This week saw two very different sides of South Africa exposed to the world. The one was the president's penis, or at least an artistic interpretation thereof, and the other a magnificent achievement for humanity - the launch of the world's first commercial spaceflight. Both have their roots in South Africa, and both involve similarly shaped objects as Sarah Britten just pointed out with her "Freudian" comment on Twitter when someone retweeted my Tweet about this matter.
The absurd levels of energy and flaming ignorance that went into fighting over a perfectly normal piece of artwork must surely have drawn the world's attention to the utterly trivial things that occupy us in South Africa. We spend so much of our personal, public and corporate energy on matters that have little if anything to to with the achievements of our nation, and the work that needs to be done if we are to take our place in the global knowledge economy. The fact that art can have multiple interpretations was lost in the furore. I thought the painting could be a rallying cry for what needs to be done by the spear of the nation to bring Sough Africa into the global knowledge economy. But flacid minds focused on the flaccid organ instead of what it could really mean.
The other event was the launch of the first commercial space flight by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, a space transport company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk.Musk was born in Pretoria in 1971 and matriculated at Pretoria Boys High School he left home in 1988 at the age of 17. He was a founder of PayPal and a number of other initiatives. He left home to escape the army, but also because the things he wanted to do could not be accomplished in South Africa. He was listed as one of Time Magazine's 100 people who most affect the world in 2010, and one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century by Esquire magazine.
Listen to this... he was born and grew up in South Africa. How many more potential Elan Musks are out there among the general population, having their attention diverted by the trivial, the absurd, the vain, and the shallow?
Yesterday I gave a talk at the Telecoms World Africa conference at the Sandton Convention Centre. I pointed out the aweful tragedy, caused largely by poor government policy and poor implementation of good policy, that South Africa did not feature at all as a producer in the global knowledge economy. We are relegated to the role of mere consumers, and if individual South Africans want to make it in the knowledge economy, they have to go elsewhere. There are no skills here. And we don't believe in ourselves, we don't believe that we can be as good as anyone else. We are flaccid in the way we think about ourselves.
A representative of a major international company brought this home to me when she said the only place they could get skilled people to do technology implementation in Africa was China. How much sadder is that then a painting containing the president's flaccid dick? I saw in that painting a symbol of what a limp nation we have become, fighting one another, fighting over wealth, fighting over meaningless ideas, instead of erecting our collective will to fight the comon enemy - poverty, ignorance, and the loss of our idea capital by being relegated to being consumers in a backwater of the global knowledge economy.
It doesn't have to be that way. We have lost our way. We need to find it again. We need to harden our resolve, that is what the spear of the nation needs to be doing. We should not paint it over and imagine that doing so is important.