THAT column..

So, I took a day and a night and allowed Prince Mashele’s very controversial column to percolate in the back of my head. 

As is the way with me, while crossing the road in front of Claremont Station, I had a breakthrough.  See, my problem was: I couldn’t understand why a sensible and brave columnist had seemingly chosen to estrange and annoy most of the nation. 

But someone equally sensible on Twitter commented that he might have just been having a bad day – and I subscribe to this opinion on one level:  I think that the columnist may have forgotten two basic rules for writing on an explosive subject (1) only publish the 5th draft, and (2) don’t publish until you’ve had a friend and an enemy each comment.

The line that sprang to mind in the street outside the station was this:  while everyone else is defending the President, Prince may be trying to save the ANC.

If he’d applied the two rules, he would have crystallised his argument and made it clear to all readers that he isn’t disrespecting rural South Africans – he is arguing against the forced ruralisation of everyone and everything. 

If rural life was the best of all possible choices, no-one would ever leave.  But it isn’t – it is ONE lifestyle option and there are people who are called to it, people who choose to stay and people who cannot leave.  What Prince appears to be saying is: we’ve had pure intellect, we’ve had pure street smarts – how about a balance?

I think that his use of the word intellectual was too shallow – I’m making a huge assumption here, but I think that he was looking for one word that would sum up several: credibility, gravitas and foresight. 

Credibility is not being able to make a bunch of people believe stuff – that’s influence, and influence is as flimsy as the breeze.  Credibility is what makes even your enemies believe what you say because they know you tell the truth – even when it’s a truth they hate to hear. 

Gravitas is to bring high seriousness (as in a person’s bearing or in the treatment of a subject) – especially when managing the futures of 50 million people, their standing on the continent and in the world.

And foresight is the ability to have some idea about the effect of one’s actions in the future: if we don’t manage our ecology, where will our air and water come from, or, if we take short-cuts on education, who will be running SA in the next generation?

Of course, this is just my opinion – all spun out of one line in my head.  But I’m sure someone somewhere is going to straighten me out if I’m wrong, right?  Honest debate may be the only thing that can actually save us.

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