Cry the beloved country, Alan Paton’s acclaimed novel about South Africa, written way back in 1948, has much to teach us today. That’s especially true right now, as the beautiful country of South Africa, with so much potential, finds itself under siege from a deliberately planned insurrection. An insurrection that is determined to bring the economy to its knees and its citizens to the brink of desperation as the behind-the-scenes insurrection leaders and their followers attempt to overthrow the government and existing societal structures. Leaving citizens of all backgrounds traumatized. Leaving them angry. Leaving them feeling hopeless.
I wasn’t going to write about this topic today. But some emotional exchanges with one of my blogging friends in Durban, SA and then a more careful read of mostly overseas media have made me realize that the full extent of what’s happening in South Africa is far worse than a few riots that will die down. People’s lives, livelihoods, and hope for any future at all are at stake. Hundreds if not thousands of stores have been gutted, and of course the investments and livelihoods that go with those stores are gone. Up to $1BN of foods and goods have been looted. Let that sink in. There is no cash in the ATMs and no fuel at the gas stations.
I realize that there are other parts of the world experiencing terrible, terrible situations as well. And I realize that I’m not going to change anything by writing about yet more depressing world news. But South Africa could and should have been a leader on the world stage in showing how a multiracial population can succeed in a united way. They have the natural resources and people resources to have a vibrant economy that supports everyone. They have a diversity of geography and climate that other nations would give their eye teeth for. They have the capacity for abundant agricultural output. And they have all those magnificent wild animals! But South Africa has been increasingly lacking leadership that is there to serve the people as opposed to serving themselves. Take note, everyone elsewhere, this should be a wakeup call for all democracies – never mind the autocracies – where leadership is not all it could or should be. Guard your democracies with care. Never take them for granted.
As we all know, South Africa actually did have a leader who inspired not only his own people but people the world over – Nelson Mandela. And this is precisely why I decided to write on this topic, because, in perhaps as great an irony as one could imagine, today is Mandela Day.
In 2009 the United Nations proclaimed July 18th, Mandela’s birthday, to be Mandela Day to honour his legacy in human rights. It’s not meant to be a public holiday but rather a day used to honour the values he taught through example by volunteering and engaging in community service. In South Africa today, people have been asked to honour Nelson Mandela by helping with the massive cleanup of the heart-wrenching destruction caused by the looting. Other people are helping to distribute food to all those who are unable to find any thanks to this insurrection. Let us hope with all our might that this coming together to contribute to recovering from this onslaught can accomplish exactly what Mandela would have encouraged, uniting the country in moving forward peacefully.
Nelson Mandela has sometimes been referred to as the Gandhi of South Africa. Gandhi was certainly an inspiration for Mandela. People much younger than I am might not be aware that Gandhi himself spent a full 21 years in South Africa as a young lawyer, practicing his skills at preaching human rights and proactively engaging in passive resistance, before returning to India and eventually leading the overthrow of British rule using those very techniques. Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, two of the most impressive human rights and peace activists the world has known, both making their mark in South Africa. We must hope that their spirit will rise again in the country where they made their mark. And emerge victorious. Very soon.
And now a few images to give a taste of the beauty and variety of South Africa.
Camp Bay Beach, near Cape Town.
City of Durban, where so much looting occurred this week.
One of South Africa’s many vineyards.
Traditional rondavels in the Transkei.
An Oryx enjoying the spring colours.
Lots of thirsty elephants!