In the run-up to June 16 this year, and it was moving to see Seth Mazibuko being quoted in the print media as saying that as a student leader at the Phefeni Secondary School in Soweto, having mobilised scholars in 1976 to embark on what was intended to be a peaceful protest march, that he had been so shattered by the tragic consequences, that he had felt a sense of responsibility.
Together with men of integrity like Murpy Morobe and others, when he realised what mayhem was about to be unleashed, they had gone to the police to try and reason with them not to shoot the students. In accepting the consequences of their decision in which such unnecessary violence was used, they were not about to abandon the responsibility for those youngsters who passionately believed that the march would change the direction of education for the benefit of all learners –which it did!
Responsibility is accepting the duty to take and act on decisions that positively influence the direction of life. A country moves forward when its citizens individually accept responsibility for its well-being.
When a democratically elected government does not live up to expectations or its pre-election promises, the electorate has to accept the responsibility of its choice by helping turn their policies into actions that will be of benefit to the community. It is not the responsibility of Government to put food on the table. It is however, their responsibility to create an environment in which opportunities exist for people to create better lives for themselves. In a democracy like ours, there are democratic ways of bringing about change. The electorate can exercise its vote at the polls, the opposition can challenge and force the Government to sharpen its’ policies.
What is unforgivable is to shirk responsibility and expect others to deliver for you.
Some of our schools at present are exceedingly unsafe. Substance abuse is rife, teachers feel insecure, girls fear abuse and boys come to class with knives and other weapons. We cannot just sit back as a community and wait for the Government to sort it out. We have a responsibility as parents to serve on school governing bodies. When complaints arise because schools refuse to teach certain languages what influence do we as parents have if we merely sit carping on the sidelines.
If there is no clinic in a particular community, the question is, who is responsible for moving the authorities to do something? It means taking the initiative – that is what responsible partnership is all about. Historically, it is true in South Africa that the majority did not have control of its own destiny. The apartheid government was a government of patronage in which people were bribed to accept the unacceptable. Therefore governance was equated with patronage and the levels of need so paralysed people that those in authority were seen as ‘messiahs’ who had come to save them by meeting their basic needs.
What are required in a liberated South Africa, are robust communities that constantly search for opportunities to transform and improve our country – not only for the individual – but also for the entire community. One of the consequences of waiting for freedom which is a long time in coming is to associate its arrival with opportunities to resolve problems like education and employment for me and mine. Responsibility in its purest form, places the emphasis on working collectively for the betterment of all.
One of the enormous challenges facing the South African government has been to provide water in communities that have been without this basic commodity. Once the pipes have been installed and the euphoria of having water on tap has subsided, the fact that the pipes are leaking invariably elicits the response that someone else needs to fix it. So it is left and gallons of it seep into the soil causing other problems.
By the same token, if electricity comes to my home I have the responsibility to pay for this service, not only that I may continue to benefit, but for the sake of others who are still to receive it. Collective responsibility will create a society that shares. Feelings of entitlement should be long gone. We are no longer recipients of a patronage government. We need to take responsibility for what has been provided for us.
When it comes to payment though, there may be some who really cannot afford to pay for services – every community has them. Responsibility says we ought to be looking at ways of caring for others who genuinely need assistance by participating in community forums where discussion takes place with those in leadership in an effort to find acceptable solutions. This “ubuntu” spirit is not new to Africa.
There is a practise among most African communities called ‘ukusisa’. If I have cows and you have none, I don’t embarrass you by sending buckets of milk to your house as a gift. I preserve your dignity by giving you a cow and prevail upon you to look after it for me by telling you that you will have solved an enormous problem for me. In this way I have given you an opportunity to exercise responsibility and at the same time benefit from the milk the cow produces.
During the dark days of the ‘eighties in the Arthur Wellington Church in New Brighton Port Elizabeth, the security police would write graffiti on the wall of our beloved church which was a haven for the community. This happened a few times and as the leader, I was surprised to see the senseless scribble being repeatedly obliterated by a new coat of paint. Every time it happened some member of the church, without any fuss or discussion, would go and buy some paint and do what needed to be done. Even though with time the different shade lots did not always match, for me – those uneven lines were the ultimate reflection of responsibility that had been shouldered for the good of the whole.
Rev Mvume H Dandala is General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, former Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and is the recipient of the Presidential Order of the Baobab (Silver) for his peace-making role in South Africa
Writes Rev Dr Mvume Dandala as Heartlines, a campaign to get South Africans talking about values – the ties that bind us as South Africans – gains momentum.