In life there are a few things whose occurrence we can bet our kidneys on. One of them is that at some point death occurs but even in that we don’t know when. So, for everything else that we can’t be concretely sure of its realization, we hope. Hope is the fertile ground from which the seeds of improbability can grow into an Amazon of probability.
In South Africa we have developed this pattern of focusing on certain subjects as per their designated period. For instance, in August, which officially is the month of women by virtue of Women’s Day on the 9th, all attention is directed towards women and issues that are central to their impediments and progress. In September the spotlight falls on heritage, December is a bit tricky because Reconciliation Day is in the month of ‘festivities’ but it still receives its equitable share of official attention along with Human Rights Day in March and Freedom Day in April. So, it wasn’t a surprise that newspaper editorials, parliamentary discussions and talk radio topics centred around the younger population of the republic since June is Youth Month. The usual lament of today’s young people’s betrayal of the Class of 1976’s dreams and aspirations; lack of political participation and general indifference was in full swing. Some criticism can’t be said to be without any truth to them. But surely there are young people who, as Nedbank’s slogan says, make things happen, I thought to myself. I felt vindicated when I was going through the Mail and Guardians’ 200 Young South Africans 2011. It’s an annual supplement that profiles young people in the fields such as media; education; business and sports amongst others that are making significant strides in bettering themselves and society in their little, and sometimes major, way. Zama Katamzi, a 28-year old astro-scientist, is a researcher in hermanus magnetic observatory(HMO). After graduating with a BSc in physics from the University of Cape Town she won a scholarship to do a radio astronomy doctrate at Bath University in the UK. Her academic achievements dispel the myth that certain disciplines aren’t for women. The story of Ntokozo Maseko embodies focus, tenacity and determination. After falling pregnant in her first year in varsity, she decided to continue with her studies and completed them in record time. Today she is Bona’s youngest ever editor. Perhaps one of the most notable of the young people in this year’s 200 list is Shaheen Seedat who, at 21, is Oxford bound to study for a DPhil financial economics.
The aforementioned people’s deeds are testimony to dedication, discipline and hope. I say hope because in their area of expertise they are doing whatever is it they are doing merely for their personal benefit. They are aware that their work has to potential to impact and influence the communities that surround them. All of that can’t for minute be detached from hope because hope is the alchemy that turns the base metal of visualization into the gold of actualization. It is with this understanding that discoveries are made and human civilization is improved but at times also regresses. Because even those with pernicious ideas also rely on hope to bring their plans to fruition. In years to come when people read of the Arab Spring Revolution that swept across North African and Middle East, they will know of Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year old man whose self immolation was to have a domino effect that dislodged two despots from presidency in Tunis and Cairo respectively. Bouazizi’s actions are of both hope and hopelessness. Being part of a ballooning problem of unemployed Tunisian youth, he decided to be a street vendor but his entrepreneurial activities were curtailed after his wares were confiscated because he didn’t have the permit to trade. Out of desperation to bring his plight to the chief of police, he set himself alight. On a personal level his was an act of frustration and hopelessness but to his compatriots his deeds signalled a turning point as far as the relationship between the government and its citizens. They drew strength and hope from the bravery of Bouazizi that one way or the other they would end Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 28-year old stay in office. Even in the midst of despair and hardship, hope has a way of invigorating people to hang in there and give it one more shot and today it’s a matter of history that Ben Ali fled and his now exiled in Saudi Arabia. Tunisia hasn’t suddenly become paradise but there must be hope that things will take a turn for the better.
Every December when grade 12 results are released, we always read tales of pupils who receive 5 or 7 distinctions while studying by candle light in a two roomed shack. Ideally that’s not the kind of situation that pupils ought to find themselves in but that’s our reality. But there’s always an underlying message of discipline and commitment that arises out of those pupils’ deeds. Those annual stories of children who infinitely defy odds stacked against them can’t be divorced from optimism. If they weren’t hopeful that their many hours of commitment to their studies would pay off eventually they wouldn’t bother themselves. But because what happens tomorrow remains unknown it means there exists an opportunity that whatever it is that we plan for may yet be realized. Even if it’s an inch of possibility against a monolith of improbability that inch is spacious enough for one to plan one’s aspirations around. Ask the members of the Greece national soccer team that won European Championship in 2004 if an inch possibility is big enough to plan your hopes. You’d also do well to enquire from Dr Richard Maponya if an inch of an effort is great enough to launch what eventually would be one of the most remarkable entrepreneurial stories of South Africa on? There was a time when women couldn’t vote but today we can count countries such as Chile, Liberia, Argentina and Brazil to name but a few who’ve had and/or still have female president. At some point such achievement would’ve been dismissed as nothing short of “a fool’s hope” to quote Gandalf from the Lord of The Rings. But even a fool’s hope deserves a chance to have the length and breathe of its terrain explored for we know not what lies beneath that which we effortlesly dismiss as unachievable. It could be an American boy of African descent who vowed in a primary school class in Indonesia that one day he’d be president of America. In laughing off a fool’s hope we could be extinguishing the fires of intellectual dexterity of a woodcutter’s son who would later graduate from University of Fort Hare and after whom the infamous Sobukwe Clause would be named. Let’s be careful what we say about a fool’s hope because it could dissuade a girl from rural Mississippi from talking herself into the history books of talk show television. We’d better learn to support the improbable dreams because at times they have a way ensuring that a boy from Ogun State, Nigeria will one day be the recipient of a Nobel Prize for Literature. Every now and then when we least expect it hope springs eternal and reminds us that our actions are not as insignificant as we think and that “the great gift still has to come from Africa giving the world a more human face” as a daring revolutionary so espoused.
*A dedication to my niece, Thembelihle Sibahle Ndebele, born on 16th June 2011.