Dumi Magadlela
Dumi Magadlela

The World Cup paradigm shift

One of the many definitions of paradigm is that it is “a pattern or model, or an exemplar”. Another says that it is a “thought pattern” or a way of looking at or relating to things. With the World Cup having come and gone, this is a great opportunity to ride the positive wave of national and continental pride, and work aggressively towards shifting centuries-old paradigms and ways of thinking about, relating to, and writing about everything that is African. Sure enough, not everything will change overnight, or at all, and the impact of this great month-long “event’ is unlikely to reach every South African beyond the fervent patriotic fervour that many of us recently felt, and still feel.

Across many parts of this beautiful continent of Africa, especially within the artificial borders of South Africa and its growing pains (just like labour pains) and in the struggle to become one of the leading economies on the continent and the Southern Hemisphere, we have very little defence against this seemingly virulent attack of tortuous self-hate and self-deprecation. This self-hate manifests itself through the way we relate to each other, through the so-called xenophobia, and through the violent criminal incidents such as beating up babies. Among the worst of this is through the pen or the keyboard. We practically kill each other with every tap on the keyboard when we write the most hateful of stuff. I’m not referring here to the likes of RW Johnson writing in British newspapers comparing foreign nationals in SA to baboons scavenging for food. I’m referring to our well-established stereotypes about each other, and those voices in our heads that we assume are always so right or correct about how we perceive the other based on whatever constructed and imposed perceptions of difference we have come to regard as “truth”.

For lack of other high-level global measures of capability and excellence outside the World Cup, I dare say why not use this to champion a fresh way of looking at ourselves as people living in this part of the world. For far too long we have cowed down and accepted the old-age tag of the “dark continent” or the poor, incapable and help-less’ Africans. We know that we are among the richest continents in natural resources and people, and it is well-documented that we have not done enough to benefit the poor millions on the continent with the natural wealth. Instead of enriching us, it has resulted in wars and civil strife, and a-looting continua for decades by both foreign companies and a select few connected to the political ruling elite and business sectors.

We have the “red tide” of the Chinese economic revolution sweeping across the continent signing deals on extraction of natural resources from oil to just about everything valuable. Okay, let’s be business-naive a bit and say that since the Chinese were our liberation comrades, and they seem to comparatively mean well, why not work with them to build much-needed infrastructure and provide basic services? The question on paradigm shift remains: what is our competitive advantage as Africans negotiating the best deal from African resources? Can we bargain as rightful owners of the resources representing our poor majority? Why do we always start from a point of weakness even when we are supposed to be in charge? And why do we shoot down a few of our own that rise and claim a larger share of the cake when the rest are leaving our shores in train-loads and ship-loads?

There is something seriously wrong with our self-perceptions and how we regard ourselves. It is time for a major paradigm shift in our world-view. After all the back slapping, what will be the real legacy of this tournament if it is not in how we regard ourselves and are perceived by others? Almost every tourist who was interviewed about South Africa sings our praises, and some without solicitation. Yet we are more than eager to start yelping about how terrible we are and things are. Yes, there is work to be done, lots of work to be done to realise our rainbow dream. Make no mistake about that. We take away from the positive energy and work that is being done when all we see is how terrible things are. It is up to each and every one of us to make it happen. We will achieve more if we ride the tide of recent achievement and leverage the positive energy to do more good with it. There are just too many energy vampires around. Let us rally around what is great from this and make things happen that we know very well we can do. The one paradigm, belief or thought pattern that has been shifting slowly is one that repeatedly condemned Africa and all that is African to the bottom of ability and capability to achieve or deliver anything of major global significance. We helped create, reinforce and assisted in the perpetuation of this stereotype. We always believed that we were more than capable and needed something to demonstrate this. We just did with the World cup. Now what? Let us not get back into the hopelessness of self-hate and Afro-pessimism. It is so old-school.

The paradigm shift must start with Africans themselves and their supporters (and all who live in Africa) celebrating their own successes and achievements, and not seeking permission to be great from either the former so-called colonial masters or the self-imposed custodians of global moral high standards that claim to know what is good for Africans, black and white. With brave self-belief grounded in good positive values, we can do so much better together. You just have to take a look at the hype generated by Cheryl Carolus and her board regarding the former SAA CEO to notice that we all need are some good examples of things being done better, differently, to believe that it is within our reach to achieve the national prosperity that we know we can.

We need to shift our thinking first. Change our mindsets and our thought patterns, our paradigms. Change is not going to come from out there and the government is not going to make it all happen for us. maybe for a select few. It is up to us as the citizenry to make things happen. Starting with how we think about ourselves, each other and our shared, common reality, however we see it.