Book Review: Raising The Bar: Hope and Renewal in South Africa


Raising the Bar is Songezo Zibi’s first book and seeks to provide a thorough, accurate analysis on the different issues preventing South Africa from moving forward.

Zibi’s writing explores aspects of South African society by identifying challenges to the country’s development and examining possible solutions which would manage and eliminate these challenges.

The book’s focus is divided across a broad range of topics such as race, education, ethics, leadership, politics, government, violence, the role of women and social taboos within South African society.

Throughout the book Zibi makes reference to instances in his own personal life, grounding his writing. In examining race relations in South Africa he makes interesting observations, in some cases based on his personal experiences. He examines the notion of “blackness”, a hotly contested subject in South Africa and argues that the term is intellectually dead and must be rethought. Definition renewal should be sought by examining key ethical and social values within black society which should give rise to an autonomous term rather than one dependent on “what whites do or do not do”.

Zibi also argues for ethics-based transformation where he states that transformation should address social justice, rather than focus purely on race. He presents various examples in illustrating his view; one is that of a black chauvinistic man hired into a senior position, a move which does not represent transformation because our constitution is built on gender equality.

In a critical review of South Africa’s politics he argues that the country’s leaders have destroyed any trust the public had for them as a result of high levels of corruption and tax evasion. There is also a dire need for more formal education within the country’s leadership, an element which is severely lacking. Until leaders can emerge who are trustworthy, well-educated and have real vision the country will continue to face a crisis of leadership, he believes.

The author’s views on violence, women and taboos within South African society are fascinating; again, many of his arguments are grounded in his own memories growing up. He shows how South Africa’s violent society is in many ways grounded in a history of violence. Zibi examines this while also incorporating the philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s views on objective violence and subjective violence. In South Africa for instance, the physical strike action of miners represents objective violence, however there is this consistent failure in engaging with the subjective violence of the story, namely the conditions in which they work. As South African society is also one of entrenched patriarchy there must be a directed attempt towards eradicating the belief that many men have regarding their superiority to women, Zibi says.

When it comes to cultural beliefs and taboos the book highlights how South Africans shy away from uncomfortable societal truths, such as how religious beliefs conflict with the constitution, truthful conversations about behaviour during the armed struggle and discussions on white privilege as a result of apartheid. The author believes that these kinds of taboo topics have to be addressed if we are to move the country forward.

Raising the Bar is an intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking book which seeks to answer the question: how can South Africa move forward? In his analysis Zibi provides insightful and strong arguments as to the country’s problems and how we can fix them. A great read for those wanting to expand their knowledge on making South Africa better and furthering the country’s development.