Columns 4.6.2015 06:00 am

We should be proud to work

Kekeletso Nakeli-Dhliwayo

Kekeletso Nakeli-Dhliwayo

I remember a time when you wanted to be a teacher, nurse, police officer or even to serve in the army.

Maybe we didn’t have options, or we saw that the people in these professions did their work with passion and dignity.

I remember a time when being a public servant required one to possess a quality that today is scarce: a sense of pride. One would be proud to say: “my mommy is a teacher”.

Yet so often now we read of nurses who exchange insults with patients, government employees who take extended tea breaks, teachers who father their students’ children and police officers who victimise the communities they are meant to protect and serve.

In government offices these days you will find officials who are supposed to help you, apparently more interested in the longevity of their chewing gum. You wish we could apply for marriage licences and driver’s licences online, just to avoid the human interaction.

I applaud a programme such as Funza Lushaka, which aims to encourage people to consider a career in teaching. The departments of health and correctional services are doing the same.

But are they seeking professionals who exude pride in their work – or just offering an alternative to unemployment – sometimes even through a paid internship?

Sitting at home all day versus being paid to study, even if it’s not my calling – I’d take the latter any day.

We cannot pay people to be passionate, but can we teach them how to be passionate? A mountain of allegations of bad service delivery appears to show the opposite.

Recently we heard stories that principal and teacher jobs were exchangeable for cattle. A dairy cow or two in exchange for the responsibility of my child’s future.

You’ve got to laugh (or cry) at the South African entrepreneurial spirit.

The government and SA Football Association have been accused by the FBI of paying a bribe to secure the 2010 World Cup. In response. the sports minister asked who we were to believe, our fellow countrymen or the Americans.

Yet we’ve fostered a corrupt society. Why would we, then, believe our countrymen?

In a time when social platforms are the new ombudsman, one would think public servants would shape up, but the bad ones keep their jobs. The new input is attendance and the new output is – you guessed it, a salary.

Forget about job satisfaction.

Do children still aspire to teach, or nurse, or to serve the community in some other way? Have the rotten apples already spoiled the barrel? Are we too far gone?

We expect good service, but burning tyres and buildings to make the point is both fruitless and unnecessary.

Certainly we are influenced by our experiences with public servants and we may develop certain attitudes based on those experiences. But we need to ask and answer the main question: are we cultivating a nation of passionate professionals?

A productive public service can make or break our attitude towards our government. When we realise this, we will begin to expect decent and proper service from our civil servants. Batho Pele (“people first”) should not just be a catchy phrase.

 

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