(Written on 27 May 2012)
In 2004 George Ellis was awarded the Templeton Prize and in an interview titled Science and Hope (July 2005) on American Public Media’s Speaking of Faith, in which he discusses a wide range of important topics, he speculated that had George Bush reacted differently to the al-Qaeda 9/11 attack in 2001, the outcome could have been quite different, and by implication, a much better one. The full interview is well worth listening to and can be heard at http://www.publicradio.org/tools/media/player/speakingoffaith/20050707_scienceandhope
George Ellis – Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Complex Systems at UCT’s Department of Mathematics
In essence Ellis suggested that if the attackers had not been demonised as they were, but had been engaged in a way that goes something like, “I don’t understand why you did this. I want to meet with you in some neutral country so that you can tell me why you acted in the way you did”, the outcome may not have been the terribly destructive Iraq war that followed. I think Ellis was quite right, but sadly George Bush was a president looking to punch someone on the nose in revenge. Anyone’s nose… and Saddam Hussein fitted the bill. I was living in the USA at the time and well remember the rhetoric in which the Rambo mentality swamped rationality. In a ghastly, numbing way the Hollywood (entertainment) model of simply killing people as a solution to conflict became an awful reality. For leadership to move a nation in a way that is bigger than the need to hit back calls for what Ellis describes as ‘kenosis’, and it certainly is a much more difficult route to take, calling for a real President.
Nelson Mandela was such a President
After all the injustices meted out by Apartheid and almost unimaginable personal sacrifice, Nelson Mandela proved to be bigger than all of that. Who can ever forget the way in which he spoke to the Nation on the 10th of April 1993 on the assassination of Christ Hani?
“We are a nation deeply wounded by callous, uncaring men who plot such heinous crimes with impunity.
The cries of our nation are heard from old men who bury their sons and daughters, wives who weep for their husbands, communities who endlessly bury young and old, infants and pregnant women.
This killing must stop.
Chris Hani championed the cause of peace, trudging to every corner of South Africa calling for a spirit of tolerance among all our people.
We are a nation in mourning. Our pain and anger is real. Yet we must not permit ourselves to be provoked by those who seek to deny us the very freedom Chris Hani gave his life for.
Let us respond with dignity and in a disciplined fashion.”
Once again South Africa was saved by a greatness that is still astonishing. http://www.nelsonmandela.org/omalley/index.php/site/q/03lv02039/04lv02133/05lv02149/06lv02150.htm
South Africa’s current president
Now we have a president unable even to defuse the crude parodying by an artist. We have a president who when accused of soliciting a bribe in the heady days of the New South Africa’s ‘arms race’ demanded his day in court so as to clear his good name… only to make certain that that day never came. We have a president who has left the country, as Julius Malema described it, on auto-pilot; and all the while an industry of toadies seeks to dismantle the Constitution in order to hide their nefarious activities and to become the new BOSS* of South Africa.
Surely the ANC still has enough good men and women in it to give us a President once again.
PS: *BOSS: Bureau of State Security. See South African Public Service Amendment Act of 1969 and the State Security Council Act No. 64 (1972)
PPS: Some months ago I had the opportunity to sit next to George Ellis at lunch and was dying to ask him about that interview, but didn’t. I was so concerned about making a fool of myself that I never spoke a word to him.