Yesterday’s Heroes

I recently completed one of Seth Godin’s latest books, “Poke the Box.”  As usual Seth’s work is thought provoking.  The book deals with moving outside your box and constantly poking it to test the validity thereof.  On the last page of this book, Seth quotes Siddhartha Gautama: “There are two mistakes one can make along the road to the truth.  Not going all the way, and not starting.”

This connected to me in a weird way.  I started thinking about a discussion I had two weeks ago with a professor from Vlerick Leuven Gent, one of the top business schools in Europe.  He is also a South African with still some strong ties to South Africa.  We had both attended a talk by Adam Kahane about solving tough problems.  Adam has recently published his latest book, “Power & Love,” in which he makes the point that power and love need to be applied in a balanced manner to avoid sentimentality or oppression.  Power without love is oppressive and brutal, while love without power is anaemic and sentimental.

My immediate thought was about our current day political situation.  Here we have a Julius Malema defending his right to sing struggle songs from days gone past.  The fact that this could be divisive and counter-nation building, has apparently escaped him.  I see him practising power without love.  He is ignoring the big picture, a picture in which the development of a cohesive South African nation plays centre role.  This is a picture which was paramount in the mind of a Nelson Mandela, a man who practised power with love, a man that was able to remain focused on what needed to be done, who started the course and who went all the way until he no longer physically could!

The question we could ask ourselves is whether Julius would be able to finish what he stands in danger of starting, namely a revolution amongst people who currently have no interest in maintaining the current system and structure.  The reality is that we do have a system which is the most skewed in the world as far as income distribution is concerned.  The reality is also that we have come a long way in creating a sizeable middle class amongst the black population, people who 20 years ago had nothing and very little economic and social mobility.  These people are testament that although the system is very far from ideal, it is slowly but surely improving.

We need to ask ourselves a number of questions.  First of all, we need to ask ourselves why Julius Malema has the anger that is driving his current behaviour.  Also, why does he have such a large potential constituency, who are equally driven by anger and fury?  Yes, the economic dimension plays an important role, but I am of the opinion that the psychological dimension plays an even more important role.  What am I referring to?

My belief is that the black people in this country require and deserve a symbolic oppressor to address during an essential psychological healing process.  When you have been oppressed and humiliated for centuries, you need to deal with the psychological damage.  On an individual basis, we use psychologists to help us deal with the pain of issues we have suppressed or repressed into our unconscious.  When we do not deal with these issues, the end result is depression and anger or fury.  Can you imagine the nature of the black unconscious in this country?  Of the anger and the fury that is latent, and sometimes even very visible and real?!

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the mid-1990’s had the potential to deal with these issues.  It never went far enough and we lost a valuable opportunity to deal with the issues of the past in a meaningful way.  Today we are slowly but surely drifting into a situation where power and love are becoming separated.  We are running out of our window of opportunity created for us by people such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

One of the reasons for this is the lack of a sense of accountability or responsibility by the white population of South Africa.  We are denying any wrong doing, any part in the sustainment of a system in which the black people of this country were denied basic human rights, where they were denied the right to meaningful work, to associate with whom they wanted, where they wanted!  We also deny the unfairness of a system that gave us untold undeserved advantages, and we deny the need to acknowledge this and to apologise for our willingness to embrace this as our right!

And this is where the song of John Paul Young, “Yesterday’s Hero” comes in.  In 1975 this song was a worldwide hit.  The one line states “Take a look at me I am yesterday’s hero.”  Why are the white people not willing to accept accountability and responsibility?  Why do they not understand the need to do exactly that?  And unfortunately I can only blame our leaders.  When the going got tough, the “tough” left!  They became yesterday’s hero!

FW de Klerk started on the road of “normalising” this country by unbanning the ANC and releasing Nelson Mandela.  Roelf Meyer participated in the negotiations for the new constitution.  But where are they today?  What role are they playing today, have they played since 1994?  What role have they and their compatriots played in ensuring that the white population understand the need for accepting accountability and responsibility for the political system run by us?  And the answer is a resounding nothing!

They started the process and then walked away, leaving the white population, and more specifically the Afrikaner, without any significant leadership!  There is no one there to help the Afrikaner getting to grips with the danger of the situation, and to understand the process and road to playing a meaningful role in crafting a new future where we all contribute towards a great country.  Not only did our heroes of yesterday not complete the journey and not understand the requirements of the journey, they failed to ensure that we had the leaders to take us on that all-important journey of owning up to the sins of the past!

The result of that failure is a significant anger amongst a large group of the population.  We are expecting people that have been oppressed all their lives to forget about the past because the oppression and humiliation has stopped.  This is unreasonable and irresponsible!  That is why people such as a Julius Malema have so much anger in them.  That is why we find so much senseless violence where people get killed for something as trivial as a mobile phone.  That is why we find that families get wiped out on farms, with even young children being killed in absolutely senseless killings.  That is also why we find so much black on black violence!

This country is in serious danger when the Malema’s of the world gain credibility because the system does not have sufficient leaders of stature, people who bring both power and love to the party.  Yesterday’s heroes have already contributed to a dangerous situation by starting the country on a path and then abandoning the Afrikaner and white population without ensuring that they have sufficient leadership and a sound understanding of the required role of the Afrikaner in the reconciliation of the cultural groups in South Africa.

As if this is not bad enough, we are finding a lack of requisite leadership amongst the political parties of today.  Where are the Nelson Mandela’s of the world?  Where are his successors with the gravitas and ability to draw this country together?  Why are the most vocal young people, people such as Julius Malema?  As I have stated before in a previous article, the ANC owes it to this country to produce the leaders that will ensure that we stay on a course of nation building.  We have had enough of yesterday’s heroes.  We now need people in the ANC that can balance power and love as the situation demands!

A good friend of mine who is also an expert in managing diversity recently tried to explain to me why it was still necessary to have organizations such as the Black Management Forum.  His point was that the black people needed to organize themselves in response to the policies and practices of the past.  I do not have a problem with that.  I do, however, have a problem with the point that the white population does not need them as they are ostensibly already organized.  We are not.  We do need a white management forum, a white society for whatever, at all levels and in all spheres of society.  The purpose of these societies should be to help bring across a much needed message that we need to stand up and acknowledge our past and we need to organize ourselves to deal with the future.  And for this we do not need Yesterday’s Heroes.  We need leaders in the white population, and specifically the Afrikaner community, that have a finely tuned and highly developed leadership competence where power and love is exquisitely balanced!

And remember, as the sitcom Frazer so eloquently puts it, Yesterday’s Heroes have already left the building!


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6 Responses

  1. Leon de Jager says:

    Thank you Johan. This is the kind of open and truthful discourse that we need. We cannot pretend to be re-born with a blank memory.

  2. Steyn says:

    Great post Johan, and it rang true to me on various levels – in particular dealing with the past and progressing into the future.

    As someone who was very young when SA became democratic, I’ve found myself sometimes becoming unreasonably impatient with the progression of our psyche as a nation into a truly diverse country united around the same cause (to make SA a great place for all of us). I’ve noticed that I sometimes cringe when I hear of yet another news report about someone blaming apartheid, thinking “surely at close to 20 years of democracy, we should stop blaming apartheid!”

    The fact is that I’ve been privileged enough to be caught in that strange limbo – being too young to really take in the effects of apartheid and growing up in a democratic state for most of my life. Subsequently I find it difficult to understand why people can’t move on!

    Some good thoughts in this article, great ammo for my journaling!

  3. Piet Bester says:

    Thanks Johan, good food for thought. We deal with this on a daily base.

  4. Marius Louw says:

    Great article! Well put in that the article truly allows you to take your head out of he sand and reason on a different level.
    Well done!

  5. Sebti jali says:

    Great post Johan as always. As a foreigner I could be SHOCKED BY these WORDS BUT THANKS TO MY ONE WEEK EXPERIENCE IN THIS BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY, I SHARE YOUR POINT OF VIEW. THIS COUNTRY IS GREAT AND COMPLEX. THAT IS WHY IT NEEDS GREAT LEADERS WITH HIGH COMPETENCE OF POWER AND LOVE, otherwise this great experience of 20 years democracy will end up in a nightmare.

  6. Julian Pick says:

    Definitely food for thought.