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What South Africa Does the World Need?
Paul Graham, IDASA 21 October 2009
The intention of this paper is to stimulate discussion on the existing opportunities to change the world and the extent to which South Africa can and should contribute to this change. It celebrates the human effort to achieve liberty, equality, and fraternity and the ways in which these escape us even as they invigorate us, as Wordsworth noted after the French revolution.
It is not, however, the story of the ways in which the world is changing, of the signs and portents that arise from the collapse of unilateralism, the global recession, the emergence of experiments in world governance and in civil society formations, all of which point to the transitional crisis in which everyone is today. It is not the intention of this paper to reflect on how, while inequality has entrenched itself, the prosperity of a portion of the world has driven new communication technologies and infrastructural developments, mobility and connectedness, which have now become available both to the poor and the rich, opening up new crises and driving unimaginable aspirations and unfulfillable desires, creating the potential both for a new world, for the construction of new realities, and also for bringing on the destruction of the old ones.
The balance of powers is changing. The tectonic plates of global power are shifting. To the extent that we can ever see beyond our own human horizons, and lift ourselves above the self-centeredness that limits us all, the twenty-first century is dawning.
This is a modest attempt to encourage discussion on whether South Africa has a significant role to play in this century. During the twentieth century it came to hold a place in global consciousness out of all proportion to its size. This paper will remind us of some of the reasons for this, of the romance of the moment, of the slow dying embers of that romance, and of the quest that both South Africans and their friends are pursuing. It asks whether this is a quest worth pursuing or whether, like the grail, it will come to an unrequited moment to which all will look back in nostalgia – the pain of recalling the past.
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