(JSAS 2023 Keynote Speech by Dr. Sindiwe MAGONA)
In this second of a two-part series, Dr. Magona, a renowned South African author and philosopher, argues that going forward, not only storytelling by the more informed will effect true development, but also agency on the part of the listener. So is kindness, the root of Ubuntu. Agency and kindness, she argues, will be the driving forces for Afrasian cooperation and true development.
A better life, improved living … whatever change for the better or development must take place, demands Agency. And that is but one point where storytelling could be crucial in ensuring that Agency – Human agency, is not overlooked in the process. Development is lifelong. We talk of and acknowledge Life-long Learning. But we often overlook this detail … the active participation of the person or persons in the process of development. The importance of that active engagement or participation cannot be overstated. Neglected or overlooked or cast aside as not important … puts into jeopardy the desired outcome. You, at this conference, NOW - are here examining ways in which the planning and execution of development – a process dissimilar to the one you have today – can be achieved. You are searching for a different way toward achieving a specific goal, the desired outcome – the development for the future – a future that will NOT replicate the far from pretty, unjust present, full of huge and ugly inequality. A present of which we have little to make us proud. The time of our lives, is far from the ideal. No one would gainsay any who voiced discontent with world affairs right now. We are overburdened and stressed as we face issues such as Climate Change; Wars; Poverty; Crime; etc. etc. ad infinitum.
Taking all this into account, what stories does today’s storyteller choose to tell? Seeing as these have not worked, as per my admission at the very beginning of this talk How can we make the stories we tell TODAY be relevant to the generation of Tomorrow? That, to me, is the gist of my delivery. CHOICE … AWARENESS.
ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES … TELLS ME WE ARE LOOKING AT AN ALTERNATIVE. BUT WHAT IS THAT ALTERNATIVE TO? STORYTELLING? I sincerely hope not! So, could it be we are here looking for alternatives to THE KIND OF STORY? OR THE KIND OF TELLING? OR THE KIND OF CONTENT?
For a person of my age, an Octogenarian … were I not addressing people in Japan, I would have said, easily, I am the oldest person in this gathering [real and virtual combined]. But Japan’s longevity is world renown. Be that as it may, still, most of you listen to this rendition ARE that Future Generation … from My Stand Point. I do storytelling for the NOW GENERATION in my country – the Post-Apartheid People. That they may see where we have been. They see where we are – my hope is that the stories I tell help them negotiate the schism. Helps them see our missteps so they might be better prepared to avoid making the same or even worse mistakes. Here are a few examples of the horrific errors we have made and continue making, escalating unimaginable disaster not just for humans but all Nature, including Mother Earth herself. But, humanity may perish – Mother Earth will not die. She may and. most probably will change shape or form … but she will continue being … continue living. We, shall perish … unless, this conference and similar undertakings, birth the change of heart and deed in humans. EXISTENTIAL CRISES – CLIMATE CHANGE – POVERTY – CRIME -all these are self-inflicted crises. Very, very sad.
You see, the Storyteller assumes some kind of superiority in KNOWING. Not superior intelligence – NO! But knowing that which, as of the moment of storytelling, is yet unknown [but knowable] to the listener. Mama. Daddy, or Grandparent tells the child stories s/he, the teller knows. Knows because of being around longer – older. In the telling, there is a hidden agenda, that the child listening learns – learns love of words. Love of story. And, the secret hidden in the story … usually some moral lesson.
This KNOWING in storytelling indicates MEMORY. Humans have memory embedded deep in their psyche – it may be unconscious memory – but it is there. That is why there are things we do that make us feel ill-at-ease. Yes, Conscious Memory, bound to our socialization, is there. But there is memory that is deeper than that … memory that goes way-beyond what we have consciously learned or been taught. I make bold to say: Storytelling may even dig that deep - go into that kind of memory. Soul Memory … unremembered but there. There, perhaps, even from generations long gone. It is in the Blood: Trauma and Memory in the South African Novel ex 2012 volume compilation from a Conference - p.31 …I Write the Yawning Void
If we accept that CHANGE – whether pro or against … that is the AIM of Storytelling. And, CHANGE is LIFE. CHANGE is DEVELOPMENT … when it is POSITIVE … POSITIVE CHANGE is the ultimate goal of STORYTELLING – then we cannot but accept that if it is important to tell stories for NOW living, it may be even more important to tell stories for Future Humans … those will be the footsteps we leave behind. The voices to which they may listen; warnings they may choose to heed and advice, follow - long after we are no more. Hope springs eternal – Future Generations may even heed our warnings [if that is what we leave them] – be inspired by messages of hope – encouraged by words such as “YOU CAN/ARE GOOD ENOUGH AS YOU ARE – ALWAYS! IN A WORLD IN WHICH YOU CAN BE ANYTHING – CHOOSE TO BE KIND!”
Kindness is the root of UBUNTU. Wanting/Wishing for ANOTHER what YOU wish for SELF – That, is the real meaning of HELP. ‘HELP ME BE YOU. DO FOR/TO ME THAT WHICH YOU WOULD WISH DONE FOR YOU OR TO YOU!’
This brings us to the core or heart of my rendition to you: What has Africa done for Asia? What has Asia done for Africa? Has the one, to the other, done as they would have wished done to or for them?
Look at us – the two of us – ASIA & AFRICA! Is the difference you see only that inescapable, conditions-imposed? Desert will not produce peaches nor will whales thrive there. But, with the right kind of implementation – the desert dweller thrives.
If neither is thriving, we have not been there for each other. If one is not thriving – we have not done to or for each other in manner that has really shifted the status quo of the one left behind or still not thriving. The whole point of living is THRIVING. THRIVING FOR ALL. HUMAN DEVELOPMENT … in its simplest but profound meaning, means THRIVING. WE ARE ALL BORN TO THRIVE. Where we do not thrive, something is out of sync with Creation. We were made to enjoy life, not suffer it. Our Creator is kind, loving, caring.
I have not gone to the trouble of doing any research for it is common knowledge – AFRICA IS NOT THRIVING! All the signs are there – well publicized. Poverty is rife; teenage pregnancy rates alarming; the proportion of the uneducated rising; unemployment and unemployability high … etc. etc. ad nauseum!
What can/should Africa teach or learn from Asia? What can/should Asia teach or learn from Africa? Neither is an empty vessel. Neither is without blemish. Both have potential to grow …
PRIDE GOES BEFORE A FALL – HUMILITY is the first step to UBUNTU.
Ask for help. See the example of what you wish to become. Humble yourself. Ask for help. Not help that roots you where you are. Remember, that is the status you wish to escape – from which you must free yourself. Look at the steps the other has taken. Follow suit.
Will it be easy? No! If it were, you’d have got there long before this. However, will not following those steps make things better for you? What will you do instead? And why would you not follow the example of one who has succeeded? One who has achieved what you dream – still dream? The wise glean from role models – and follows suit.
I use my life as an example. Born of humble origins – neither parent had a single certificate of education for not only did neither go to college but neither completed primary school – in school 4 to 5 years, each. Tata worked as a petrol attendant – most of his life. He never owned a bicycle. Left home, our one-room shack at 4a.m. I never heard him complain … not even for the pittance that passed for “wages”. But my parents urged us, their children, to get an education! The only husband who will never leave you! Mama said to us girls. Education was our only way out of the dire poverty in which we lived, they said. None of us will ever be as poor as they were. Thank God!
Storytelling for Future Generations – Human Development demands that we care. Care enough to not play games. To not lie or deceive ourselves or others. Truth-Telling is Key.
The assumption is that the Teller is impeccably honest and not self-serving in her rendition. S/he is Caring. Loving. Wants or wishes for Others what she wishes or, the positions reversed, would wish for herself – no less.
That can only come to pass when the Teller has self-examined and self-assessed or evaluated. Love of self leads to love of the other via absolute acceptance of the other. Understanding there is no ‘other’ in the absolute oneness of humanity. Humanity is One!
Know yourself, Africa! Accept/Love yourself, Africa. Forgive/Heal yourself Africa! Grow yourself, Africa … for only then will you be able to help another grow.
Japan – know yourself. Heal yourself. Accept/Love Yourself and Grow Yourself. Then, go out into the world – Go even to Africa, and help her in her hour of direst need. That does not mean, you abrase her of what she is. Tell her what she needs or must do.
Mutual Respect is Key to meaningful cooperation. Each enquires, need perceived or openly shared/revealed - How may I be of assistance to you?
Alert, always, to the possibility of misrepresentation. Of Fraud. Of Cheats.
Humanity is One. We share the same emotions and react in like manner to situations. Take the case of a language you do not understand – you react anyway. The tone, gestures, and other markers tell you the essence of what is being conveyed to you. Anger? You know. Love or kindness? You know. See how the Music with which you are not familiar – touches you anyway. Mood is conveyed to you by a complete stranger in a language not known to you. But the link is there – your emotions which are the same in anyone’s language … but one proof of the Oneness of the Human Race.
REWIND –REASSESS –and go on and take what ACTION you deem APPROPRIATE FOR HEALING.
FORGIVENESS – there can be no forgiveness without understanding. And there can never be understanding where truth, absolute no-face saving truth, is present.
Truth, absolute truth, could lead to understanding. Understanding, not only of deeds done or omitted, but the oneness of humanity in which the wronged seeks not vengeance but understanding – places self in the perpetrator’s shoe – does the utmost best to understand that position, now unenviable – and Seeks of Self: Were that me, how would I feel? Were I seeking forgiveness, what, exactly, would I be praying for deep in my heart? What would I wish the other, the one I have wronged, do? Feel? Toward me?
The perpetrator seeks that same understanding – that putting of self in the shoes of the other. Interrogates the Self in manner similar. Were I the aggrieved, what would I expect or demand of the perpetrator, in this case, me/self?
It is only with that Remembering of who we have been to one another – and the brutally honest self-interrogation requisite of those seeking a Rewind … going back into soul memory and redressing the wrongs of the past – a past that, obviously, they had no hand in its making but from which they cannot escape – the unfair enrichment or unfair impoverishment – the deeply embedded, soul destroying ‘Memory’ of the history in our blood – whoever we happen to be and wherever we may be.
Only when the one sees Self in the Other, can humanity hope to come anywhere close to Peaceful Coexistence.
Looking at the faces looking at me via the zoom camera, I was suddenly filled with – not envy, no. YEARNING. A strong wish I was there, right there, with all those good people in whose heart was this desire – this wish – this prayer FOR THE BETTERMENT OF ALL.
ONENESS is the basis of UBUNTU. May it be restored! What the attendees at this conference are about is such RESTORATION
LEAVE TAKING: As I bid you, great people of Japan and great people of Africa – great because of what is in your hearts – the desire to expand the well-living of others such that they may see what you see or have seen – experience the bliss that is life – bliss meant for all but enjoyed by few … few of which you are, even if not in overreach – even if you stand at the outskirts of the land of plenty or wealth or self-sufficiency – it is enough you know that it is there … that it is achievable. Thank you for not seeing that only for yourself but for others … especially those who are presently beyond the pale.
I salute you! I also beg your pardon. Forgive me for accepting your invitation to address you at this conference – so important a conference. I accepted the invitation even as I knew I don’t – didn’t have answers.
Forgive me. And, please, do not stop here at this conference. Go on and do what the conference births. Action is crucial – urgent – overdue. And it is up to hearts and minds such as those you display to me by virtue of taking the trouble to organize this conference themed: ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO DEVELOPMENT – a theme that says YOU CARE.
Now, to Action.
I leave my heart overflowing and look forward to hearing of or reading about ACTIONS that are sure to arise from your deliberations here at this conference of which I am honoured to be a part.
Thank you for including me.
Till we meet again – even virtually or via other means … letter writing is not actually dead … yet!
Thank you, very much, for inviting me to this august and so relevant conference. Thank you! Enkosi! Baie dankie! … in the three languages of the Western Cape … where I make my home.
Goodbye! Carry on carrying on! Blessings! Blessings! Blessings!
Even as I was taking leave at this august gathering way away in Japan – I was leaving them with questions galore - examples of attempts at this flitted into my mind -Affirmative Action! The plethora of NPOs and NGOs even in my beautiful South Africa – SAWID – AMAZWI – SA 2033 -
The Conversation Continues!