Never Underestimate the Value of shared values

Despite being termed an authoritarian leader, Lee Kuan Yew received global praise and honour for the manner in which he transformed Singapore from a colonial backwater to one of the most highly developed countries in the world. Global leaders or their representatives attended his funeral.

While lack of economic development is a convenient excuse, economic prosperity is not necessarily the entire solution. In fact, the more South Africa is prosperous, the more immigrants will want to come here. Thousands of Africans know and hear about the thousands of deaths that befall immigrants who try and cross the Mediterranean to Europe and yet they still make the perilous journey to Libya to try and access Europe. It is a throw of the dice. You do not hear of Germans or Americans hunting down and weeding Ghanaian or Mexican immigrants out of their homes and looting their shops. That is because the rule of law is a shared value. It does not mean there is no xenophobia in those countries! There may be resentment towards East Europeans in the UK but no one is shooting the plumber.

You can train a policeman as much as you want but when the shared values of those policemen are wrong, they will not dispense the law in the manner that the law is meant to be dispensed. The disproportionate killing of black men in the US is an example that comes to mind

A renewed values system for South Africa

Whether it is shooting miners at Marikana, burning libraries in local communities to protest the absence of a clinic, or chasing foreigners down the street, the issue here is taking the law in to your own hands in a violent manner. What South Africa needs, in this specific instance, is a shared value system that says violence is not the answer to problems.

I referred to Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda and his One Zambia, One Nation slogan in my last piece . It was underpinned by his home grown philosophy of humanism which was repeated all the time on the news, in schools and at public meetings. It is called spaced repetition and it works. South Africa does not owe us for our support during the struggle. The overwhelming majority of Tanzanians, Zambians and Zimbabweans knew and bought in to the fact that we were frontline states in the struggle against apartheid. So when the bombs came, we did not chase South Africans away saying they were causing problems for us. We had bought in to the idea, the shared value, that none of us were free unless South Africans were free as well! This is why, to this day, the idea of and support for Palestinian freedom is still strong because that was part of the shared value and it is the right thing to do.

How best to do it?

Let’s start with two very simple examples, perhaps three. When Lee Kuan Yew decided it was time to green the city. He went ahead and physically planted a tree. The rest of the nation followed. When there is a new President in the US, as much news is given to the first family moving in to the White House as is given to the choice of dog that will be the “first pet” in a manner of speaking. In the UK, news headlines will discuss the cat that is moving in to 10 Downing Street. This simple point tells you how entrenched the value system of loved and cherished pets is.

We do not need to complicate things. There is the law and there are shared values. Shared values are lived and shared every day, in impromptu moments as Kaunda would do with his singing of Tiyende Pamodzi (he tried it at Mandela’s funeral but the former exiles had forgotten the song). Once upon a time in France, when anti-semitism reigned supreme, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish man, was fingered, suspected and prosecuted for treason because he was Jewish. One of France’s own and finest Emile Zola wrote his famous “J’accuse” and France eventually reformed . Today in France when a Jewish grave is desecrated, the leaders march, when Muslims are attacked, the leaders march, when terrorism strikes, the leaders march. There is a culture and a shared value that says society will stand up for the right cause, especially in protest at discrimination against “the other”. In Germany and Sweden, thousands have marched against immigration. Thousands more have marched to defend immigration! In both cases, there has been no burning and looting. Shared values of rule of law!

Our African leadership must lead in promoting and living shared values. When a King uses the analogy of lice to describe foreigners, the leaders must automatically and systematically march and make known their strong disapproval and public reprimand of such sentiments. South Africa and other African countries must promote, engage in and commit to a new post-apartheid values system. One of the first stereotypes to go must be to drop the habit of referring to visiting an African country as “going to Africa.” I mean even football coaches use it!

The Singaporean leadership did not only impose what may appear like harsh laws (Australia’s nanny state laws work too) but they also spent a lot of time talking. A lot of it! Do not underestimate the value of shared values. The country actually embarked on a “national ideology debate, and identity key values common to the various races and communities in Singapore.” The five Shared Values that were eventually adopted were: 1) Nation before community and society above self, 2) Family as the basic unit of society, 3) Community support and respect for the individual, 4) Consensus, not conflict, and 5) Racial and religious harmony.

It was not just hard work and careful centralised planning! Anyone who admires Singapore for their economic development without understanding the role of the “soft” skills side of things does not get the full picture. The “American dream” is a shared value which is as much responsible for American prosperity as the industrial revolution was for England. What makes America great is the things they say over and over again, the symbolism of the flag, amplified by Hollywood and Wall Street, all combine to make them a winning team. The “miracle on the Han river” in South Korea is another. Vukani bantu!

Lee Kuan Yew is revered for what he has bequeathed his people and the world. If you have not read it, I urge you to (if you are interested in this sort of thing) read the book on him, In His Own Words. The very idea of legacy is an important leadership value! Go in to office with a clear idea of your very own positive, enduring and sustainable legacy project, not simply to get in to power. What will our African leaders leave us as their legacy?

Reverend Frank Chikane was on the John Robbie show on Talk Radio 702. He was very clear on where he stood. He refuses to ascribe any reason or excuse for the xenophobic violence because for him there is never enough motive for the violence that we have witnessed. He is right. South Africa must do the same. No excuse is good enough. It is time to “light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness.”

Albert Gumbo

2 Responses to "Never Underestimate the Value of shared values"

  1. Kwena Pila  April 18, 2015 at 8:04 am

    I’m deed a powerful analogy of what’s unfolding before our eyes. This is mainly ascribed to lack of commonhood of what a south African should represent. Remember those who claim to have liberated us have long been preaching ”LIBERATION before EDUCATION”, hence all these destruction behaviour we are all confronted with and significantly shamed.

  2. Albert  May 13, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Sometimes society moves forward because of the voices of the few. We all have a role to play in moving organisations towards a common goal. It is possible. Eventually


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