I have just returned from a trip to Europe, of which four days were spent at Hannover Messe, one of the largest industrial trade fairs in the world. I had heard and read about this show long before I was able to visit it but I was still astounded at its scope, size and depth. To put it in perpective the show organisers published the following statistics: there were approximately 5000 exhibitors, with 180 000 visitors from over 100 countries worldwide, and it encompassed every conceivable industrial facility. I was also able to spend time visiting other industries and product suppliers in Europe and talking about South Africa.
Something that was enlightening to me was the positive image people generally had of South Africa as a whole. I was struck by the desire that people had to visit our beautiful country and the interest that they immediately showed when I mentioned where I came from. Most meaningful to me was that the people I spoke to who had been to South Africa could not wait to come back and visit – tourists and business people alike. This made me think that we in South Africa are doing something right.
Then I got back to my hotel room, flicked through the channels and found myself looking at news about happenings on the streets of South Africa. Suddenly all that pride and enthusiasm disappeared. The two news pieces relating to South Africa that I saw while travelling covered firstly the saga of our historic statues and their demise and secondly the xenophobic attacks.
Walking down the streets in the towns that I visited I noticed the statues and symbols of a time gone by and wondered if they represented something glorious. Guess what, they didn’t. However there were no demolition crews waiting to do their job – their demise was not imminent. These were symbols representing an historic time, culture or system; but instead of undergoing what we as a nation are doing to our monuments, they have been embraced as symbols of human progression, pride in what a country has achieved, and maybe a reminder of a very dark time.
We cannot change what has happened, but we can learn from it. Like it or not, history has shaped us into what we are today, a country of exceptional opportunity. Instead of trying to remove or hide everything that reminds us of a time gone by, we should use it to our advantage. Rather than worry about monuments that until recently we hardly noticed, we should be deeply concerned that people in South Africa are being persecuted for having the wrong documentation. Is this not a story we have already heard?
“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke.
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