By Professor joseph diescho
On August 28, 1963, in the capital of one of the most racist societies on earth at that time, the United States of America, the late Rev Dr Martin Luther King spoke these words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the contents of their character”. Fifteen years ago, this statement was selected as the best statement a world leader has made on the vision for the new world.
The following year, on April 20, 1964, the late Nelson Mandela addressed a hostile judge in a Pretoria court and said these words that continue to reverberate around the world even today: “I have fought against white domination; I have fought against black domination. I cherish the ideal of a democratic society in which all people live in peace and harmony and have equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I wish to live for and to achieve, and if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
These two statements continue to influence how nations ought to think about diversity if they are to fashion societies with socio-political cohesion and durable peace and stability. Both these statements were uttered as an indictment of the existing political orders in the two countries they targeted and by extension the rest of the world, which still faces challenges in respect of living together in peace and harmony in spite of God-given differences and dissimilarities in physical and other dimensions of human life.
Our thanks goes to Margareth Gustavo, Natasha Pathela and the team of Cornerstone Joe Public Consultants (Pty) Ltd for bringing Dr Fons Trompenaars, a native of the Netherlands and a world renowned expert on multi-culturalism to town last week. This erudite man, who transcends cultural stereotyping, provided excellent training that can only assist us come to terms, deal with and hopefully manage our own issues and challenges with our changing and increasingly dynamic demographics in Namibia.
Very often people think of diversity only in terms of differences along race, gender, ethnicity, language, religion and culture. It is more than that. Dr Trompenaars and his team excelled in distilling issues of diversity in our families, streets, malls and importantly in the workplace where we have to interact on the basis of rules and precepts that guide us to manage our prejudices and pre-conceived judgments.
Dr Trompenaars was particularly good at making otherwise difficult and sensitive issues of race and gender light and humorous so much so that those who attended the workshop walked away looking at things differently and more empowered to assist Namibia to move forward with its values of peace, stability and unity. The rest is for us as informed citizens to make sure that we understand who we are, how we got here, what we have both as risks and opportunities to get where we wish to be in our context as a changing society with new dynamics all the time.
Diversity is a reference to the differences that do and will exist wherever species of creation coexist. Be it in plants, animals or humans, there are differences that must be understood, appreciated and managed to obviate and mitigate potential conflict that can arise due to ill will or miscommunication and misperception in the coexistence and flow of life and its vicissitudes. Human civilisation as we know it is awash with policies and programmes to manage diversity that often went pear shape or awry.
In the old Western world before World War 2, the approach was to utilise people of Afrikan decent as cheap labourers in the slave enterprise, which buttressed the economic development of the western hemisphere. The whole British policy of Divide et Empera (divide and rule), the French assimilation or the Portuguese assimilado, was served the grand socio-economic and political vision of a world wherein there would be white superiority versus black inferiority. ‘Christendom’ was used to explain and justify this gross inequality as a means to manage diversity, ala white privileges versus black dehumanisation.
Diversity management has always been a challenge to leaders. Diversity can be hazardous when considered only for short-term goals and not tackled with care and sensitivity for medium- and long-term considerations. Most leaders who employ some diversity management tactics for personal gain (Hitler); political party gains (the National Party of South Africa) short-term ideological gains (the Soviet Union); have ended in the dustbins of history. Those who employ diversity management for long-term goals unite their nations better and the results are higher levels of prosperity and social wellbeing in the family of nations. Cases of far-sighted leadership are in Cuba where in spite of the levels of poverty due to the international economic embargo, race does not matter, Singapore where the national development was predicated upon the upliftment of all citizens, and Turkey as the most liberal Islamic state — with less strife among the citizens. In these cases, the national identity was treated as something far greater than membership of political party, which is not the case in most Afrikan states where the ruling party has become the New Executive Tribe! When such a party loses an election, as we have seen in recent years, the new elite stops development as it goes on a rampage to undo everything the ‘previous regime’ has done, even the good things.
What is diversity in the context of Namibia today? To start with, the country we live in is unlike what our traditional rulers, our colonial masters and even our freedom fighters have imagined at the time when they thought they were building a country. The first part about diversity is to accept that we all came from different backgrounds and experiences, and as humans we continue to make assumptions and indeed judgments about our daily life on the basis of those backgrounds. We all harbour prejudice – good, bad and often innocently. In the context of our political correctness, we all fall vulnerable to tell lies to be safe, and in so doing, we are not authentic to ourselves. It is important to be aware of our prejudice as long as we do not execute them at the expense of others. When we lie that we do not see race or colour is very dangerous. How would you describe me to the police after robbed you if you cannot recognize my colour?
The political programme of apartheid was to all intents and purposes a grand-scale agenda to manage diversity in our part of the world. On June 4, 1948, when apartheid was inaugurated by Daniel Francois Malan, the first leader of the national party that led South Africa from 1948 through 1994, he expressed a collective desire that most white people had at that time that he was in the business of politics to build a South Africa, and by extension South West Africa that was a safe haven for all white people regardless of where they came from, and that they had a role in establishing a Western (white) civilisation wherein the majority of the inhabitants would be molded and socialised to serve as drawers of water and hewers of wood – all in the interest of a good quality life for white people who in turn acquired a new and artificial race-based designation as baas, miesies, groot baas, klein baas in the scheme of the economic life in all its spheres from religion to education to political leadership to burial places.
The point is that this false consciousness about human life was not the exclusive sin of white people. Black people would have done exactly the same if they were in the economic class that white people were in at the time. People who don clothes have a tendency to treat others who do not have clothes as inferior and sub-human. This is the case in Namibia now with fellow citizens who reside around Opuwo — no Namibian in the capital, black or white, would offer them a ride in our fancy cars for fear of how they will deface the interior of the car. I am not even talking about giving them a hug on any day around Kalahari Sands and the Hilton hotel. How do we expect the white folks who came fully clothed to treat those whom they found here in Afrika as their equal?
The second part is for us to recognize that the world wherein we live is not our own making, no matter how powerful we might think we are. This is why we live in a constitutional democracy, which by definition means that we live in a social contract where no one is above the law, no one has the traditional right to leadership, and no one is free from scrutiny. We are equal and must be judged not by the color of our skins, but by the contents of our character — by that which we bring to make our coexistence more peaceful, more meaningful and more enjoyable.
The third is for us all to learn more and more about how to live meaningful in our own societies and beyond. To this end, any country needs a leadership that can assist to mortgage a better future for all who live in it. This is important because the paths that delivered us where we are today did not equip us to deal with diversity well. On the one hand, our apartheid colonial path taught us to be scared of one another because of our cultural differences. Our racist past prepared us to be indifferent to one another because it was dangerous to mix for fear that one of us would lose out one way or the other.
On the other hand, the experience with the struggle for liberation prepared us to be suspicious of one another. The struggle politics taught us to be self-righteous, dismissive of the others who are not associated with that story of liberation. In the end, we lie about where we were in this history. We speak editorially about our history, meaning that the truth suffers on the altar of political correctness. The trouble with political correctness is that we cannot remember what we said in the previous lies we told. As a result, the cumulative narrative of our history becomes a falsehood and dangerous fallacy!
The fourth and perhaps most important thing about diversity is the acceptance that we live in the here and now with the realities as they present themselves on an ongoing and dynamic basis. The reality of our world is that we live in a Namibia, 25 years after the attainment of independence and we are not what we were before. What is our reality? Our reality is that live in small country which enjoys more peace and stability than any other on the Afrikan continent today, we live in a dominant party state with all the challenges that go with virtually one party states; we live in the Land of the Brave where everyone is afraid of something, at least as a healthy sign of loyalty to ‘something’; we have dilemmas and paradoxes that threaten our peace and stability and which must be managed very deliberately and purposefully; we live in a country where greed and avarice is overtaking the values of the liberation struggle, we live in a country where militant mediocrity rules over knowledge and skills; we live in a country where there is a puerile and half-baked debate about gender equality which complicates rather than informs matters of leadership selection; we live in a country where personal comfort and glory is placed above national interests, and we live in a country where leadership of the type described above, that leadership that sees and dreams about a better life all the people, and not just the few rich and connected ones, is becoming more and more in very short supply.
(TO BE CONTINUED)