Eyes on the Prize

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Last month I was lucky enough to go on tour with Herzlia to Johannesburg. There our brave boys and girls faced King David Linksfield in soccer, water polo, tennis, basketball, netball, cricket, chess, and debating. Although we didn’t win all the battles, we won the war, beating our opponents and getting the much-coveted trophy.

It was a great tour. Everyone bonded, morale was high and we got that extra boost to push us to the end of the term. It’s an amazing feeling, that boost of morale. You feel elated, like you’ve climbed a mountain with your peers. It’s almost as though when we were together we were one united group under the same banner. Each of us, as individuals, knows how this feels. But I think that on a wider scale, South Africans also know how it feels as a nation. A list comes to mind where we came together with all our countrymen across race, religion and culture to receive that kick of morale (they’re mostly sporting events). We have:

  • The first democratic election resulting in Nelson Mandela being sworn in as President
  • Winning the Rugby World Cup (1995 and 2007)
  • Winning the African Cup of Nations
  • Winning the bid and hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup
  • These amazing times have really bonded us to our fellow South Africans. But it seems to me that these are few and far between.

It feels as though South Africa is at an all-time low. Since the election of Jacob Zuma as ANC President in 2007, and his subsequent swearing in as President in 2009, we have been witness to scandal after scandal. The fish rots from the head, and Zuma himself is at the helm of the corrupt system of governance we have today. Together with his comrades, he has created a South Africa where cronyism and nepotism are commonplace. He has removed all those who had the power to end his hunger for power and money, manipulating government resources and agencies to benefit himself. He definitely sees himself as the First Citizen, but not in a good way. He has put his people into all the institutions that are there to safeguard to the Constitution: the office of the Public Protector, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Judicial Services Commission, amongst others. And, on 30 March, we have just witnessed our own Night of the Long Knives, with all those who were trying to save South Africa being politically assassinated. Most notably was Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas, the Minister and Deputy-Minister of Finance respectively.

On that Thursday night, at 12am, when the Presidency announced the cabinet reshuffle (the 11th since Zuma became President) I was shocked. And I think the country was too. The next day I was miserable. I thought, how can South Africa recover from this? We had, as the Daily Maverick’s editorial said that day, moved from a Zuma presidency to a Zuma dictatorship. All the stars (or ministers) had been aligned for the ultimate coup. Zuma had used the Constitution to legally begin the ultimate takeover of South Africa.

However, the recently-axed Pravin Gordhan, at Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral, said there should be mass mobilisation. That we can change the country and make it our own. That state capture will not be tolerated and that we will rise up. Many think that it is very difficult to bring together so many people in post-apartheid South Africa to rally for one cause. However, we have seen a mass gathering in recent history.

When Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95 on 5 December 2013, everyone from all walks of life came to commemorate this great icon’s passing. Millions came together to honour this incredible man, who served so many, and became the father of the nation. From Pretoria to Polokwane, Cape Town to Kempton Park, Johannesburg to Jozini, all came together in their masses.

However, when it comes to a national crisis, it is often difficult to become one people. It can be rather daunting. And the biggest question is, who will be our leader? As always, we can seek some advice from the Torah and see what it says about which direction to take.

When the Israelites were being lead out of Egypt to become a free people, they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, or more accurately between the might of the Pharaoh’s army and the Sea of Reeds. The Midrash tells us that the people were lost and panicked, with Moses’ words of advice not alleviating their fear. Moses, the man who was chosen by G-d to lead the Israelites to Canaan, was not able to help them! And so, in an act of pure faith, Nachshon, the tribal prince of Judah, stepped up to the plate and began to walk into the sea. The waters reached his knees, then his waist, then his chest and shoulders. And as it began to reach his nostrils, the sea began to part. And with that, the children of Israel followed on.

It wasn’t Moses who stepped into the sea. It was just some guy who took that leap of faith and began the trek into the unknown. And so it must be with us. We shouldn’t wait until Gordhan or Ramaphosa or Maimane or Malema or Zille or whoever it may be tells us what to do. We should do it out of our own volition. We have the power to stand up and be active in the new struggle.

And so, just like our tour to Jo’burg, where we joined together as one team to win the trophy, so too South Africans can join together to stand up to the destructive power that is Mr. Zuma. We have the potential to enhance our low morale. However, it is up to each and every one of us to join a team, do what we do best, to reclaim the biggest and most important prize, South Africa.

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