The Democratic Alliance (DA) federal executive approved the party’s new antiracism pledge on Saturday (Let's find each other again). A good thing too, since the party’s Western Cape cabinet was so enthusiastic about it they had signed it and posted the obligatory picture on Friday already; such eager beavers. They’ll be glad nothing was subsequently changed.
Perhaps it was an unconscious and approving nod in the direction of centralised power in the DA; perhaps they were the most enthusiastic to display how nonracial they were. Whatever. The party is now calling on supporters and members of the public to do the same. No doubt many will oblige. We do love a good pledge in SA, and there is no shortage of them, either.
What is bothering you? What particular crisis do you feel needs your special attention? Corruption? Worried you might steal or pilfer? No problem. Corruption Watch has a pledge (CW Pledge) you can take. As part of it, you can promise to "neither pay nor take bribes".
Domestic abuse? Are you worried you might beat up your wife? No problem. Take the Father A Nation pledge (The real man pledge). You can swear to "stand against any form of abuse" (also, to protect your children "spiritually", among other things).
Maybe you are worried about road deaths: that you might get drunk, or high on drugs, speed without your safety belt on and kill someone. Or, perhaps, you just can’t stop throwing garbage out the window? Never fear, you can take the Safely Home Pledge, it will help you get all that out your system.
Speaking of drugs, are you unable to avoid taking them when playing sport? Drug Free Sport can help. Just take their pledge and you will be right as rain in no time. This is one of the best pledges as it doesn’t even have any specifics, you simply choose a sport — I went with Wushu, whatever that is — and give them your details. Pledge taken. If you take drugs for multiple sports, unfortunately, you will have to take the pledge multiple times.
Education? Take the National Schools Pledge.
But don’t feel you have to limit yourself to national problems; there are grand pledges you can also take.
Is world peace — or the lack of it — bothering you? Peace Starts has just the thing. Its pledge (click here) doesn’t really deal with things like nuclear proliferation, war or international terrorism — if you are into those — but you can plant a herb garden to fight hunger. Herbs, of course, being the thing the hungry most desire.
Okay, world peace is a bit much. Let’s just stick with Africa. Here is the Mayibuye pledge (The Pledge). Take it to help you "re-imagine" your life "outside of colonial power".
But if it’s not the big stuff you are worried about, if you have a very particular dirty habit, let’s say you like to support abused circus animals, there are pledges for that too. The SPCA has just the one (Pledge not to support circuses with wild animals).
Perhaps you live in Ekurhuleni and hate foreigners and can’t stop abusing them. Here’s the Germiston City pledge to deal with that problem (Pledge against xenophobia). Take it. Set yourself free.
Or perhaps you live in eThekwini and splurge on electricity. Here you go: The Durban City pledge will help (I pledge to save 10% electricity...)
Or the seas, you are worried about the seas? The Sustainable Seas Trust has a pledge for you (Sea Pledge).
You can pick and choose, too. Say you don’t like the DA’s antiracism pledge, but you are a racist and still wish to purge yourself of your prejudice through pledge-making — not a problem at all. Small steps. Start with not being a racist for one month and work from there.
The Race Free Month pledge will help you get on your feet. Hard to say what happens in March, but you can’t have everything.
The Father a Nation pledge doesn’t quite do it for you? You’ve signed it but you still have those urges to beat and bruise? Just double up. Sign the 16 days of activism pledge as well. Who could resist the power of two pledges working together to dilute your baser instincts? You will be as good as cured.
The list goes on and on, and on, and on. And not just pledges, we have petitions and codes of conducts, promises and vows, undertakings and commitments. It’s hard to open a webpage these days without be asked to sign-up for some thing. We are Pledge Nation.
How wonderful it would be if we had, say, one document, let’s call it a constitution for the sake of argument, that pulls all these various moral undertakings together in a consolidated fashion. Now that really would be something special.
But then, how would we commit to the constitution itself without a pledge of sorts? Oh wait, LeadSA has thought of that already (Rape Pledge).
Perhaps a more interesting question is what does it says about a society when it finds itself in deep and serious distress and a standard response to sign a pledge?
Most people detach from them in the first place. That is to say, in signing one, it isn’t really about them anyway. They are about other people for the most part; a gesture, undertaken in the hope that through enough people saying and doing the right things, others will follow suit. A small number of people might be somewhat delusional and suffer the very thing they are taking a stand against, but generally these are good citizens. They aren’t the real problem.
It’s all a game, and it is remarkable how many people love playing it.
They don’t really seem to be working either. The economy is looking like a second-hand car boot sale; violent crime is ubiquitous; education, the minister tells us, has been damaged by mediocrity, which she says has been allowed to "spread like a cancer"; the country is in the middle of some kind of racial apoplexy; and road deaths rose 14% year -on -year over December.
Strangely, pledges don’t seem to be weaving their particular form of magic. How can it be? They are pledges after all and nothing beats a pledge. Maybe those who signed them forgot to read them first?
The truth is these things are largely therapeutic. They make us feel better about ourselves. They are a way of saying: "I am a good person." And, by implication, a way of asking others: "Are you a good person like me?"
SA does not lack for moral judgment or political correctness; the question has a sort of inherent appeal.
Logically though, they are all over the place. The Safely Home pledge, for example, doesn’t mention driving tired, a cause of much death and destruction. Is that a loophole? Can you sign it and still push your metal exhaustion to the limit; safe in the knowledge you have made a moral commitment not to litter?
That you can pick and choose seems odd, too. In signing a pledge you are publicly displaying your moral intent. Why limit it to one pledge, the principle, one would presume, is universal and the pool is bottomless.
You might as well sign them all. Unless, that is, you care less about being corrupt, than you do, say, about being racist. Or you care more about not beating your wife than you do shooting up heroin in the rugby locker room.
All of them have blind spots. They aren’t an actual solution, just a feeling really. Their point is to capture a vague intention, responsibility, accountability or some such thing. They are all the same.
We are a nation in therapy. The problem is, while we can’t wait to self-prescribe our own doctor’s note, the drugs themselves seem to be placebos, that is when we ever manage to actually get our hands on them.
It’s all rather depressing, and annoying.
Thus, I would like to introduce my own pledge. Hopefully it will help. Please sign it, pass it onto your friends and family, put it on social media and together, let’s work to rid SA of this hapless scourge:
I, the undersigned pledge to:
1. Never sign another pledge again.
2. Be a good citizen.
That would pretty much seem to cover it all, for all time.
Each to their own, of course. If you do feel a desperate need to emphasise every single element of what it entails to be a good citizen, from planting herb gardens to not violently assaulting foreigners, please go right ahead.
I just thought I’d save you the trouble.