South Africa, just pick up any newspaper and you will have a half dozen just on page 1 (positives start on page 4). I don’t need to copy/paste those. No, this is about someone who once felt a fair level of pride in being called a South African – and I don’t mean the pride a child has, I am talking about the pride that an educated (hopefully) adult has made a conscious decision to have. Pride, I believe, is an important part of being human and when moderated with a little humility, is the thing that gives you confidence in yourself and your achievements and keeps your head up in the face of hardship. It’s part of us and there is no point in dwelling on the negative aspects of the emotion.
The first time I could legally participate in the future of our country, I voted in the referendum to end apartheid and being young, I only saw the hope and possibilities and like virtually all South Africans at the time I bought into that clever marketing pitch of the Rainbow Nation. I saw in people like Mandela and Tutu, a future of leaders worth idolising and respecting: People who would be able to put aside differences, resolve our issues, redress the past and leapfrog our country beyond the horrible examples set by other African countries coming out of a dark colonial history.
It was never going to be an easy time and I remember struggling to accept the changes that were inevitable and live with overcorrection to a dark past of injustice that was, in some instances justified, but I never once considered leaving the place I was born. It was not until about 10 years into the new democracy that I began to realise that I had lost whatever pride I used to have and that my original reasons had long since left, like those original altruistic peacekeepers in the first democratic government. Add another 10 years of water under the bridge and I’d now leave in a heartbeat if I could, and swear honest allegiance to whatever first world flag would take me. The colour of the rainbow has slowly leached out, barely noticed.
Sure, things could be worse, far far worse. But why should the fact that we have not deteriorated into anarchy be seen as a positive? Why is it so difficult for anyone to think of an achievement that is a real quantifiable success rather than just a “well, it could have been worse” compromise that we should all be thankful to be able to be proud of? Surely 20 years on, things should be far better… Or like education standards, do we just keep lowering the bar to make ourselves feel better or keep the uneducated placated while those in power follow their private agendas and line their personal coffers for when they hand over the reigns of an exhausted underfed nag to be bled a little more by a chosen crony successor?
According to those in the know, South Africa is poised at a balancing point, showing both the positive and negative signs of a future that could go either way… and it’s not a knife edge, it’s a small flat rock outcrop midway up a mountain to the first world. Problem is that there is a slippery slope down that everyone knows, gathers momentum over years of ineptitude, apathy, corruption, self serving leaders and non-delivery. We are unlikely to wake up one morning to the news of a coup or something equally horrific – lets face it, you can’t line your pockets if you don’t maintain at least some semblance of prosperity. But a slow inevitable descent into unrealised potential is not yet impossible for SA, in fact, it’s worryingly probable unless something happens soon. I wish I could find something hopeful but the next 10 years do not look promising to me and I worry for my children and what South Africa will be like when they reach adulthood. Will we be plodding along, making do as best we can or will South Africa really have become be a place to be proud of rather than just another example of failed African potential?
I lie… I do have one hope – that I am very very wrong.