Welcome all – I’ve been considering how best to proceed after it seemed there was indeed some interest:
Some initial thoughts
I have come to learn that in so many situations it is of the utmost importance to be aware of the underlying context. The question then is, how do you convey context accruing from thousands of years’ pre-colonial history, hundreds of years’ colonialism and apartheid, and a few decades’ relative freedom?
I think it’s fair to say that I’m neither the right nor the most qualified one to try and tell this history faithfully – it’s the life work of many scholars. Indeed the same is true for most other South Africans. At the same time we all know it to varying degrees, and so give form to an amorphous contextual zeitgeist – unifying in some cases ("The People Shall Govern!") and less so in others ("The Land Shall Be Shared Among Those Who Work It!").
Ultimately, for better or for worse, the findings of the historians often matter less than one would expect and we find ourselves engaging on the basis of this proxy history – the people’s history. You may have some similar experience (alternative facts?).
I wanted to start with this perception/truth duality issue because, as alluded to earlier, it is at the heart of so many debates. Practically speaking, I will try my best to be objective where possible – unfortunately when we start talking ethics and morals there isn’t really a universally accepted truth to it and so we will just have to do our best.
Luckily, there is in this particular case a pretty good framework that allows us to do our best: the Constitution is my country’s founding document and one against which all things must be measured. It also happens to provide a structure that avails itself to telling the story and so I’d like to delve into it somewhat.
The 1996 Constitution is an aspirational document. It paints a picture of a South Africa that I would like to think most citizens can agree is one to strive towards. It is (to some extent) the ideological child of a much earlier document – the 1955 Freedom Charter.
The Freedom Charter has some slightly snappier but less legally and practically constructed precepts and so I’ll reproduce them here to give an idea of what we’re dealing with (hint: you’ve already seen two):
1. The People Shall Govern!
2. All National Groups Shall Have Equal Rights!
3. The People Shall Share In The Country's Wealth!
4. The Land Shall Be Shared Among Those Who Work It!
5. All Shall Be Equal Before The Law!
6. All Shall Enjoy Equal Human Rights!
7. There Shall Be Work And Security!
8. The Doors Of Learning And Of Culture Shall Be Opened!
9. There Shall Be Houses, Security And Comfort!
10. There Shall Be Peace And Friendship!
It would perhaps not be surprising that arguably none of these have been achieved 23 years into democracy – there has been progress but the job is not yet done. This is where those issues I spoke about in Pubski come into play.
The way forward
I wasn’t really sure how to get started but I think this lays at least a small foundation. Notwithstanding what I said earlier, it will probably be useful to try and get a basic history and “dramatis personae” going to bring the most important background across. Otherwise I think a “just in time” approach to contextual stuff will probably be better once it becomes more nitty-gritty.
Some of you may be aware that, over and above these more philosophical debates, South Africa is currently going through a spot of politically induced turmoil. Tomorrow will see large scale demonstrations against the President across the country (unless the police commissioner has his way). I’m no stranger to the picket lines so I'll be out there.
I've long argued that photography is the skill of turning perspective into art. Non-fiction is no different: Barbara Tuchman's prose is colored by the fact that she was a little girl onboard one of the pursuit ships of the Goeben and Breslau. Will Durant wrote the way he did because as a philosopher, he viewed history as one long expression of philosophy. Michael Lewis clearly felt he was a normal street kid who stumbled into way too much power at Lehman Brothers in Liar's Poker; his schtick ever since has been man-on-the-street "you won't believe this shit" prose and it works wonders.
I don't know who you are as a person, but I know that if you write from the perspective of what's important to you it will be a lot more interesting, a lot more engaging and a lot more retentive. I've known a few South Africans and none of them much like talking about home. This makes you unique in my experience. Tell me what you want me to know and it'll be a damn sight more interesting than if you guess what a sociology professor would want me to know.