The beauty of social cohesion

The beauty of social cohesion

ONE can safely guess that each ant hatched from the egg comes into the world with a clear sense of what it is meant to contribute to the colony. The ant, (the pismire or emmet) is defined as a social insect living in organised colonies, and characteristically, the males and the fertile queen have wings during the breeding season and the wingless sterile females are the workers.

The sterile females are the ones one sees in long caravans crawling with something in their jaws to send to the queen who lives all of her life being fed and giving birth to the entire colony. This is the insect that King Solomon admired above every other creature, honouring in his lovely proverbs their sense of foresight when gathering food for the winter, admiring their sense of connectedness in almost every other ecclesiastical quote: it is hard not to admire the ant if one has bothered to learn of their ways.

From the simple foraging excursions one sees in the everyday world, to the admirable locking of the legs when the colony has to cross a body of water, the ant stands as the truest symbol of unity in the animal kingdom. Giving lessons to the wise that know it is worthy to learn and to understand the full intricacies of the process of individual knowledge acquisition for the benefit of the entire, the insect species is the ultimate tutor when it comes to fully understanding the beauty of social cohesion.

The African proverb, “Advice is like a stranger, if he’s welcome, he stays the night; If not he leaves the same day” rings true with the other by the motion picture magnate Samuel Goldwyn, “Ninety nine percent of the art of living consists of getting on with people you can’t stand.”
Unlike our many-legged insect neighbours on earth, we humans arrived late and immediately went on a usurping mission soon as we understood how to use our hands. Possessing a mind different from the other species, and being upright walkers unlike our simian primate relatives (the monkeys and apes), we copied the habits of almost every other inhabitant that we found already existent on earth to form our own little communities that bloomed into large societies covering almost every space on earth except the recent occupation of Antarctica.

From the copying came the religion, formed of man’s primal questions as to the true purpose of the human individual’s existence on earth, dependent on visible and invisible deities borrowed often from the nature we found. There was the primal need for humans to understand why they should connect, and the gods we created and then worshipped became the tie that bound entire communities together whilst the process of connecting together was expressing itself in different forms.

There is the need to connect whether one likes it or not, and though the reasons may seem different and varied, they all point to one aspect: there is benefit in performing salient and peripheral undertakings together, for where there is one, there is lack, but where many are gathered over some task there is bound to be benefit.
A construction man set on building a house on their own may find it easy to build lay the foundation and the brick-line to a certain height. Laying the roof and finishing the house may prove to be a real challenge and will take longer than expected for the individual that is set on doing it alone.

The difference in terms of skills and set tasks means that all the people on a construction site can bring out the best features of the house or building project if all are allowed to perform their set task to the best of their knowledge and ability.
Often from different backgrounds and geographical locations, the men and the women that have raised entire cities and changed the shape of the skylines did and do what they do because they are allowed to perform their set tasks without hindrance.

Like a colony of ants, they keep the construction site alive and see the landscapes change from bare ground to beautiful esplanades and avenues, boulevards and streets. These cities are built by those who at first know each other not, those that are driven to the construction site by the need to cover the basic human needs that can only be achieved by being engaged in some activity for the sake of a salary.

We could not see the world as that Johnny Clegg song Universal Men sees it, expressing it through the lives of the men and the women (who sadly are never acknowledged for their roles as the suppliers of the food, the company for the injured, and the general welfare officers of the labourers on the various construction sites across the world).
Though the song only seems to note men, the children on the pavement are not forgotten, and I guess to a certain extent the lonely women and mothers they leave at home are acknowledged in the chorus:
Jonga mtan’ami, u nga lahl’ indliziyo (Look here my child, don’t lose heart)

One can assume that the travail of the ant carrying food from distance far from the nest could be one lonely undertaking if the ants did not move in trains or caravans across the vast distances that have to be covered in the process of foraging for food.
A creative outlook assumes that ants do speak, and that they are encouraging each other with the statement above as they carry the heavy loads across the varying landscapes on the journey to feed the egg-laying queen that is the heart of the colony. The lesson from the ant to the human is that there should be a culture of encouragement amongst ourselves living in human communities across the globe.

The regression of the world in terms of fostering the spirit of peace stems from constant focus on only the most negative aspects of our behaviour. Largely dependent on the colonial spirit of individualism, the world has managed thus far to create abysses where once there were no fissures, first breaking down the most salient and basic units of human connection and then moving on to squander whatever resources there were to keep the people well enough to care about each other.

Poverty could not survive where there was communalism, could not even take a single step where bartering was the sole mode in the economies of exchange of goods and services. Poverty is a reality the world now has to deal with largely due to the fact that the individual interests of those forced to live under non-communal modes of production existent in the modern age have lost touch with what it means to share.

Individualistic in nature, the poverty gap has continued to the now prevalent chasm that seems far too wide to bridge. There is no sense of effort to stop its increase, what seems real is that the narcissistic tendencies of the world go on to be worshipped at the expense of the survival of the human race.
I have always held the notion that the native that wants to seem the richest is the most dangerous. Such an individual is in reality like a sterile worker ant that finds a quarry and chooses to start their own colony, in the process forgetting that it is all about the queen back at the nest that gives birth to the entire colony and therefore needs to be fed to sustain the existence of the colony.

The individualistic individual and country forget that the gathered wealth and material is nothing without an audience of the poor begging to be granted a share of the rewards from activities.
Starving other humans for the sake of personal prestige leads to the individual not having an audience to admire the feigned wealth. The wealthy that share the fruits of their labour sustain the existence of the community within which they live, and this type of philanthropic individual is fast disappearing.
The Ecclesiast speaks of the wisdom of the ant in terms of the creature being aware of the time of the year and the season: the ant gathers in times of plenty to keep the reserves full for the time when the pickings are slim due to the natural conditions that come with the winter.

There is no individualism in this aspect, for the army of worker ants toils together incessantly, ignoring any dangers that may lie in their path as part of the daily journey from the nest to the food source, and from the food source back to the nest.
The united share not only the labour part of the process of gathering food, they also share the concerns, anxieties and fears, that is, the toiling part is easily assuaged because of the voices united in the pursuit of the one goal aimed at on the particular day.

African and other indigenous societies knew the value of the work song, it not only chased the blues of the toil away but also served to nurture the vital element of synchrony needed to execute the task at hand. I have always viewed that Gerard Sekoto portrait of railway workers with their picks high up in perfect formation, digging the ground before the railway sleepers and the rails are laid.

The same scene is found when the threshing of the sorghum harvest (ho pola mabele) is in season, the extra long knobkerries moving up and down in perfect synchrony, ensuring the whole village will eat until the next harvest.
That is the social cohesion in motion, from the village to the worker gangs that raise entire cities from the ground up into the clouds. It is never an individual affair, for it would be too much for the one individual to do it on their own.
The culture of individualism was fostered by self-interest which in itself was born from the divide and rule tendencies that came with the adoption of the feudal and capitalistic modes of production. One could argue that they are part of human progress to which one has no power over, but the argument is that this is the regressive type of progress whose end result will surely bear unsavoury fruit.

The high levels of crime are only the precursor to what will surely come if the world goes on fostering the culture of individual vanity at the expense of the connections that keep humanity together and on a harmonious trajectory towards true progress.
One may argue that the now prevalent culture corruption is born of poverty, but the truth is that corruption is born out of gluttony and vanity, leading the individual to think only of themselves and their myopic interests without the consideration of the repercussions of their corrupt activities.
Entire nations suffer because a few individuals begin to think that they deserve a larger piece of the pie from the activities meant to gain resources aimed at progress. With the interests of the larger community at the fore, the individual finds it hard to lose way and become corrupt, for then the sense of honour and prestige forewarns one on the danger of focusing only on the self.

The literature of the times must begin to be one similar to the literature of the last colonial days when the artists and litterateurs painted scenes and wrote works aimed at fostering a spirit of togetherness and social cohesion. What seems prevalent in the modern day writer is an artist and a literary writer focused mainly on gaining accolades and prizes, and the story is one that largely focuses on the individual and not the collective.

The Gods Are Not to Blame, Rebel, Things Fall Apart, Weep Not Child, No Longer at Ease, and other works by greats including Ola Rotimi, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and others often sought to address the issue of social cohesion, revealing all those elements that unravelled it, suggesting what could be done to remedy the scourge of division brought by the departure from the indigenous ways of living.
The corruption of the city and the lure of the lucre became the main culprits, and the writer of the age not only dealt with them head on but spoke of them openly, in the process not only warning the masses against them but also conscientising them on how they could deal with them. The voices were largely ignored, and the continent ended where it is today.

There is just no sense in writing for the sake of being called to an interview on television or having a blog on the internet. The type of opinionated writer of the modern day that is focused only on addressing issues that affect only one side of society stands to become the point of division between the different sectors of society, for then he or she is no different from the authors of propaganda focused on only driving certain agendas for a given individual clique.
Social cohesion means that we speak with one voice regardless of background and nationality, for the issues that affect humanity negatively have similar impacts for all of us.

Tsépiso S Mothibi

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