Since we live in interesting times, it is The Byrds singing Turn Turn Turn
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
– Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities
I never read a Tale of Two Cities, but I love the much quoted introductory paragraph – I think every period of history will fit that description.
I apologize to Dickens for borrowing his title and twisting it to “A Tale of Two Countries.”
In 1995 I had the privilege to visit Morocco and Casablanca. For some reason an elderly parish member did not like the idea of me going there. She warned me “the flies will eat you.” I laughed. Then one afternoon we walked the back streets of Casablanca and I saw this dark cloud hanging in the distance. When we got close, it was flies – it was a street butchery! I will spare you the details. I did have a chuckle when I thought of the “prophesy!”
A year later I had another life-changing experience to visit Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi. I think it was Lilongwe where I had this same experience I had in Morocco and saw the street butchery again. This time only bigger.
Fast forward a year or three. I have resigned from the ministry and work as a financial adviser. I have an appointment with a client in Khayelitsha. I raise my hat to him. While working as a petrol pump attendant at a filling station he completed a B Com degree. He now owns a few businesses in Khayelitsha. With a collar and tie I head for Khayelitsha. I cross a tarred road and …
I am in Africa! It is like Blantyre and Lilongwe and the backstreets of Morocco! It is a hustle and bustle. There is an economy here. Shanty businesses everywhere. Hairdresser, airtime, Coke, used tires, exhaust shops, you name it. And a street butchery!
A week later I meet the client at his flat in Woodstock on a Saturday afternoon. I tell him about my experience. He laughs his deep, baritone laugh and says: “Piet, you are 40 years old and never realized you live in Africa!” Absolutely.
That was an important lesson in my life.
Many people still have not learned that lesson! We tend to think from the center – where we are and how we are is the norm for everybody. Everybody is like us (or should be).
If you gave me a choice of any place to go on holiday, it is not Beacon Isle, it is the old Transkei Wild Coast. Then you really see the two countries. An age-old culture where men tend the cows and women work in the fields. A culture not based on a money or a cash economy! I often wonder how one survives in a money-economy living in a basic agricultural economy.
Why do I share this? Because, if we want to move forward in South Africa, we have to realize it is the Tale of Two Countries (in One).
I think it is John Mbiti who said: “Not everyone likes a garden at his front door.” I understand that very well. I have a sister who (at least 3 of my 4 sisters) loves gardening (I do not). This sister has this mission to start gardening whenever she visits us. No, not bring plants, actually start digging and start a garden. When she leaves, I have to water and tend that garden. Can you feel my irritation? She just doesn’t get it that I don’t have a garden because I do not want one. Since she wants a garden and has a garden, I MUST want one too and MUST have one, too. It is inconceivable that I do not want or need a garden.
A virus allows us to reflect, to plan the future we want. If we really want a better future, we must stop telling other people what they should do based on our reality.
We live in Africa and a global village at the same time. A finely woven web of interconnections. A world of interdependence. We can react emotionally and say we will not do business with China, I understand that. I also know it would by cutting my nose to spite my face! Whether it is China, USA, Europe or the people of South Africa – we interdependent are need each other to survive. We will do well to remember it and respect it. Let’s align with this reality and not try to fight it. Together we can build a much better future.
Alone, we are back in caves.