I LOVE things I don’t understand. One example is quantum physics, especially the idea of a parallel reality and parallel universes. I love the idea that in one universe, in the past or future, I am a slim, tall, dark and handsome Hollywood sex god, while in another, I am the leader of the ruling party of South Africa, white people worship at my feet and the black minority hates my guts.
This column is about another universe, sometime in our past between 1994 and the present. Before I tell you about this universe, where everyone helps everybody, the ruling party is the epitome of tolerance, the discourse is dominated by knee-jerk reactions and children are seen in school uniform but not heard, let me hasten to add that, in true quantum physics fashion, the human species on the southern tip is oblivious to the pre-1994 universe. Back to our universe. The church, family and society have lost their way and banks have become the moral compass of lost souls.
Things have changed since 1994. Gone is the spirit of reconciliation. South Africans are no longer at peace with one another. Corruption, according to the private sector, is rampant in the government and if a bank — let’s call it FNB for now — creates a campaign in which, from the mouths of babes, scary stories are told about the state of the nation, because the Bible tells us high school pupils are innocent, the same must be assumed about the motives of the campaign designers. Worse, the rest of us must trust that the African National Congress (ANC) is just being innocent and naive when, in its pious anger, it tells us that what children said about the state of the nation is nothing but the stuff of fairy tales.
By the way, I have not decided who between FNB, the ANC and the schoolchildren in question rehearsed their roles the best.
One thing is certain, though. They have not had as much practice as some of us in the media and the opposition when it comes to knee-jerking. All it takes for some among us is for the ANC to cough in response to a dangerous, insulting, treasonous, counter-revolutionary and unpatriotic advertisement for the knees to start jerking violently in defence of freedom of expression.
Back here on planet Earth, there is so much that is unfortunate about the FNB campaign and the response of the ANC.
If one is brave enough to launch such a campaign, one, I suppose, must be courageous enough to defend it. While the campaign can be criticised for appealing more to the heart than the mind and for failing to recognise that we will not be able to help one another as long as we continue to pretend that the ANC is the only thing rotten about the state of South Africa, its core message is something we must embrace and build upon beyond the soppy and emotional.
In response to FNB’s unintended message from the children of South Africa, the ANC should have asked Chancellor House and the Progressive Business Forum to sponsor a campaign to complement the FNB advertisement.
Such a campaign would be based on the assumption that what was said by the children in the FNB video clips is similar to what we hear adults saying all the time, and also that there is an element of truth to it.
With this in mind, the core messages of the ANC campaign would be about listening to the future in order to change it.
It would be about the ANC recognising the fact that South Africa can benefit a lot from the imagination of its children. More importantly, it would be about appreciating the fact that children have a greater capacity than we do for reimagining the future.
FNB, the ANC and the rest of the universe of South African adults must shoulder the responsibility for ensuring that the children who inhabit our common universe exercise their imagination under conditions of freedom.
They must be free from the influence of money and political power, as well as the follies of our race, class and cultural relations.
• Matshiqi is a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation.
© BDlive 2013