Let me confess right at the outset that I am a terminal optimist.
I have never been inclined to any other way of seeing the world, mainly because, as I see it, if even a tiny fraction of all of the things that people spend their time and energy worrying about ever came to pass, we would have got to the end of the world a long, long time ago.
It also strikes me that we are inclined to worry about the wrong things. George Bush launched an entire nation into a war based on the threat of terrorist strikes after the twin towers thing. Imagine if, instead, he were to have received the statistics of the number of Americans who died of obesity in the same year. (Do Americans require larger burial plots today than they did before? I know that they can now get bigger toilet seats.) The point is, USA public funding may have been much better spent fighting the Battle of the Bulge than fighting the Taliban – who now simply grow cocaine for a living. At least Americans can feel safe from Al Qaeda while they happily die from other things, possibly even more easily preventable. In fact, millions of them deliberately live in Los Angeles and San Francisco which are going to fall into the sea, so it also seems to me that they are not as risk averse as their President seems to think they are. They are even rebuilding New Orleans - as the Americans say, “Go figure.”
It seems to me that very little is actually predictable, and the things that are, are quite boring anyway.
Back at home in South Africa we have had Polokwane.
This was apparently a disaster because we witnessed a serious vote of no confidence in our president, and a vote for a man with a shower rose on his head. Dinner party and braaivleis conversation topics have now returned with a vengeance to talk of emigration, doom and gloom, and general dark pessimism. Optimists like me are drowned out by cries of “Open your eyes, and get into the real world! In fact….” I am told, “It will not help to open your eyes anyway because it is so dark after Eskom dropped all of the balls!”
The country has gone to dogs. Manto is still charge of hospitals and vegetable patches, Eskom has failed, matriculants can’t read or write, you cannot get a driver’s licence without paying a bribe and the police are being run by the mafia. Soon the Scorpions will be disbanded giving free rein to corrupt politicians. So Clever Trevor reassures us, and allocates even more money to the soon-to-be-disbanded Scorpions. (It seems that no-one told him to cut their budget. They can’t even get that right.) Have you seen the potholes on the road? The criminals are running the show.
And then, as we quaff our fifth beer at the braai, and turn to watch the sun go down on one side, and the full moon come up on the other, some philosophical character says, “Another shit day in Africa!” and his best mate chimes in, on cue, “Ja man, Africa is not for sissies.”
I say, “Get a life!” I also say that it seems like Africa is now full of sissies.
Where are the descendants of the warriors who defended El Alamein, and trudged behind the trek wagons? Where are the descendants of the 1820 Settlers who scratched a living from their patch with no water, no electricity, no petrol and no cell phones? And for my black brothers, where are all the descendants of those magnificent leaders, Kings Shaka and Moshesh?
Imagine explaining to Piet Retief, Cecil Rhodes or to Mzilikazi, “The country has really gone to the dogs now! There is no paint on the tar roads, and we had only twenty-two hours of electricity yesterday. Our tap water might become polluted sometime in the future, and my cell phone keeps dropping calls. I wiped out a tyre on my brand new BMW in a pothole last week, and I now have to have a reason to fire my staff. My flight to London was delayed by two hours last week because we had to change flights after the engine fell off, and my gardener bought his code 10 driver’s licence for R1000.”
Piet Retief would have pointed out that this all sounds much better that his last meeting with Dingaan, Mzilikazi would have pointed out that he walked from Durban to Bulawayo with all of his people and Cecil Rhodes would have pointed out that he still pays for bursaries today. It is extremely unlikely, by the way, that any of these three heroes were everything we remember them for. They all had serious blots on their copy books, corruption, bad debts, murder and other delightful activities that kept them very busy.
People ask me, “Are you going to stay in South Africa?” “Are you going to invest in South Africa?” “Are your kids going to stay in South Africa?” (Now here is a great one! I know people who have emigrated from SA with their whole families because their kids may leave the country one day!) “Will the Rand depreciate?” “Will I be able to get first world schooling for my kids, and first world health care for my family?”
I say, “I expect so.” “I hope so.” “I don’t know.” “Probably.” “Sure.”
It is not about whether these things come to pass or not. It is about how you react to them. You could just as easily lose your health, either by accident or by disease. You could lose family members or close friends. Or they could lose their health. Your house could burn down after a Highveld lightning strike, or you could drive your car into a Putco bus.
I say, “We are here now. I am surrounded by family and friends who know me and trust me. I have been able to afford everything I could ever have wished for, and more. I have been able to help people who have not been so lucky. Every day I encounter passionate, smiling people, almost all less privileged than I am. I have been able to contribute to the livelihoods of dozens of people in one way or another, and every day I am reminded of how lucky I am. I have descended from some amazing people who survived all sorts of trials, none of whom had what I have.
So don’t whine to me about Eskom, and Jacob Zuma, and the Scorpions, and the ANC, and the Rand and……
Rather go and do what you can to help yourself and the people around you.
And when we get together to braai, tell me that you are not a sissie, and that the sunset is just beautiful. Tell me who you helped today, and what you did to make your ancestors proud!”
Then you can add with real passion, “Another great day in Africa!”