Lessons Gleened From Tragedy. By Devi Rajab.

Screen shot 2015-06-24 at 3.16.52 PMSome of us may still remember the catch 22 question that often did its rounds in  men’s clubs. Have you stopped cheating on your wife yet? If you said yes it meant that you had been cheating in the past and if you said No it meant that you were still cheating.
The Greek referendum is something like this. It is “Greek” to most of us. Each report that I have read thus far confuses me even more. But what is so poignant is the sheer irony of life’s travesties. The mighty Greeks were once famous for their dramatic tragedies performed in honour of the God of theatre, Dionysos in open air stages in and around Athens. Now the stark stage still awaits human miseries to be enacted throughout the ages.   The players however are not all Greek. They are the IMF, Germany, Spain, Portugal and  the UK which still harbours the Elgin marbles and other treasures that rightfully belong to Greece and its people. How the puppet strings will be manipulated will determine the nature of the dance.
As I write this column I have a tapestry on my wall which speaks to me of memories long gone. It was 1968. We had been dislodged from our home in the Botanical Gardens area. My mother was negotiating the sale of two garden pots at the entrance of the house with a Greek family who were allocated the house. They had come to SA as part of the grand scheme to encourage European settlers to swell the ranks of the white populations. Our emotions were measured in equal amounts of sorrow and happiness which ran in parallel but opposite directions. And then we left ironically stopping in Greece enroute to Germany for my sisters wedding. In Athens we met a wonderful couple at a local restaurant who were planning a wedding in which the bride would be attired in a sari. As my sari clad mother stepped into the scene there was a gleeful yell and we were told the whole story. The Greek bride did get married in a white sari which we sent to her for the wedding. Years later throughout our friendship a tapestry was being woven in fine needlework stitches , a labour of love over 3 years in the making. That tapestry brings me much joy because it tells a human story of enduring friendship and generosity of spirit. During our stay our young Greek couple who lived in a one room apartment which was tasteful in its simplicity took us on a walk about through a small settlement called Anafortica well hidden from tourist traps. To get to the top of the acropolis one had to meander through people’s gardens and pathways. Instead of encountering hostility at this intrusion we were offered freshly made apricot and peach  juices thick with pulp that hadn’t seen the likes of a blender or thinning agents. They were offered to us in small handmade goblets making our journey a charming entrance to the Parthenon built in 447 BC.
The Greeks were once a great nation. They excelled in art, architecture, literature music, drama and philosophy. They gave us great thinkers like Sophocles and Euripides and a pantheon of gods in a mythological world. It is little wonder that Jackie Kennedy was lured into a magical lifestyle of wealth and leisure when she married the famous shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis against all the cries of the American people to “beware the Greeks though they bring gifts”. In one generation this great love story ended in yet another Greek tragedy.
And now as we see the urban misery of the 21st century etched on the bawling face of an aging retired pensioner sprawled against the entrance of a bank door, we wonder about our individual fates. Indeed life is not about certainty. Even a great history cannot protect us from in the words of acclaimed writer Keeran Desai “the inheritance of loss” So what’s the way forward for Greece?   It would seem rational to assume that Irrespective of whether Greece decides to exit the Eurozone or not much will need to be done to restore economic growth and stability to the country.  Having defied earlier IMF proposals for a bail out, prospects for the repayment of its debt are dim given the countries poor economic growth and continuing austerity measures.  It seems that politics would have to be subservient to economics in this battle. “What will be needed are a compromise by Greece and its creditors and a plan to restructure Greece’s debts with some degree of debt relief to allow Greece’s economy to grow whilst at the same time introducing more fiscal discipline within the country” says an informed banking consultant.
Though we may as South Africans feel estranged from the Greek experience, we may have to think again. Marikana is our Greek tragedy and there is much to be learnt from one tragedy to another.  


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