I have recently had a conversation with you on The difficulty of being good and then we had a follow-up conversation on empathy, Homo EmpaThicus. With this still fresh in my mind, the ill-fated incident at Marikana happened and, for a moment, cosy ideas and opinions seemed so out of kilter with this reality. I was shocked. Then further, to see how the power mongers move in and keep feeding on the suffering of others; and to hear and read about leaders responding with clandestine meetings and others fending for their political careers – all of this deepened my sadness. If we are serious about a better future for all, then as responsible citizens we need to pause and reflect, because this is not the future we had all hoped for. The multitude of questions and my need to understand what happened motivated me to force this traumatic event into the Greek Square (with its respective virtues as the normative dimensions of our reality) as a way to reflect on this tragedy and to make sense of it.
Reflecting through the lenses of the Greek Square, I refer to Marikana:
…to a society with leaders demonstrating mere political moral embellishment but with an inability to convince its members of authentic responses or that their utterances are coming from a good, honest empathic place. The question of how a leader creates meaning out of such suffering remains unanswered. Authenticity demands courage, paying a price, being humble and unselfish. But this is absent. It disappears in the discursive articulation of blame, excuses and rationalisations.
…to a society’s difficulty in demonstrating the human virtue of good, in spite of the absence of a clear definition or a universal norm. One just senses the difficulty thereof. Something of this good is expressed and styled in our Constitution: the right to life (whether that of a police officer, a miner or union leader), the right to be protected and to be safe, to express oneself freely. This does not speak to a leader’s adherence to a particular code, but rather to a leader’s willingness to step up to the plate and demonstrate humanness. We need to experience the good as a virtue in the acts of leadership: empathy, caring, knowing the other, and a mentality of abundance. Compare this with the all-round evidence of violence. If the leaders of these organising entities (mines, unions, SAPS, politicians) are to be assessed by their ability to steer towards what is good for the greater whole, then the results achieved at Marikana tell a sad tale about our society’s leadership. There is little room or need for blame, but much space for accepting responsibility, by all of us. A responsibility that, among others, includes making good (long-term good) of the consequences of the event. When the pope addressed the crowd (during his inauguration) he declared himself as ‘servus servorum’, the servant of the servant. Who served whom at Marikana?
…. to justice, which is most probably the core of good (as a virtue) leadership. This excludes revenge, which is an intruder in the domain of justice. Justice is embedded in a network of recognition, trust, fairness, honesty and faithfulness. To be just I have to recognise myself in you and want for you what I want for myself. We need each other to be fully human. This is irrespective of my position in the social pecking order as an ostentatious union leader or a poorly paid rock-blaster; or where I find myself on the organisational hierarchy either as a miner or as a mining boss. This attitude must be driven as a leadership imperative. This is how I come to be in touch with my humanity, seeing myself in the miner, in the tense police officer, in the smug politician; recognising myself in the oh-so-high mining boss and the powerful union leader. If we want a healthy society we need to develop this capacity to be just. Then we may treat others fairly, structure our relationships in honesty, and be faithful in wanting for others what we want for ourselves. We may then come closer to a just society.
….the true, veritas. How close are we to the truth (researched knowledge) of how to control crowds? How well-founded is our knowledge of the service to be rendered by a union to its members? What is the quality of knowledge according to which we operate in SAPS, the mines, the political arena, the media, etc.? This is no glib question. Our knowledge needs to be normative, guided by the light of the other two corners of the square: the good and the just. Without this, the quality of knowledge is limited to the useful, to the pragmatic, serving only the ends of production. So we need to reflect critically on the normative quality of knowledge that informed all the actors at the Marikana event. How was it guided by the good and the just? Did the applied knowledge (of policing, unionising, mining, remunerating, politicking, etc.) bring us healing, did it change despair into hope (think of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope), and did it help in making progress? True (normative, guided by good and just) knowledge empowers us, not to be powerful for the sake of it but to improve the world around us. When true knowledge is applied trust emerges. What were the trust levels in this dreadful event? The capacity of judgement of all the actors on and off the stage of Marikana comes to mind and did not seem well-developed. One cannot but wonder about the amount of training and development that takes place in developing the capacity of judgement of our leaders. This is a basic (not in the sense of simple) and essential part of leadership development. As an example: no other public servant possesses the authority that a police officer has over the destiny of people. In one move a police officer may be prosecutor, judge and executioner. So, how well trained are these officers to use their memory, experience and logic and manifest their character in that one move?
….to beauty. This is the fourth corner of the square and a strange word to use in the context of Marikana. This is an empty corner of the Greek Square unless filled by the content of one or more of the other three. As Cicero describes it: This is nothing other than what the Greeks have always called ‘the beautiful’ in the highest sense of the word, the ethical good that unfolds itself in particular within the community. I fail to see the good, the just and the true unfolding during the Marikana massacre and hence no content to fill the beauty corner. I sense nothing aesthetic, no balance of form and content.
I conclude: whatever we have lost, let’s not lose the learning. The law does not have a letter only, it also has a spirit. Let’s hope that the commission of inquiry brings us knowledge and insight that is useful to improve the good, the just and the true, giving us the aesthetic content to fill the beauty.
Frik Landman is CEO of USB Executive Development (USB-ED).