CHARMAIN NAIDOO: Welcome to the great disruption
'Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. Wind and rain may be kept outside, but so are light and air'
The world is changing before our very eyes... I watched this week how delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos (mainly white, mainly men) appeared to trash newly inaugurated American President Donald Trump on the one hand, and predict a better economic forecast for the world because of him on the other. Expediency seems to be the new currency.
It was particularly poignant that I was lying on my Hong Kong Hotel bed watching Channel News Asia – watching the world shift on its axis – as Chinese president Xi Jinping talked about the global economy.
It was the first visit by China to this forum frequented by mainly western political and business bigwigs to drink champagne, attend “high net worth only” dinners, network and make plans to change the world.
Here, on this stage of influence was Xi, preaching about the need for globalisation, criticising Trump and his talk of protectionism.
He used poetry to make his point: “Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. Wind and rain may be kept outside, but so are light and air.”
Here on this same stage UK Prime Minister Theresa May made Brexit real, withdrawing from the European Union as she echoed this sentiment claiming to be a promoter of free trade.
Trump, in his inaugural speech, screamed America First. Twice. He promised to protect American jobs and to keep immigrants out. And then, at the Liberty inaugural ball, he cocked a snook at those who’d sneered at him as he campaigned, who now congratulated him for doing a good job. It was childish and ungracious, a mark of Trump’s style.
Momentous things are going on in the world – and here in our own country too.
The ascendancy battle has begun. I have received several Whatsapp messages and emails referring me to a withering piece on Nkosazane Dlamini Zuma by Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, senior legal officer at Africa’s Open Society Justice Initiative.
The piece begins: “Whether it was the Ebola outbreak, drowning of African refugees in the Mediterranean, famines, the return of the god-President, the International Criminal Court or popular uprising by young people demanding revolutionary change, the outgoing Chairperson of the African Union Commission failed Africa.” It goes on from there in a similar vein.
And so, it seems, a campaign to discredit Nkosazana Zuma and call into question her fitness to become president of South Africa is on its way.
Add to that a Business Day lead story that has deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa saying the ANC’S rules for choosing leaders were likely to be changed at the party’s policy conference in June – bitter infighting and a bruising leadership battle have been stated as the reason – and we are all in for what I can only describe as an interesting year.
Slovenian philosopher Zizek’s conclusion – that disruption is absolutely necessary for us (the entire world, west and east and south) to re-examine our long held precepts – had better be right.
I was thinking about the sorry state of the world in one of the most beautiful and functional cities I have ever visited, Hong Kong.
As I disembarked from the aircraft, fresh from a flight from Phuket in Thailand, I was immediately struck by something that always surprises me: efficiency. And a sense of order.
It’s a rare quality, efficiency. Hong Kong has it in spades.
Disembarkment was swift. Going through immigration was rapid and painless. (Another plus is that they do not put a stamp in your passport, preferring to mark your entry with a disposable slip that is retrieved on departure. Saves on new pages in a passport!)
Baggage retrieval was utterly simple and quick.
Traffic is fast moving. People obey the rules – on the roads and as pedestrians.
We never waited more than 2 minutes for a train, or a metro car.
But the thing that impressed me the most was the cleanliness of this city that is home to 7.3-m people.
The streets are free of litter. The subway stations and cars are spotless. Public toilets are ridiculously clean.
There are no eating or drinking rules for public transport and people obey them.
I have never found it as easy to navigate my way around a new city because it is well sign posted. People, it would appear, give a damn.
I saw this high, high, density city, where the majority of people are crammed into tiny apartments, where a plan has been made for maximum ease of living, a suitable model for the world.
These thoughts came early in the morning, fresh off a standing room only flight from Hong Kong, as I stood in the long, long line at OR Tambo – where two immigration officials were processing hundreds of passengers – a thought began to form that (silly, I know) involved the incorporation of the well-oiled workings in Hong Kong to the rest of the world.
A utopian dream? Maybe. But think about it. A very large number of people sharing a small space harmoniously.
Perhaps it’s the jetlag and the lack of sleep that’s made me crazy. But honestly, I need something to stop me feeling glad that I’m old and will soon be dead.
I’m sitting up in bed right now watching Trump dance his first dance at the inaugural ball with Melania – Trump the 45th president of the United States, the misogynist, racist, crude and vulgar Donald Trump. I am in the cold grip of fear, for America, for the world.