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Our failure to learn will be the death of us

We keep voting for the same old, tired men and women who have shown that they are incapable of resolving the pressing challenges facing our country

By Makhudu Sefara

It is tempting to say that we deserve all the troubles we face and the traumas we go through. That we deserve to sit and burn in this stage 6 of load-shedding. We are not inconvenienced enough. 

Why would we deserve the worst? Simple. We have, over the years, demonstrated a persistent unwillingness to learn. We have learnt and internalised how to fail — and, despite protestations to the contrary, we do this so well. 

In his book All Rise, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke waxes lyrical about his final sitting, quoting a few paragraphs of his valedictory judgment: “Teaching and learning are as old as human beings have lived. Education is primordial and integral to the human condition. The new arrivals into humankind are taught and learn how to live useful and fulfilled lives.” He goes on to quote Aristotle, noting that “education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity”. 

Moseneke may as well have used the following quote by Aristotle: “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” If we did this, it’d be clearer that, as South Africans, we self-sabotage. 

This week, the nation is deep in pain following the death of children at a club called Enyobeni in the Eastern Cape, in ungodly hours. Our tears flow because 21 perished.

Tavern deaths: a day that weighs heavily on us all

The truth is we didn’t, as Aristotle required of us, observe the beginning and the development of this saga when children, not just in the Eastern Cape, attended raves in Durban, so-called pens-down across the country, or just surrendered to lives of drunkenness.

In Seshego Zone 8, there’s a tavern across from Peter Nchabeleng high school. Local ANC leaders sit at the gate of the school facing the tavern whenever there’s an election campaign. Anyone doing anything about the tavern? No-one. Zilch. We will wait for a tragedy and then our “leaders” will feign surprise and organise mass funerals. That’s what we do. We fail to learn and thus learn to fail.

If you want the clearest example of our failure to learn, just take a look at our politics. We keep voting for the same old, tired men and women who have demonstrated through the years that they are incapable of resolving the most pressing challenges facing our country. Take unemployment, our biggest challenge: how are we today any better off than we were two, five or 10 years ago — or even at the dawn of democracy?

Worse, we keep voting for another party — that keeps losing black leaders because it repeatedly fails at diversity management — as our official opposition party. 

We keep voting for the same old, tired men and women who have shown that they are incapable of resolving the pressing challenges facing our country

Or, to give politics a break, take the sorry saga that is Eskom. I can’t think of anything else that holds our economy back, that holds us as a people back, that keeps us chained to poverty and underdevelopment. Yet, we have learnt to listen to Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter’s rants as load-shedding gets worse. We are also repeatedly told that consumerism will be the death of us. We are told that the point of economic life is to be producers. Yet we vegetate on couches — hopefully not Phala Phala-type couches.

Moseneke says teaching and learning are as old as life and new arrivals are taught how to live useful and fulfilled lives. Yet the horrors we face weekly show us we have stopped learning. 

Moseneke is correct that we have a capacity to learn — but we seem to be learning wrong things, like being nonchalant about children bingeing and not being at home late at night. We have learnt to accept that the AG says the same things year in and year out and not much happens after that. We are not angry enough.

We have learnt to accept that politicians pretend to care ahead of elections and retreat to their comfortable cocoons afterwards and our lives don’t change for the better. We have learnt not to expect honour from so-called honourable MPs, or even our presidents. The fact that one of them lives in a house revamped through obscene amounts of money from us no longer makes us angry.

We have learnt, even if from a character like former spy boss Arthur Fraser, that our president might be running our country as a side hustle to his main job as a game farmer — but hey, anyone angry out there? 

The poor millionaire is staying put and, to show he understands us well, has decided that he is not even going to give us a broad explanation of the horror movie that is Phala Phala farm. We don’t deserve it, he’s decided. And we must just sit the hell down.

Perhaps we deserve the mattress king and his scandal because we refuse to learn the right things. We inflict the worst pains on ourselves. We have, sadly, learnt to be nonchalant about things that should matter. This is why we are going nowhere slowly. Our failure to learn will be the death of us.

Makhudu Sefara is the Editor of Times Live



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