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No such thing as free lunch

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Picture: Timothy Bernard African News Agency (ANA) – The IEC at Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa, March 22, 2022. Following a good participation in the 2021 elections by youth, the IEC has launched a drive to enlist more youth to vote thus going to universities and schools to encourage them to sign on even on online platforms. Every five years voting takes with politicians using the rhetoric of making things better, even as they evidently get worse, the voters still give them the vote, hoping for different results this time around, the writer says.

By Wallace Mgoqi

Over the years, a I have learnt that there is no such a thing as a free lunch. Whenever, someone offers you a free lunch, you must know that you have something so valuable that your host wants from you, whose worth is by far higher than the cost of the lunch.

I will use this analogy in relation to our gullibility as an electorate, in the context of the periodic elections that take place.

By the way it is not a South African phenomenon, but something universal all over the world. Nothing is valued by politicians as that little mark we make on the ballot paper on election day, for it is a gateway to prosperity for those who are in the party to rise in the world, in a way they would never ordinarily have been able to do.

It is not uncommon for someone who left school, early, during the break, thinking that school was over, to become, through the system, a Councillor, a member of the Mayoral Committee, a Mayor, Speaker, a Premier, a Member of Provincial government or the National Assembly, and even become a President of the country, all arising from that little mark, whose cost of getting it is by far less than the value of the mark.

Some politicians become so crude as to even organise food parcels for the large number of the more impoverished members of society, to entice them to come to the voting stations. Every five years this ritual, is repeated with politicians using the rhetoric of making things better, even as they evidently get worse, the voters still give them the vote, hoping for different results this time around.

Growing up we were told that one of the tests at the mental hospital, is to ask the prospective patient to pour water in a leaking bucket and carry it across to pour into a huge drum. The moment he or she comes back to pour again, they are stopped and directed to go to the admissions desk, for admission for observation, diagnosis and treatment, because there is clearly something wrong with them.

There is something wrong with us when we keep doing the same thing over and over again and hope for different results. All the politicians do with the party machinery, is to present to us the same people or somewhat different faces, do reshuffles in-between elections, and make us believe things will be different and we fall for it, while they run to the bank laughing all the way. In fairness , though with our recent reshuffle, we must concede that it is comforting that the new Minister of Electricity is a civil engineer, at least, so this is no ordinary deployment, as we have come to know it.

Lately, even the banks, which used to keep a distance from politics are in the pockets of some politicians, allowing themselves to be used against those perceived to be adversaries of the system, by hitting them where it hurts the most, closing not only their business accounts , but also their personal accounts, on spurious and nebulous grounds. Thank God we still have an independent and impartial judiciary that intervenes at critical points in these conflicts, for justice, not only to be done, but be seen to be done.

We must also be grateful that we also have a pro-establishment and anti-establishment media that mirrors what is happening in our society.

We could have been worse off as in some dictatorial countries , where there is no freedom of the press, or freedom of expression at all.

We must ask ourselves the question: what lies at the bottom of man seeking power for themselves, at all costs, sometimes?

Leo Tolstoy (1828- 1910) who grew up as a Russian nobility and became one of the world’s leading novelists wrote the following story to address the issue:

How much land does a man need?

The story goes: there was a peasant named Pahom who worked hard and honestly for his family, but who had no land of his own, so he always remained as poor as the next man. “Busy as we are from childhood tilling mother earth … we peasants will always die as we are living, with nothing of our own . If only we had our own land , it would be different. (He spoke to his wife that other people were buying land they should as well) … Life is becoming impossible without land of our own.”

So, they put their heads together and considered how they could manage to buy the land. They sold a colt , and one and a half of their bees , hired out one of their sons as a labourer, and took his wages in advance. They bought a farm of 40 acres, some of it wooded. Pahom borrowed seed, and sowed it and the harvest was a good one.

Within a year he managed to pay off his debts to his creditors. He then heard from a stranger that told him that from whence he came land was available at low prices. He sold his homestead and cattle, all at a profit, and moved the family to the new settlement.

Then the climax came when Pahom met a stranger from a far-off land of the Baskirs, where he thought he could acquire land more than ten times as much land as he had at the time. He then left his family, taking his servant with him. There the chief of the Bashkirs told him they charge by the day.

“We do not know how to reckon it out. We sell it by the day. As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is yours, and the price is one thousand rubles a day …. But there is one condition: if you don’t return on the same day to the spot whence you started, your money is lost.”

To cut a long story short, the following day Pahom left accompanied by his servant, marking his route as instructed all along the way. Greedy to amass as much land for himself as possible, he extended himself. By the time he returned, the sun was setting, and Pahom collapsed just before reaching the point from where he started. Pahom’s servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahom was dead. His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his feet was all he needed.

How many of us break our backs, chasing material things … We pierce ourselves in search of material things. We are a highly acquisitive society.

There is huge collusion between politicians and their acolytes, being people who are themselves outside government, but exploit loopholes in the procurement system of government. There are also cases where heads of government instruct heads of certain departments to hold back certain amounts in their budgets for party elections, and those who refuse to play ball are fired and replaced with “puppets or pet dogs”.

It is not as if we have no one to look up to, when we think of our own local heroes and heroines, all the Presidents and founders of the African National Congress, (save for the one who put us on this dangerous trajectory by building himself a palace with State funds and a “fire pool” and sold the country to a foreign family) and the Pan Africanist Congress, as well as leaders whose profiles are recorded in the book, They Are Africans (by Advocate Dudley Thompson, with paintings by Barrington Watson), such as Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, WEB Dubois, Marcus Garvey , George Padmore , CLR James, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere , Jomo Kenyatta , Haile Selassie, Paul Robeson, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr, Muhammad Ali, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela.

We can add a long list of our other heroes and heroines who lived a life of generosity. Living a life of generosity appears foolish but it is more rewarding to know that each day you have done something to make another person happy. This is the experience of those who have had long-lasting marriages, which have been fulfilling. My wife and I in forty-nine years of marriage this year, are no strangers to this experience, in exchanging love and respect to each other.

Those who live for themselves only end up like Pahom in our story, and do not live to enjoy the fruit of their labour, for they know not when “enough is enough”. For me I learnt from an elderly English gentleman, a Director of Oxfam, Guy Stinger, who liked to quote William Blake, 1757 -1827, who said:

“If you wish to do good, one to another, you should do it, in minute particulars.”.

These words influenced what I did from those early days as a human rights lawyer, to this day they are an “immeasurable moment” in my life.

Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch!

Dr Wallace Mgoqi is chairperson of Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd. He writes in his personal capacity

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.