I AM not one of those people who bad-mouth South Africa. In fact, as an African I have spoken up for this continent at many academic and civil society events in Europe and the US.

After travelling for two weeks in France, Switzerland and Germany, there is, however, one aspect of this country that really disturbs me: the lack of respect. This came to the fore in different contexts over the past 14 days.

I walk in a small French town with narrow streets. Whenever a pedestrian approaches the street — no matter whether at a zebra crossing or not — the cars from both ends immediately stop. They do not argue. "I am struggling to make progress in these narrow streets, so I take every gap I can." There is respect for the vulnerability of a pedestrian.

The same holds for cyclists. There are many cycle lanes, but where the cyclists share the road with vehicles, the greatest care is shown for the man or woman on the bicycle — because they are more vulnerable. The law is on their side. Beware if you hit one of them; you give them space.

I go jogging in the lush summer woods. There are many winding paths, and a special one for horse riders. Away from everyone, I find single women walking or cycling alone without fear, because there is respect for the sanctity of another person. (Ubuntu, where art thou?)

I find along the river a women with a small baby and a young child of about four years playing around her. She sits on a blanket and fears nothing. Why would someone contemplate grabbing her bag or — even worse — raping her and violating her body?

I ask our friend’s daughter if she will you ever come and stay in South Africa. She says: "If you have grown up with the freedom and feeling of safety and respect here, such a move is impossible."

I come to Switzerland. I take the train from the airport. You are expected to buy a ticket before you board. Everybody does so. Why? Because there is respect for the public good. A free rider — literally — is immoral because he or she chooses a short-term personal benefit at the expense of a public benefit. The latter comes in the form of a good transport system to which all contribute and from which all benefit.

And when the man comes around now and again to check the tickets, he is shown respect. He is a public representative. His uniform does not invite the possibility of a bribe — this thought does not even arise. No, he carries the authority and the trust of the public bestowed on him. I respect him. I show him my ticket.

(I once asked a large ethics class whether a system of trust in public transport would work in South Africa. They did not respond. Everyone was laughing and shaking their heads in disbelief that someone could even suggest such a strange thing.)

There is a sign in each train coach, saying that those caught without a valid ticket will be fined. And if it happens twice, they may be banned from public transport. By implication: if you do not respect the public consensus, you must be shamed and the benefit is withdrawn temporarily so that you can learn respect.

The same goes for littering on the train or in any way damaging this public property. "This is our collective property and you had better respect our agreed-upon rules. Don’t play games according to your own ideas."

We shop in a big supermarket in France. There are only a few pay points operated by staff. You go to designated exits, scan your groceries (you have weighed the tomatoes yourself), pay with your bank card and go home.

Why steal or crook?

It seems three things are required to build a respectful nation:

• build self-respect among children and young people so a new generation arises;

• apply the rules quickly and effectively so people learn it is not worth their while to take chances; and

• get leaders in all spheres of society who model respect for everyone to emulate.

Unfortunately South Africa has none of the three properly in place. Anomie is the norm. Disrespect is socially and materially rewarded because you "beat the system".

If ever I think to leave this potentially wonderful country and they ask me to fill in a form at OR Tambo International Airport to provide my reasons, a short sentence will suffice: "I can no longer live in a disrespectful nation."

 Naudé is the former head of the business school and currently deputy vice-chancellor: academic at the Nelson Mandela Metro University in Port Elizabeth. He writes in his personal capacity. This article is to inform and educate, not to advise.




  1. I fully endorse what Piet says but sadly I remember that two of the bloodiest wars of mankind was also fought in Europe during the last century.
    Since then, however, I must agree that they have come a long way with respect,pedestrians will not cross a deserted street crossing in the middle of the night unless “the light is green”

  2. Uitstekende artikel – baie dankie. Ek het 5 jaar in Europa gewoon en het die beste en swakste daarvan gesien. Dis ‘n kombinasie van menslike wedersydse respek, maar ook die besef – ‘ek gaan defnitief gevang word, daarom trap ek in my spoor’.

    Hoe skuldig is ons almal nie – ek sien dit elke dag in die verkeer.
    Ek hoop Piet Naude kan die artikel afrol en uitdeel by die NMMU.
    Ons gaan nie in een generasie word soos Europa nie, maar ons hoef nie daarom op te hou probeer nie.

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