Editorial - Let's build a winning, not a whining, nation

For too long now it has become evident that South Africa has become a sick society. We are sick, pathetic people. The government, business and religious leaders, civilians, professionals - including educators - and ordinary South Africans all fall into this category.

As a nation we sit on the sidelines and whinge, but how much are we really doing to make this a better place for all our people?

The sickness afflicts us all, yet manifests itself in the most vile manner in many disturbing aspects of life in this country.

As South Africans we should hang our heads in shame whenever we hear of the rape of a woman, a hijacking, a government official or businessman implicated in fraud, racism manifesting itself in ugly circumstances, learners cheating in the matric exams, and so on. Depressingly, the list of negatives in what was once hailed as the miracle Rainbow Nation is growing faster than the problems can be addressed.

Therein lies the illness. We have allowed the situation to slip out of control through apathy and putting our own interests first.

The ANC’s promise of a “better life for all” in the run-up to the country’s first democratic election has still not materialised. In fairness, most people in the country enjoy basic rights to housing, water sanitation and welfare, but these are irrelevant when considered against the litany of problems facing the nation.

One school of thought suggests that the onus in dealing with problems affecting the country rests squarely on the shoulders of President Mbeki and the government. In fact, a recent advertisement went as far as using images of several leaders, including Mbeki, Bantu Holomisa, Tony Leon and Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and asked: “Who are the guilty parties?”

The ad points out that there have been 32 000 reported rapes in the past 18 months. Responsibility, the ad points out, should be collective. But why use pictures of politicians, as if to shirk one’s responsibility as a South African by shifting blame to the politicians? We are all guilty!

Armchair critics, whether in the media or the loudmouths from the defunct alliances in the corridors of power, should do more than pick up stompies out of other people’s misery in pursuit of cheap publicity.

Armchair critics should do more than point fingers at those they believe should be doing something when they also have the power to act.

Most South Africans were united in the fight against apartheid, but the ethic that brought people together before 1994 has disappeared. Ours is now a divided nation in which personal interests are placed ahead of the national agenda.

Politicians aren’t the only ones guilty of furthering their own aims - and nests - but ordinary South Africans have become much more selfish too. How much do we care about this country? About each other?

The symptoms of the sick society that we have play themselves out on a daily basis as reports of the goings-on in society make headlines.

The rape of a baby in Kimberley last month ranks among the most despicable abominations carried out in this country. One of the alleged rapists is the child’s 61-year-old grandfather.

One can’t find words to describe such barbaric behaviour. Little wonder the lobbyists for the death penalty and/or those who advocate the cutting off of limbs are gaining support. We don’t support either of these initiatives, and strongly believe that education is the key to the country’s moral regeneration. How we raise our children, and what they are taught in schools, in religious classrooms and in civil society counts for little when we are producing a bunch of barbarians.

Rape is a sickness that affects every South African. Just as individuals galvanised support and led campaigns in the fight against apartheid, people should rally against rapists. It is a sick society when men rape women, young girls and babies.

We need to begin in the home and the classroom. Parents should educate their sons on the need to respect women and not treat the mothers, daughters and children of South Africa as worthless objects.

Teachers should inculcate the principles of respect and love for one another among pupils early on in school. But there have been countless reports of abuse carried out by educators, tarnishing the image of the profession.

To cure the ills of our society, it is up to us as individuals to do something about it, not wait for the government or someone else to take up the fight. We must assume responsibility for one another and stop passing the buck if we are to succeed in becoming a winning, and not a whining, nation.

- The Teacher/M&G Media, Johannesburg, December 2001.

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