Beyond the tribe, outside the ghetto

JP Landman

Two South Africans worth keeping an eye on – Bobby Godsell (previously with Anglogold and now with Eskom) and James Motlatsi (past union leader and now with Thebe Investments) – launched a book in December in which ordinary South Africans are given guidelines on what they can do to make the country a better place.*

It is practical and action-oriented. The authors identify nine areas in which each one of us can make some contribution – from building stronger family ties to avoiding unnecessary debt.

One of the nine areas – “Beyond the tribe, outside the ghetto” – drew my attention. It deals with building common community values and a sense of responsibility toward the greater good of all. We cannot live within our own tribe and ghetto as if the outside world does not exist.

We are still a nation in the making and still working toward those common values which bind us.

But at the moment we are caught between two opposing forces in South Africa, making the process that much harder.

On the one hand, there is a natural inclination to be with one’s own kind. Here a comfort zone exists which makes it preferable and easier to be on the inside than on the outside.

But this is exactly what nation-building requires of us. To move out of our comfort zone so that we can reach out to those who are not like us.

It is this conflict that runs through our public debate.

For instance, after Barack Obama’s election victory two white writers were quick to point out that the US is now non-racial – and that South Africa can only claim this right once a white person is elected president.

Excuse me? What about a coloured or Indian person? Surely it is about minorities, and not about being white or not.

And seen in the light of the 350 years of white domination in this country, such an opinion smacks of arrogance.

Just take a moment to look at this from a black South African’s perspective.

Instead, we still view things from within the tribe, rather than “Beyond the tribe, outside the ghetto”.

Another example is the Springbok rugby emblem. Put in the shoes of their white colleagues, black sport enthusiasts must surely feel the same emotional connection associated with the Springbok and all it stands for – being the best; the hero of the nation.

And the same applies to white people – placing themselves in the shoes of a black rugby player in the 1960s who was denied the right to this honour; never even to be considered for it. How does that feel?

A third example is the media, defining itself as an instrument serving a particular tribe or ghetto, and not the greater community.

Serving a particular target market is one thing – blowing on the flames of xenophobic hatred and encouraging an inferior mentality quite another.

Afrikaans offers an opportunity in the reverse. This language can play a unique role: reaching out beyond the tribe to the greater community.

It has the potential to strengthen South Africa’s social capital and bring renewal to the language at the same time. Not so that we can create a new and larger ghetto that only includes the Afrikaner tribe – that specifically not.

Reaching out beyond the traditional tribe and ghetto must be based on common values and a sense of the greater community.

Fortunately most South Africans seem disinclined to go for such a new ghetto idea. It is with these people that I add my voice.

Godsell and Motlatsi come from different ghettos. They have reached out for the sake of common interests – Anglo mines and job opportunities. And now they share enough values to build a new nation. It’s everyone’s own choice.

*Do It! – Every South African’s Guide to Making a Difference by James Motlatsi and Bobby Godsell. Jacana Media, 2008.

JP Landman is a self-employed political and trend analyst. He consults to SA largest private wealth business, BoE Private Clients, and works with several SA corporates on future scenario trends. His focus areas are trends in politics, economics and social capital.

Among some of the unique research projects his consultancy has undertaken was the role of public institutions in battling corruption (quoted by the UN in a report on corruption), the interplay of demographics and economic growth, and an overview of trends around poverty alleviation in SA. Whilst working as an analyst on the JSE in the 1990s he was voted the top analyst in political trends.

He is also a popular speaker who has addressed diverse audiences locally and internationally and enjoys consistently good ratings.

He has a BA and LLB degrees from Stellenbosch (1978), studied Economics and Development Economics at Unisa (1979 and 1980) and later at Harvard (1998 and 2005), and obtained an MPhil in Future Studies (cum laude) from Stellenbosch (2003).