SA has lots of sight. What it needs is insight
Insight tells you that if politicians wanted to restore land they would have done it in the past 24 years
My grandfather became blind. His daughter said he refused to see. This happened after his Montagu property, the family home, was taken away and given to whites. As a grandchild, I only knew him as blind. But there was something special about Pa Johnson – he was the wisest man I knew. People sought his counsel. He understood difficult things despite his lack of advanced education. He would sit on a cool drink box in the yard and direct his grandchild to the part of a fence that needed fixing. He had something schooling cannot provide. Insight. And so I want to discuss with you the difference between sight and insight.
Sight means seeing an old woman with heavy shopping bags trying to cross the busy road. Insight means rushing to help her. In other words, sight fixates on the obvious while insight moves the seer to action. Sight is neutral observation, the restatement of what is already known. Insight desires to change the status quo.
Sight means witnessing the vicious fights in parliament about taking land from the whites without compensation. Insight understands this has nothing to do with the important land question and everything to do with political parties jostling for advantage ahead of the 2019 elections. Insight tells you that if they wanted to restore the land to the dispossessed they would have done it over the past 24 years of democracy.Sight means noticing the increasingly violent protests on campuses as small groups of militant students demand fee free higher education. Insight grasps that however noble the cause, the now chronic violence and disruptions on some campuses destroys something much more central to the very existence of the modern university – a place where reason, exchange, debate and thought replace violent action. Insight therefore conveys a sense not only of the here and now but of what the conflagration of the present means for the future of democratic institutions.
Sight simply recounts the dangerous re-racialisation of South African society as in the sudden animosity towards whites and Indian South Africans. Insight understands that the only way to build a more just and equitable society is with all citizens, the privileged and the dispossessed, working together to find common solutions. Insight does not work with zero-sum games of winners and losers but relentlessly pursues win-win situations. Insight comes to terms with a harsh historical understanding—that everybody loses in a race war.
Sight can account for the fact that President Ramaphosa is caught in a complex power play inside his own party but also within the cabinet. He therefore has to move with great care and dexterity to keep some of the corrupt and shameless inside the political tent. Insight however expects uncommon leadership in tough times where the political leader acts not in the interests of his party or even for purposes of self-preservation but always puts the country first.Sight reckons that even for the small number of students in higher education (less than 20% for the age-group) limited financial resources should be shifted to settle the turbulence on campuses. Insight knows that the long-term health of the system lies in strengthening the foundations of education from preschool to primary school so that many more young people can complete 12 years of schooling. In short, sight responds to the passions of the moment while insight attends to priorities over time.
Sight moves a middle-class parent to invest in their own child’s education because the evidence shows that the private payoffs to such investment is massive with continuing studies. Insight grasps the fact that in a highly unequal and angry society, your child is not safe until everyone’s child is secure as a result of access to quality education. Sight is selfish, invested in one’s own. For those with insight self-interest and the interests of others coincide.
Sight can recite the long list of corrupt individuals from SARS to Prasa and from SAA to Eskom. Insight understands that the problem of corruption lies much deeper than this large bag of bad apples. Corruption has become institutionalised, part and parcel of the fabric of organisational cultures in both the public and private sectors. Sight would simply put offenders in prison. Insight understands that unless we also change “the rules of the game” (e.g. the end of cadre deployment, the recruitment of expertise and the punishment of impunity), one set of rotten apples will simply be replaced by another.
Many of you have lost some or all sight, and that must be a terrible loss. Yet among you are those with tremendous insight – the ability to see clearer, further and deeper than those with physical sight. It is that insight, now more than ever, that South Africa so desperately needs. This can be your special contribution from the blind community to an unsighted country for where there is no vision, says the Great Book, the people perish.
This is an expansion of an address to the League of the Friends of the Blind (LOFOB) that was made on Saturday, July 21.