Babalwa Shota

When President Jacob Zuma deviated from his prepared speech at the National House of Traditional Leaders this week, two responses came to mind: he’s right … and he’s wrong.

While parts of his unscripted monologue verged on vitriol, the president managed to press the right buttons when talking about the “African way” of doing things.

I agree with him that our prison system is a failure at the best of times and rehabilitation doesn’t seem to be the priority.

When he spoke about street children and old age homes as things that we black people were never familiar with in the past, he reminded me of conversations I have had with my elders back home.

They also lament these issues.

I am guilty of sometimes being a “clever” black who often criticises traditions.

And I do this because us educated darkies feel uncomfortable with the position we find ourselves in: that of reconciling the modern and decidedly Western world we live in with the one our parents and grandparents still look to for guidance.

I would rather consume prescription pills that don’t help than drink imbiza (herbal mixtures) prepared by my sangoma cousin.

And when I’m “forced” to slaughter a sheep as a thanksgiving to my ancestors, I prefer doing it at my family home in the township than in my own suburban house.

Some of us have come to view traditions as old-fashioned, backwards and embarrassing.

We are afraid of being judged as less sophisticated by our contemporaries or seen to have a “rural mentality” by our peers.

These days, many families slaughter only at weddings, funerals and coming-of-age ceremonies.

Incense is burned in secret and the plain candles we are supposed to light for our ancestors have been replaced by the scented variety from expensive homeware stores.

Yet something deep within will not allow us to completely discard our beliefs because it is these very traditions we turn to when this modern world becomes too much to bear.

So I do agree with Zuma when he hankers for the bygone era when children were brought up by the community and we all solved disputes under a tree.

I don’t care whether or not this was a politically manipulative move on his part. The fact is that Zuma did touch a nerve.

But I believe he should also accept the world has changed and generations have evolved. We are more exposed to different people, cultures and experiences than ever before.

We live in the here and now and have to find the best way we can to reconcile these worlds so that they complement instead of conflict with each other.

- City Press