This is the final article in Wonkie’s series on South African role models. Good timing, given the recent events surrounding Julius Malema’s suspension from the ANC last week. Our guest writer below touches on the good, the bad and the ugly of South Africans worthy of imitation:
As the shadow of apartheid with all its limitations very slowly lessens, so it becomes imperative to create a new set of heroes and villains – the old struggle icons, to use a rather tired term, excite neither young people nor most older people for that matter. The main reason for this being the tainted example many of them now set – an example of self-interest, hypocrisy and cronyism. In addition, the depoliticization of communities and the erosion of common purpose have left young people vulnerable to the excessive individualism of neo-liberal capitalism with its emphasis on unchecked private accumulation and egotistical self-publicity. This then begs the question of how this new generation is to select those they wish to emulate and those they wish to avoid following.
The main criteria for a role model should be advancing the genuine empowerment of all sections of society, particularly of the dispossessed, through building a human rights based society. This is not to deny individuals the opportunity to realise themselves and stand out for their excellence – such opportunities must be allowed to flourish. But the celebrity sound bite media must be held to account so that the superficiality of role models currently being presented – Idols, reality show contestants, sports stars, entertainment figures, populist politicians, etc, is challenged.
So, which youthful role models should be applauded and which booed?
The Good: Thuli Madonsela – she is without doubt the most obvious example of a young black woman who has stood up for a genuinely new South Africa. Her handling of the Bheki Cele case and her refusal to be intimidated by the ANC power structure is extremely important. Her actions have given new relevance to and respect for the position of Public Protector after the previous incumbent, Lawrence Mushwana, a party hack, discredited the notion of independent investigation and appropriate sanction. Viva Thuli, viva!
The Bad: It would be too easy to use South Africa’s beloved Julius Malema to fill this spot – he is not alone in being a pathetic example to the country’s youth – the collective national office bearers of the ANCYL are to be condemned for leading South Africa’s youth into a dead end. Their rhetoric and self-righteousness while delivering nothing of any value is self-evident. Where are the campaigns or organisational frameworks that need to be built to deal with the atrocious education, massive unemployment, rampant sexual violence and disease that afflict young people? Pansi Juju and his cohorts, pansi!
The Ugly: Jimmy Manyi – the head of the Black Management Forum has progressively blotted his image. As spokesperson for a rising managerial and entrepreneurial class, he has shown ignorance of economics, lack of strategic thinking and a penchant for self-aggrandizement. His new position in the Department of Labour, which could have been an interesting exercise in bringing black business and organised black labour closer, has become a farce. The Norwegian complaint relating to his using an official meeting to punt for private gain was a particularly gross example of unethical and selfish behaviour. Pansi Jimmy Manyi, pansi! Other very ugly examples are Khulubuse Zuma and Zondwa Mandela – former directors of Pamodzi Mining who denied workers at the ill-fated Aurora mine their wages for almost two years while frittering away the assets of the company. So much for solidarity and basic decency!
In conclusion, there are some bright stars – Tladi Tladi of the Hawks is yet another, who are making an imprint on South Africa’s fledgling democracy, but in the main the cancers of a flashy lifestyle and the cult of the Quick Buck are making it difficult for them to set the tone. South Africans can only hope that this soon changes despite the current hegemony enjoyed by the ANC’s Young and Old Guards (with the SACP in tow) and a mass media and corporate culture that are fixated on sensationalism and conspicuous consumption. It is certainly not an easy time to be young.
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