“The future of humanity is uncertain, even in the most prosperous of countries, and the quality of life deteriorates; and yet I believe what is being discovered about the infinitely large and infinitely small is sufficient to absolve the end of the century and millennium.”
Primo Levi (1919 – 1987) Italian writer and chemist.
When we speak about quality of life, though we may articulate the same words, express a similar tone, the meaning of the very same phrase could be as varied as our differing accents. Our dialects are influenced by our specific environment. I suspect that the same holds true for our understanding of quality of life – our geographical location, cultural heritage, religious persuasion, our position on Maslow’s Pyramid play an important role in shaping our socialisation.
The mainstream meaning of this vague statement refers primarily to life as lived in New York City, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Johannesburg or any other enclave of western ideals. The basic criteria used by mainstream society to define quality of life are the very same indices used to evaluate the potential lifespan of a sitcom and its commercial value. Yet for the majority of the world’s population the life depicted in television sitcoms is very far from their reality and even farther away from their ideals and cultural perspective.
……quality of life along dollar terms…
The western school of thought measures quality of life along dollar terms, focusing primarily on sustainable development goals with regard to infrastructure. Whereas the opposite holds true in the so-called backward and tribal corners of the world; where sustainable development refers to the historical and cultural development of the individual members of a community based society, the people who inhabit the Earth and the afterlife.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate running water, access to sanitation, a stable and reliable electrical grid, and well organised town planning. I spend my days roaming around Africa’s property gold mine. It is a great pleasure to commute between Sandton, Rivonia, Fourways and Midrand on world class freeways, highways and byways. There’s something intoxicating about the lighting on our roads, leaving the average South African with a tinge of a superiority complex.
Reminding me of why President Jacob Zuma, aka the King of Nkandla, said our roads aren’t like roads in Malawi or somewhere in Africa. A bittersweet memory for most of my countrymen, whilst giving me a sense of pride in my country, especially in the people responsible for our road infrastructure, Apartheid ministers, cheap labour from the rural areas, World Cup 2010, the greedy toll companies and those foolish enough to buy e-toll tags – our roads can match and beat the best in the first world.
Yet when the Honourable President of The Republic of South Africa made his disparaging remarks about Malawi and the rest of Africa, he highlighted an important blind spot in contemporary and western thought that left a sour taste in my heart; we tend to think that material possessions are synonymous with human development and quality of life.
Is it possible that citizens of Malawi have a higher moral standard…
Unfortunately for Jacob Zuma this assertion couldn’t be farther from the truth. He too is a victim western thought patterns that are merely alibis for capitalism instead of being ideals. Though Malawi owes its fame to Madonna, boasts a lower per capita income and GDP compared to South Africa, Malawi has fewer prisons because her inhabitants also have a lower inclination to steal, rob and murder for material possessions. Is it possible that citizens of Malawi have a higher moral standard, an African standard free of the trappings of capitalism? There’s plenty that Malawi can teach South Africa and the rest of the world, if only we stopped being so judgmental and humbled ourselves, maybe we could learn a thing or two about achieving Botho.
Jacob Zuma’s statement also highlighted a deep misconception held by many of my country men and women, a misconception engrained by Apartheid and South African mainstream media, most people in my country refer to Africa as if South Africa is detached from the rest of the continent. Yet this great divide, though geographically incorrect, exists in the mind-set of too many South Africans.
The general desire to define ourselves as an outpost of Eurocentric expression only belittles us as a nation and a people. We seem to associate quality of life along colonial lines, embracing the fallacy that Africa is a dark continent and having nothing to offer the world. Africa is very wealthy, not just in material terms but in people terms too.
The expression of Ubuntu is central to our existence…..
The expression of Ubuntu is central to our existence; Africans have a deep desire to be classified as people, individuals who care for other people without homing in on their credit rating, loving another person is the ultimate expression of humanity.
It is such a great pity that the annual quality of life surveys have absolutely no intention of being culturally inclusive and accommodating indices that are more substantive to the debate around quality of life – ideals which most people, marginalized or not, hold dear and aspire to. Steve Biko stated that it is the duty of Africa to remind the world of its human face.
Psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists are not products of an education system designed to better mankind but products and tools of western capitalistic tendencies. Their only focus being the medium to long term goals of the corporate world – the funders of scholarships and research. If you had to take a closer look at the cities that usually populate the top ten places to live in regarding quality of life, you’d find the state of the family and the general mental health of the population in serious decline.
We seem to think that we are making progress as a society, yet all recent technological advancements point to the opposite direction. Can we really brag about social media, online dating, virtual friends, Mr Delivery, drive-thru’s, chat rooms, online gambling, computer generated music, reality television, etc.? These very advancements are evidence of a global drive towards a society that is devoid of the art of human interaction, the personal touch has been removed from most of life’s daily adventures. No longer writing personal letters filled with feelings but opting to send texts deprived of human emotion and recognisable grammar.
When research houses undertake peer review surveys that compare and contrast governments, corruption and ethics are always included as critical factors that influence a country’s scorecard, yet when compiling a list of favourable places to live around the globe they never consider the environmental corruptive influences or moral values of a city and its society.
I think all potential respondents should undergo a drug test to ensure that the answers do not originate from the Holy Herb. An ignorance test wouldn’t be a bad idea too, to eliminate those who’ve never travelled beyond their city or state limits.
I was recently taken aback to find out California had built 24 prisons and only 2 universities over the same period of time. When Tupac and Dre sang their chart topping song I wonder if they were cognisant of the fact that Cali doesn’t have the plight of their brothers at heart. Can a State be so focused in maintaining its status as the 9th biggest economy in the world that it is prepared to create an industry focused on throwing away members of society for keeps? As much as California offers a potentially luxurious lifestyle, glitz and glamour, would I want to live in a place where people are commoditised and valued solely on their earning potential.
by Knox Mahlaba
Knox Mahlaba is writer-poet and author of Back From The Dead: The Rising of an African Spirit.