How to be patriotic in these trying times
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming;
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?”
That is the first verse of the USA national anthem and Beyonce Knowles had to perform this song during President Obama’s second term inauguration. Perform, may not be the right verb in this case because it is alleged that America’s sweetheart actually mimed it ala Milli Vanilli. Obviously and I use that word on purpose, a lot of Americans were offended as soon as they found out and one can imagine the level of exasperation by the Yanks. This was not a Ras Dumisane incident at all; this was gross saber rattling and it had very little to do with her skin color or that of Hussein Obama. Americans were angry because symbols of National identity are sacred to them. From the Star spangled banner to the National anthem and their “founding fathers”. The Yanks have found unwavering unity in their National symbols in both proud and typically arrogant moments. Be it justified or Nazi like, National pride for Americans transcends their political identity; most believe that their constitution was crafted in their forefather’s blood.
Why then is this not the same for South Africa? Why does it take a radio personality’s solo protest on a freeway to get a blue chip company to remove the South African flag form elephant’s backsides? Furthermore, why would that company display or exhibit the flag in that dishonorable manner on a National road. The answer may lie in the fact that Mzansi is only 19 years old and cannot be at same level of patriotism as the USA. Perhaps it could be that this beautiful country of ours is so polarized that patriotism is out of the question at least for now. We could point to a lot of things but the fact remains that there is very little patriotic display in South Africa – Bafana Bafana’s performance can be blamed too and let’s not forget the lilywhite cricket and rugby National squads.
With all these challenges in Mzansi, how do we then assume an unassailable stance that depicts us as unwavering and proud patriots? Is it possible to see on National television, our flag flying high, caressing the winds with rhythmic waves followed by every National team and supporter singing the national anthem with heads held high and vocal cords crystal clear? I certainly have not seen that at all! Even when we won AFCON and the World Rugby Cup in the nineties, there was no patriotism at all. Fresh and creative as it was, the masses during those historic wins were singing the parts they identified with – Nkosi sikelela.. for blacks and Die stem for whites. It may have even been Madiba’s presence that was being cheered at and exaggerated and manipulated by TV cameras, but patriotism it was not.
Patriotism is described as “devoted love, support and defense of one’s county”. Now, that reads great in black and white but have you felt it and if not why? Can you and I, who experienced apartheid and according to Padi Lehohla, still do not control nearly half of the wealth in South Africa, truly be patriotic?
I would argue that it would be tough for anyone who is not a “born free” to be patriotic; it would actually take the most optimistic and well-fed South African, born of an unheard of mix of white, colored, Indian parents who speak all eleven languages and accepts and understands the differences in ideology and policy between the DA and the ANC. Reconciliation and was a forced farce for you and I – listen to talk Radio and read the Citizen news paper letters section and you’ll know where I’m coming from – so the only option we have is our children; the “Born frees”. We each need to take charge and teach our children the History we have actually lived. We need to foster patriotism with our children through the stories of the likes of Solomon Mahlangu, Zeph Mothopeng, Jeff Masemola, Sharlote Maxeke, Winnie Mandela, etc. at a practical level, this is what I will do; I pledge that I will seek to find South African flags and start hoisting them at my previous schools. I pledge to also get laminated copies of the National Anthem and distribute them at said schools. I pledge that I will convince my friends, family and colleagues to do the same. When all this is said and done, I pledge to carry on and accurately tell stories of fallen heroes, those men and women who fought with purpose to depose a corrupt and brutal system that not only destroyed this country but demoralized all black people.
I pledge to tell and illustrate stories of selfless revolutionaries like Steve Biko, Griffiths Mxenge; accidental martyrs like Emma Sathekge, Stompie and Hector Petersen to my children with vigor and pride because had it not been for these revolutionaries, they would not have been born free. After I have done all that, I will tell my children that even though there was a heartfelt apology, it was not de Klerk and the National Party that ended apartheid; the winds of change and the blood and sweat of past heroes delivered South Africa to its people. It is not ANC politics that should evoke pride in National symbols but the hope that there will be more Bikos in their ranks to take the baton and turn this country into a giant in all endeavors.