America usually irritates me. I have a few American friends who aren’t like that but generally American patriotism is pathetically over the top, their consumerist lust chokes the planet, their greed sinks the global economy and their arrogance murders and maims across the world in the name of national security.
But last week Tuesday I envied America for a few moments. I felt a lump in my throat while listening to president Barack Obama’s inaugural address. His sober words moved me, challenged me, inspired me.
Halfway through his speech I tried to translate this feeling for South Africa. Imagine we had a presidential candidate like Obama, a leader who isn’t afraid to acknowledge crises and who is able to call a nation to old fashioned values such as hard work, honesty and tolerance. Imagine we had a candidate whose words are carried by his deeds, who leads by example, who rolls up his sleeves to paint furniture at a children’s home… and whose integrity is above reproach.
Then I asked myself: Why do I have to wait until we get a president like that? Yes the president has a lot of power and influence but he is not the only leader in the country.
The 44th US president inspires me to jump at every opportunity to help build South Africa so that Africa can lift its head. In 1995 I picked up a visitor from Madagascar at the airport. His jaw dropped at the sight of the buildings and roads in and around Cape Town. I will never forget the awe in his voice when he exclaimed: “Sous Efrica is ze Uneted Stets of Efrica!”
The politicians can be as short-sighted and corrupt as they wish but eventually it is the artisans, the factory workers, the office personnel, state officials, farmers, farm workers, teachers, professional people, entrepreneurs, sports people, community leaders, the fathers and the mothers of a nation that make a country work. The time has never been as ripe for civil society to take responsibility for this country and this continent. As long as our political leadership is not forthcoming we can at least take inspiration from the new face in the White House.