Political Leadership Key to Developing a Sense of Nation

Cape Times (South Africa), November 15, 2007 | Go to article overview

Political Leadership Key to Developing a Sense of Nation


BYLINE: Saliem Fakir

Humans do not live only on the feedstock of cold reason, but also have desires and emotions when it comes to their identity and relations they want to foster with a nation.

A nation itself is a mere concept that is both defined by legal realities, and by having conferred on that legal concept other imaginations of identity, character and aspiration - the substance of which is expressed through law, political culture and relations between citizens.

A nation is its physical attributes and ethereal (something you can talk about as its characteristics, but you cannot hold physically and only through having a sense of its spirit). It is the ethereal by far that is the stronger motivation that binds citizens to the idea of having a nation and making a nation possible.

Every citizen dreams of belonging to a great nation. This is not a residual evil, but a passion that requires direction towards less chauvinistic endeavours by subverting what could be an evil into a good.

Inklings of this power of emotion to move will were revealed to us in the heyday when the new South Africa was born, with the mobilising effect metaphors such as the Rainbow Nation had, and more recently when South Africa became world rugby champions.

Metaphors are constructs that are meant to create faith in an idea or ideas. Faith in ideas does not last long if there is no visible attempt to make it a reality. Symbolic ideas also instil wide meanings in different constituencies - in a young nation, they are healthy aspect of political life.

The euphoria that captivated all South Africans in the past weeks was not a delight at how the rugby team demolished another nation, but was an expression of the subliminal desire of all South Africans to feel one, and to belong to a country in which ideas of shared citizenship and belonging have reality.

The World Cup victory gave a momentary glimpse of the possible, and now it is slowly fading. It, too, was an indication that popular mobilisation is not just the stuff of hard-nosed politics, but also of fostering the idea of greatness as a shared responsibility.

Politicians clamoured to bask in the glory that flowed from popular sentiment because it brought home the idea that euphoria is not restricted by reason or intellectualisation. Hard-nosed politics is no match for the irrational.

It is the lesson we can learn from our World Cup victory and should be eminently exploitable - not for Machiavellian ends, but to recreate the idea of shared citizenship that is missing in the political language presently. …

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