Love thy neighbour – By Francois Raath
“There where it is we do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbours'. Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder if I could put a notion in his head: 'Why do they make good neighbours?”
Why indeed one has to wonder. Robert Frost raises a question that I do not think we have truly an answer for, yet we all live by the motto. We build castlesque mansions with walls that rival China’s Great Wall. Our houses are getting closer together yet we seem to be drifting further apart. Are we still living in communities or have we become individuals who happen to occupy a space close to others.
If there is one thing that this year has shown it is that the individual is king. What I want is the only thing that matters. I can make racist comments because I have a right to speak my mind. I can defraud others because I have needs that have to be met. I can destroy someone else’s property because I am unhappy with the service I am receiving. While the country is burning we sit back, point and criticize while we sit in our comfortable homes. “What’s the point of trying? It’s not as if I can do anything” or “that is not MY problem.” Is that true though.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.”
I’m sorry. A bit too harsh?
Whether black or white or coloured or Indian, there is a factor that binds us all – we are all South Africans. In 1996, at the adoption of our Constitution, former President Thabo Mbeki said the following in his speech, “I am an African. I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land. My body has frozen in our frosts and in our latter-day snows. It has thawed in the warmth of our sunshine and melted in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightning, have been a cause both of trembling and of hope.” This statement rings true for each and every one of us. Yes my past and might be different to yours. Yet we all lived it out in the same country and we were all shaped by King Shaka and Dingaan, by Piet Retief and Paul Kruger, by the Verwoerds, Tambos, Sisulus, De Klerks and Mandelas.
Yes, 2016 was a tough year. More and more people look longingly to the (allegedly) greener pastures of the UK and Australia, because “there is nothing left in this country”. And yet, somehow, just over two decades ago, South Africa set an example to the world. We showed that it is not necessary to have a civil war to bring about change. Times were tough and tense. Sure, there were violent clashes, but in the end we all rallied behind a man – a man who President Barack Obama labelled “a giant of history” – and took up his dream of a rainbow nation. Nelson Mandela may no longer be with us, but his words are as relevant today as they were back then, “people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Maybe it is time we revisit these words and apply them to the world around us.
“Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle”. Ol’ Benjamin Franklin was onto something when he made this statement. We tend to look at the big picture and think that we are not capable of solving this major problem. Yet all that is really required is taking small steps. For every candle that you light it is one more than what was there before. We do what we can, with what we have in situation that we are in. Every act of kindness, no matter how small, makes a difference in one person’s life. Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, once said that “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone”.
So regardless of political conviction, religious persuasion or income bracket, isn’t it time that we start looking over the walls and help out our neighbours? In our diverse culture our neighbour can be the car guard trying to buy bread with a handful of 10 cents, and coming up short; it can be the Sandton businesswoman on the side of the road with a flat tyre, it can be the gay couple down the street that has to endure judgement and hate each day, or it can be the orphan begging for food each day on your way to work.
If we want this beautiful country to be great again we will have to work together. To end off allow me one more quote, this time by Martin Luther King Jr., a man who changed the world without ever burning anything down or assaulting anybody.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”