Monday, July 26, 2010

The Righteousness of Nepotism

Nepos from Latin word meaning “nephew or grandchild”

A story is told of a missionary teacher; let us call him Mr Smith. Mr Smith came from a faraway country in Europe to give himself to a life of service to God in a country in South America. Mr Smith was appalled by the despicable behavior of his young learners who cheated during tests and examinations. They would cheat by showing each other the answers during the tests in class. Mr Smith was of course distressed as no amount of rebukes or punishments put an end to this wickedness or brought any amount of repentance from this communal sin. One day Mr Smith asked one of the children why they would not stop cheating. The boy was perplexed that this teacher could be so cold; “Sir, if someone does not know the answer and you have it, you share it with them.” It was that simple to this child, what sort of human being would want to do anything different? Mr Smith now felt like the devil for trying to enforce the evils of selfishness.

We are fortunate to be living in a democratic South Africa in a time where information is literally at hand the moment the first person seems to know about it. We might even think that this government is more corrupt than the previous government. The previous government had the great fortune of governing before internet which meant that they had even more control over what the media reports or does not. If you thought you were clever of course you could always be tortured, banished or your memory permanently erased from the earth. If you wanted to protest, don’t worry the police will be waiting for you with real bullets. Living in the times we are living in with information so readily available begs the question what was SAA boss thinking, was he even thinking? Of course the whole world would quickly find out what he was doing with the taxpayers’ money. According to reports SAA boss is being accused of mishandling and abusing taxpayers’ money while having wasted it randomly on friends and family. I saw another headline about a business deal that has gone to yet another one of the president’s children and recently a nephew. Again I saw Danny Jordaan making headlines about how his brother struck gold through Danny’s 2010 connections. I did not read any of these articles at great length nor investigate further; these are simply stories that have been on our headlines just these two months if we looked closer we would find many more such stories.

What is the connection between Mr Smith, the children and our corrupt leaders? My question is how much of it is actually corruption? How much of it is a world view, a deep sense of a conscience of right and wrong that is simply in conflict with our newly adopted definitions of right and wrong?

Let me infuriate you by telling you of yet another story. Actually I will quote this one word for word and I understand that it comes from a holy book. “So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharoah directed. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.” You must especially hate the last bit provision according to the number of their children! We do have a president with a fair number of children do we not? I am not saying anything here I am just noting what those words said. One must also note that this provision for the extended family as my foreign tongue calls it, happened during the time of famine, maybe something as bad or worse than recession. I could tell you of the ancient Queen Esther’s uncle who also rose to a great position of power under the great King Xerxes’ rule, and many other stories in this great book riddled with family members rising together, maybe you may think that Jesus must have put an end to all of that nonsense after all wasn’t he the original hippy, preaching love and peace? No, no friends, most of Jesus’ disciples were siblings. Nepotism, nepotism, nepotism!

Earlier I posed the question how much of our problems with the above mentioned cases is actually corruption? Perhaps it is. How can you eat and be fat while your own flesh and blood is starving? How can you grow and become powerful and not lift up those who instructed you as you were growing up? It is simply asking one to go against their very nature. I will give you a personal example. I remember as a student we organized the finest end of year functions for our residence, it was hosted in a five star hotel, we had a live jazz band we wanted everything of the best and we did it. I went out of my way to influence and convince the committee members to use my brother as the MC because he is brilliant, I told them. Now, I had never seen my brother on stage before then in fact he did not like me very much at the time. They were not convinced but eventually they yielded and he did a fantastic job. Now when they look back they see themselves as the people who contributed to the story of his stardom even though he might have forgotten about the gig. Those guys used to mention it to me everytime they saw him on TV patting themselves on the back for giving him an opportunity to be on the grandest stage they could have offered. It was nepotism on my part and you do not have to be best buddies, it is better if you are but family is family.

Family can get tricky and complex just like anything else. Since the days of mining when mining laborers left their homes to find work the South African family has long been sacrificed on the alter of business. Had fathers and father-figures not been removed from their family and society then I believe we would not have childheaded households today. So, why can’t business invest back to the South African family? Yes we need to know when it is time to say no or allow people to find their own routes however, there is something fundamentally wrong with not assisting your family when you know that you can. What we are in conflict with here is a system that crowns individualism and confuses it like the teacher for righteousness when it is not.

The culture that crowns individualism is the standard that we have set for ourselves and I am afraid it is a threat to the African spirit. A person’s measure of success should not be measured by how much they have individually accomplished for themselves but on how many people they have empowered in order to rise together and never alone. In practice, we know that those who only think of themselves are those who climb the ladder of success the fastest and become the best and the brightest. Steve Biko or Oliver Tambo or Nelson Mandela or many greats like them who laid down their lives for the benefit of a corporate dream. They dreamt of something larger than themselves, they also dreamt for those who could not dream for themselves and they used their own gift to make up for those who had given up on the possibility of freedom. Mandela knew that to think of yourself alone is to be very short-sighted and your success ends with yourself. It was after 27 years of suffering that his light shone and filled the earth. He has become so glorified in his old age that we often fear that it is far too much for one man. His present glory completely overshadows any amount of suffering that he endured his entire life. On the contrary Mandela could have never endured for a bigger dream and become a successful lawyer, raised his children and the world would have never known him.

I know the dear former President Mbeki would possibly disagree with the interpretation of African renaissance I would like to propose in my next few sentences. Let us not destroy the generous nurturing African spirit by exerting the Western world-view over ourselves as there has been an apparent struggle to completely adapt ourselves to the standards of the good West. The West gave us good things however it is collapsing why should we adopt everything? Many of our relatives are poor and we often feel overwhelmed and unable to assist as we are determined to do right as prescribed by another view of right. If one is in a better position let them be empowered to be able to lift those around them and how about starting at home? Relationships are the deepest and most meaningful ways to transform our society. I am convinced that we will be more effective in our poverty elevation if we focus on those we know first and then move beyond those we do not know. Let us rebuild Africa by using the structures of family government we always had because outside of those is a dog-eat-dog-eat world. Will there be abuses of power and corruption in this system? Absolutely, so let the wise and skilled craft better laws of how to monitor abuse within such structures. (I do not in anyway commend the abuse of state money for luxury flights for friends and family this is not what this is about.) Thus we shall no longer be just a number in the structures of government but we have family names and we know exactly whom to approach when we are failed or called upon when we have because when we have failed we would have failed our very selves. This will not be a difficult thing to do because we will not be adopting a new system but simply being allowed to be our best selves by acknowledging what already is. Being African has always been about belonging to a people and playing your part to strengthen the whole rather than just being a lone shining star.

This is an idea that should rather be explored in further detail through conversations, research or many articles as so much can be argued and more explanations would be necessary but for now I am writing to those who are able to hear and see be it to challenge the idea or to take it up seriously.

Africa this is for you. You are your best when you are yourself. Too often you have been told to change, that you are not good enough, that your ways are backward and your ways are unacceptable because your culture does not suit the modern day culture. I am saying that in you is hidden your greatest treasure and way to move much further than using any other culture’s system or definitions of progress. We have only seen a little of that because it has not been embraced but pushed down, abused, misunderstood and like those children there is a deeper more righteous secret hidden in sometimes even in the shame of your corruption – there lies a glory to be unveiled, when you find gold it first needs to undergo an intense process of purification. This too must be viewed in the same way. Africa arise, shine ‘tis time.

Sikelelwa Africa! Be blessed Africa!

by Sikelelwa Dlanga or Madame Madiba

published in The Thinker 21/2010 edition

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I write a lot. When it's necessary I draw. 
I have been called a Poet, a Writer, an Illustrator, a Banner of Freedom, a Word Magician, etc.
I am a Lover of Truth embodied in beauty.