Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business in conversation with Dr Mamphela Ramphele
We need to Re-Imagine South Africa – Dr Mamphela Ramphele
A Business Breakfast hosted by the PCB (Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business) on the 3rd of March brought Dr Mamphela Ramphele to the City to deliver a relevant, thought-provoking and inspiring address to PCB Members and others.
Kicking off with Nelson Mandela’s quote “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing… Dr Ramphele asked “What happened?” “What’s become of us?” “Where is that thrill, that idealism, that amazing spirit of 22 years ago that bound us?”
At the core, says Ramphele “We need to Re-Imagine South Africa”
Such a simple word, and in essence a simple process, but in South Africa, MUCH more than what is says.
Thanks to the Daily Maverick, a condensed version of Dr Ramphele’s address, a powerful call-to-action.
Why is re-imagining our country a critical success factor?
First, all dreams, however good, lose their power to inspire and energise people over time. Twenty-two years after our transition to democracy is a good time for us to pause and re-dream ourselves into a future we can be proud of.
Second, we have to listen to the growing chorus of young people’s voices. They feel alienated from the dream of 1994. Some go as far as denouncing it as a sell-out that allowed white people to get away with murder – physical and metaphorical. The anger and rage that burst out during public protests cannot be sanitised by pleas for reason. It is unreasonable to expect young people to accept that they cannot live in the inclusive society promised in 1994. We need to work together with them to paint a co-created vision of a re-imagined society that they can co-own and have confidence in.
Third, the negative energy in our society is a signal that all is not well. We need to turn our collective gaze towards the horizon to find the inspiration that would enable us to transcend the rut we are in as a society. We need to remind ourselves that we have one of the most beautiful countries in the world that is rich in human, natural and mineral resources. We need to raise the bar of our imagination and paint a bold picture of an inclusive prosperous democracy we can all be proud of….
Achieving an Emotional Settlement
Our failure to “come to terms with the burden of our history” is undermining our ability to live the dream of 1994 and beyond. We need to do the essential work of coming to terms with the impact of the injustices visited on the majority population by minority governments over the last 400 years.
Acknowledgement of the wounds inflicted on people through a colour-coded system, and its impact on both the victims and perpetrators, is a necessary precondition to achieving an emotional settlement. We also need to come to terms with the privileges that flow from multigenerational affirmative action in favour of the white community at the expense of the black community. This is what emotional settlement is about.
An emotional settlement has two aspects: an emotional and a transactional element. The emotional aspect is about dealing with matters of the heart. The transactional aspect is about how we come to terms with the consequences of the burden of history and agree to do the work to enable us to move forward into a shared future.
The emotional element is the most difficult to address. Few people readily open up their feelings to scrutiny even within intimate spaces. Our feelings, good and bad, shape our being and our capacity for social relationships. Unacknowledged feelings of hurt that are not addressed tend to fester.
Social pain is even more devastating on a nation’s psyche and imperils its future.
Humiliation undermines the fundamental core of what it means to be human. Our self-esteem is at the core of our being. It is the most important enabler of a sense of well-being, and of our capacity for social relationships. When young people in our society speak of black pain, they speak of this humiliation that persists to date. Both black and white people need to acknowledge this pain instead of being embarrassed that 22 years after our transition to democracy black social pain remains an issue….
Rebuilding our Reimagined Country
Securing an emotional settlement is a prerequisite to citizens recommitting to working together to rebuild the country they re-imagine. Our failure over the last 22 years to build a democratic, non-racial, inclusive, prosperous society can be attributed largely to the lack of a shared co-created vision and the flow of empathy that would give content to the rhetoric of Ubuntu. The acceptance of the “I am because you are” by all citizens inevitably leads to a passion and desire to see everyone being enabled to contribute to the emergence of our envisioned society.
Such a society would be characterised by the unleashing of the talents of all citizens to energise our political, social and economic development processes. Socio-economic restructuring under such circumstances becomes a shared high priority national effort by both black and white citizens. The moral ethos of the society would become intolerant of any missed opportunities to fundamentally transform our society. Reliance on compliance, as in the current inadequate Black Economic Empowerment programme, becomes the exception and not the rule.
Imagine the impact of an announcement that we will no longer leave any one of our children and young people outside the walls of privilege. Imagine what a fully funded and transformed education and training system could achieve over the next 10-15 years. Imagine what transformation of our constrained apartheid geography cities and towns would do to unleash the commercial, innovative entrepreneurial and vibrant cultural life in our society.
Imagine transformed corporates with young black professionals led by confident men and women CEOs from a diversity of backgrounds in our society. Imagine our agri-businesses engaged in sustainable diversified productive ventures – large and small – to make us food secure and trade to our advantage. The sky is the limit.
We are at a pivotal moment in our history. We have all the ingredients for success. The choice is ours – whether we recommit to re-imagining our country into the great society it can become, or continue to hesitate at the threshold of a new, brighter future.
Coming to terms with the burden of our history would free us to re-imagine ours as a democratic, inclusive, prosperous society where everyone celebrates our true unity in diversity. That would be the greatest tribute we can pay to Es’kia Mphahlele. DM
Mamphela Ramphele, Reimagine Futures Network