South Africa is mourning our global icon, Nelson Mandela. As I pace through different shops from international arrivals to domestic departures, I note that every shop or building has some electron messaging on Mandela.
I get to Gate 5 ready for departure to Cape Town. Some passengers wear Mandela T-shirts. White or black, they loved Madiba.
Inside flight SA0333 Seat J21, I am seated next to a young lady. I greet her as I try to buckle up.
She responds affirmatively as she tried to plug her ears with music from her iPhone.
The flight purser announces that we are about to take off, and all electronic gadgets must be switched off. Reluctantly, she puts her iPhone away while trying to cover her exposed thighs.
“Are you South African?” I ask. “Yes I am”. “It is sad that we lost Madiba", I say. “Oh yes. He was father to all of us,” she responds.
“Do you think South Africa will achieve Madiba’s dream of one equal nation or maintain his ideals?” I ask.
Her face less tense and more relaxed, she tells me, “Well we have problems. Our educational system is still in shambles, inequalities continue to grow, employment has become elusive with many migrant workers replacing South Africans as they are paid peanuts, corruption has engulfed the government and we seem to be grooming a little Mugabe in Malema”.
I tell her that in my view, and I am not a political scientist, the African National Congress should never have expelled Malema. They should have embraced him and sent him to New Zealand as an Ambassador. He now has an opportunity to continually be a pain to government and grow his audience among the youth.
“On these other issues you’ve raised, you seem to be borrowing a script from your forerunners in attaining self-rule. It will be sad if you go that way”.
She turns to me and asks, “What should we be doing?” I respond, many things.
“You need for example to fully liberalize your economy. Issues around exchange restrictions hinder foreign direct investment which should expand the economy and create more jobs for the jobless”.
“Whereas it is possible for South African companies to invest in other African countries, it is virtually impossible for other countries in Africa to penetrate your market. Policies around Black Empowerment will not allow outsiders into your market yet Africa is opening up to you”.
“What about migrant workers?” she asks. “Well if all other neighbouring economies do well, there will be no migrant workers. This can be achieved if we deal with land tenure policies. Take for example, Zimbabwe. Until the Africanization policies took effect, Zimbabwe was a net exporter of food.
Today, the country can hardly feed itself. Here we moved from mechanized farming to peasant farming mostly by people whose interest were never and will never be in farming. What we have are idlers on productive land”.
“Kenya too is in such a rut due to a post-independence policy called rudi mashambani (back to the land). If productivity is high, and we add value to our produce, we shall effectively industrialize the country and most people will have sustainable jobs.”
The two- hour flight abruptly comes to an end as the pilot announces that we have ten minutes to land.
As the plane hovers close to the airport, I look down below to see beautiful vine farmlands. I ask if any black person owns any of that.
She quickly responds “No. I do not think we have either the resources or the discipline to run a vineyard”. She seems to know more about the wines than I do. She reaches into her bag and pulls out a business card, handing it to me.
Her name is Natasha, and she works for a wine manufacturer. I quickly say I did not have any business card.
We part company at the luggage area since I had not checked in any luggage. I walk out to find a young gentleman waiting for me. He had been sent to pick me up.
From the airport in this squeaky clean city, you can see what he tells me to be townships or what in Kenya we call shanties. Inequality is still a major problem here, but the local government provides plastic toilets and housing construction for the poor is underway.
I could see from the super highway that virtually all the people in townships are either black or coloured (people of mixed race). My driver Siswe adds that all crime is to be found here. From murders to robbery with violence, name it, it is all here.
Youth idle around shiftless, and many children mingle around. A few women sitting idle, are fairly big in size possibly due to diet, which is a reason why diabetes and hypertension are high among blacks.
Siswe tells me that three kilometres down the road are some of the world’s most expensive properties, ranging from 3 million rand for a two-bedroomed apartment to several millions of dollars for property with a vineyard.
He tells me that there are more showrooms for the most expensive cars - Lamborghinis, Bentleys and Aston Martins - here, than toilet facilities for those living in the townships. I get to learn later that the ANC has been fighting The Democratic Alliance (DA) to provide toilets to black people living in townships.
At the hotel, I meet one of the conference organizers, Danny, a white South African. He takes me around for a ride.
He tells me that most residents in Cape Town are the super rich. Is it why the city is clean, I ask. No, he says. The local administration here is DA and that they have really tried to provide the best services to the residents.
After a deep thought he tells me that it has been centuries of inequality where the apartheid system spent as much as ten times more on educating white children as compared to blacks.
Today even as we spend more on all children than any other country globally, we still have inequalities.
Teachers in public schools where most blacks attend are not teaching. The Unions are too strong. White people have taken refuge in private schools where most blacks cannot afford to take their children, he concludes.
At the conference hall, a professor from Eastern Cape University makes a presentation on how past inequalities have put Africa and Africans behind.
He uses graphics showing that not much is happening in Africa with respect to research. The graphics also show that we fare poorly with respect to new patents registered.
Whatever research that is coming from Africa, 60 per cent is from white Africans. A grim picture by all means.
It is time we questioned the ideals of liberal democracy, freedom and development. There seems to be a need for strong leadership, and a disciplined people.
I conclude that we have let down Mandela and hope that his spirit would inspire us to begin playing a greater role in the world we live in.
God will never forgive us if we continue to leave this world the way we found it.
His firmness on what he believed in is unmatched in Africa. We shall forever miss him.