Friday, June 20, 2008

Man On

Much has lately been made of the world's trouble and strife; including the global economy, politics, the environmental crisis, food shortages and rising energy costs. South Africa also has the unenviable scourge of violent crime to add to the general malaise; not to mention the inevitable meltdown that our neighbour, Zimbabwe, is heading for. As if this is not enough for a 14 year old democracy to endure; into these macro issues strides the hulking figure of John Hlope, President of the Cape Bar. Judge Hlope has been thoroughly exposed for contravening judicial ethics and, frankly, triggering a constitutional crisis. At the heart of the issue is his intervention in the corruption trial of ANC President, Jacob Zuma. Hlope attempted to influence judges, hearing the case, in favour of Zuma; and has been censured by a full panel of the Judicial Services Commission.

While the process of the law taking it's course was as impressive as it was necessary, the country has nonetheless been left with yet another vivid experience to add to the mounting sense of dread concerning the wildly gyrating moral compass of it's leadership. It won't be an exaggeration to state that those in powerful positions have a special responsibility and, as the saying goes, much is expected from those to whom much is given. It follows that examples set, are then used as justifications by the unscrupulous and opportunistic; with the inevitable result that a downward spiral is created, fuelled by a cycle of moral decay.

The persistent repetition of the same mistakes points at fundamental flaws within our society. In fairness the Mbeki administration has strived mightily to create a centrist, and therefore stable, society in South Africa. Many socialist programs were abandoned to promote economic growth and prosperity, while beneficiaries of the previous regime were allowed to retain their wealth and had their property rights guaranteed. All of this is the name of building a just, but above all, a lasting civic structure. The tragedy, however, is that Africa's predilection for expediency is threatening to take root here. Which is why, despite having the world's most liberal constitution, we see a senior jurist such as Hlope, circumvent the law for political gain.

Stepping back from recent events and taking a deep breath does restore a sense of equilibrium though. The Buddhists, for example, believe that when the lesson is before the pupil the teacher will appear. And so it is with this multi-cultural society, in it's attempts to form a new national character and identity. A struggle which is, for better or for worse, still dominated by patriarchal thinking and attitudes. Men are too often in pursuit of short term goals, in the belief that their peers will not only admire their prowess but also seek to emulate them. Sadly they fail to appreciate that this headlong rush for influence and standing in the community, devastates the very society whose approval they ultimately seek. Like a gigantic mirror, the entire country exhibits the grotesque scars that have been inflicted in the cause of individual advancement.

This, then, has to be a defining moment for the men of this country. Never before have we had an opportunity with such promise. Yet, this portentous state of affairs is also reeling from the hammer blows of our indifference. We cannot, in good conscience, carry on the way we have been. Will the generation, in whose name we're plundering, really be grateful and admiring of our efforts? It's highly unlikely that young people will continue such a legacy, driven as they are by transparency, ethics and environmental concerns. And who can blame them, they are the ones who will have to cope with the failures we leave behind. No, its time to move our horizons forward by another 40 years; and to start seeing the world through the eyes of those that will inherit it.

Herein, of course, lies the kernel of our redemption as men. By recognizing that we are, by far, the largest contributor to the problem; we can then move on to finding the solution. We need to re-define our ability to chart new courses and to explore boldly. Its in our nature to push the limits, only this time we need inclusive goals that benefit the least amongst us. The same celebrated abilities, re-channelled, will bring South Africa's men recognition and cooperation. Our courage and bravery, so well documented in this long struggle with the most challenging continent on the planet, will now stand us in good stead. Our children will build on this example instead of tearing it down, and our women will stand by us as equals.

Staying with the Buddhist analogy we can also posit, that, the greater the crisis the greater the lesson required to move beyond it. In this vein we can agree that life ultimately confronts us with unfinished business; and so it is when we observe the developmental convulsions our country is experiencing. We will move beyond current issues with robust, and sometimes furious, debate. New leaders will rise to replace the fallen, greater understanding will take root and increasing success will inspire greater confidence and ambition. And this will happen despite outdated male attitudes, not because of them.

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