Some love Einstein’s definition of madness, “doing what one has always done, believing the outcome will be different”. So often one agrees with such a simple but insightful wisdom but not realise its wider application.

Take, for example, our current challenge about water security in the Cape Metropole. There’s a lot of mudslinging and passing the buck. What we need, however, is for the challenge to be negotiated in ways that will serve the interest of all residents, old and new.

Nevertheless, the more challenging issue may well be more widespread.

For too long, we have persisted in not questioning what many might be consider to be fundamental to our society: the need to re-examine the values on which our society is based. And that this need stems from what we say we want versus what actually drives society. This is none more clearly demonstrated in how Ubuntu is espoused yet a “money talks” culture still prevails. Ubuntu means building sound relationships which should be paramount and not the accumulation of material things for oneself.  Incidentally, Trevor Manuel, when still minister of finance in one of his budget speeches sought to introduce and promote the notion of “human solidarity ”which is very akin  to my understanding to “Ubuntu”. His idea about “human solidarity” appears not to have enjoy much support then.

Interestingly, in spite of our colonial and apartheid pasts, virtually all communities were replete with solidarity-type structures some of which still endure to this date. Moreover, those collective community efforts coincided more or less along racial lines. In constructing a democratic society, one of the criteria is the extent that South Africans in spite of previous racial categories can make common cause and act in concert with fellow South Africans.

Two recent examples come to mind which augur well in laying the foundation of the kind of values that should be part of the kind of democratic society that we are building. The response of Elgin/Grabouw farmers to assist the Cape Metropole by supplementing water resources and how South Africans, mobilised their resources to the aid of triathlon athlete Mhlengi Gwala.

Granted, behavioural change doesn’t happen overnight, it requires maybe a multiplicity   non-sectarian inputs and much more. More complex, is community social change – changing a multiplicity of individuals that form the base of societies and communities to be more socially cohesive.

For this change to happen in the world (in general) and South Africa (in specific) surely will require much more than what could be considered as mere “snapshot” moments. Two swallows will definitely not create a summer. Yet maybe it is underestimated by various actors that a country’s national pasts cannot easily be escaped and new democratic, socially responsive, cohesive communities based on the values contained of our  constitution will not magically emerge. It is most probably an arduous process.  Many setbacks can be foreseen .In addition, the building of democratic project could be overtaken by unanticipated global event.

In the recent period we’ve seen a number of significant developments, for example, civic groups taking to the streets against farm murder, service delivery protests, the Fallist movement- needless to say this is popular feature from the past – the public political space cannot be said to belong to a specified grouping. This is indeed a good. Maybe this will remain a treasured feature of the kind of society being built.  ‘Nothing about us, without us’ seems to be rallying cry.

Not being possible to live ‘ordinary’ lives in our newly established democracy serves as a catalyst in asserting a co-creating role with the state in building democracy.

Maybe the dire water security in Cape Town and elsewhere will drive the point home that we live in a water-scarce country and that we need eyed to adapt urgently to that reality. Furthermore it may assist us to reimagine who we can be, to be one mind tackling the seeming impossible and. It may serve as a stepping stone towards social cohesion in our country!

Cecyl Esau is Senior Project Leader for the Sustained Dialogue Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation

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