South Africa is burning at the hands of strong men. As strikes and protests persist around the country, violence and destruction is on the increase. Reports are flooding in of people being intimidated, assaulted and even killed. In the process property is being destroyed and the expenses to clean up and repair damages are adding up.
I was shaken by an early morning call from a distressed colleague last week on Tuesday. She was traumatised by an incident that happened that morning as she drove to work.
I had a talk with this colleague and these are her words: “It was disheartening to witness a man sjambokking another man as he ‘punished’ him for allegedly going to work. One cannot help but wonder what the aim of a strike is when unpleasant incidents such as these happen. Others lost their lives, others lost limbs as legs and arms were broken. But most of all their dignity was publicly stripped during this ‘punishment.’ All of this under the banner of trying to force the employer to accept certain demands.
“The construction industry strike and others which swept across the country had unwelcome consequences. With each strike, our country bled. The workers will now return to work as a bleeding workforce, wounded and stripped of their dignity.”
Another colleague, who is a shop steward for one of the unions, was equally troubled. “We must find a different way to get what we want. This is no longer acceptable. Can’t we learn to negotiate differently?”
Both these colleagues wished to remain anonymous as I asked them about writing about their experiences. They are both black and from the same communities that are affected by poor working conditions and the effects of the strike.
May I submit that the culture of beating, afflicting and hurting others to get what we want should be buried in the past, with the evils of segregation and inequality? May I submit that South Africa needs visionary leaders, who are empathetic and open minded enough to accept those different to them?
May I submit that such leaders, if they would position themselves in society and the power-bearing structures of business and unions, would win more favour from their followers and opponents?
These new leaders would have to be confident enough to go into negotiations ready to articulate their position very well and with enough maturity and willingness to get what they want, but not just at any cost.
The title of Don Caldwell’s book, No More Martyrs Now, sums up exactly what South Africa does not need.
The shortest verse in the Bible is packed with deep emotions from the greatest and strongest leader to have ever walked this earth: “Jesus wept.” The country needs weeping leaders. Though men considered it weak and woman-like to cry, tears can bring healing to our country.
Our president needs to cry about the poor who continue desperately with no relief; councillors need to cry about the squalor in squatter camps as services are not provided; CEOs need to cry about those children who are longing for their fathers to afford to buy them shoes to walk to school.
As leaders cry they would be able to empathise with the pain and needs of others; and they would be less likely to beat, afflict and hurt others to get what they want.
Jesus wept and so should we – for our country.