On my radar: Finding reason in disorder

2014-11-24 13:45

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House is but a genteel representation of SA’s mood

On Thursday, November 13, South African politics reached a turning point.

We watched with morbid fascination as Parliament erupted into chaos.

Liberal doses of name-calling were followed by some argy-bargy, then fisticuffs, all of which were beamed live on TV.

When the TV feed was cut (i.e. censored) we simply switched to social media where the soap opera continued to play out.

(Note to Small Business Minister Lindiwe Zulu: In a digital era, you can’t lie about your actions because, inevitably, someone has not only captured your wrongdoings on a cellphone, but put it up on YouTube faster than you can say “I did not assault him”.)

Parliament has never been this riveting.

Parliament erupted into chaos last week. Picture: Lerato Maduna

But most South Africans were horrified at what was taking place in the hallowed chamber of the institution.

Media channels were filled with opinions and analysis debating if this was the beginning of the end of our fledgling democracy.

From a trend spotter’s point of view, this was not just a localised occurrence, but part of a global trend of disorder. They were the growing pains of a new world order.

Step back for a minute. We are at a most interesting juncture in our history.

At the turn of the last century, the world moved from an agricultural era into an industrial age.

Similarly, we are now transitioning from the industrial age into a technological era.

With that comes the conflict and unease as new business templates changed value systems and new social norms recalibrated themselves for the journey ahead.

It’s cold comfort for the doomsday evangelists, but it might put things into perspective.

Take, for example, the global brouhaha surrounding the Uber taxi phenomenon.

Traditional taxi associations are up in arms over this new system (born and driven by disruptive technology) and the service has even been banned in some countries.

When London cab drivers protested about the unregulated system, the Financial Times covered the protests, but ran a parallel story about how the same outrage erupted when cars began replacing horse-drawn carriages at the turn of the last century.

Point taken.

It is certainly no longer “business as usual” in the global political arena and here, the disorder is much more sinister.

“Non-state” combatants like Boko Haram and the Islamic State (formerly Isis or Isil) who flout the Geneva Convention (the international law for humanitarian treatment in war), now have to be dealt with as “equal” players politically, even though they don’t adhere to the rule book.

Western Jihad recruits are no longer identified by a foreign nationality because they are now the “enemy within”, born and bred in the country they now fight against.

Disorder is spreading – from the economic crisis in 2008, the Arab Spring in 2010 and the Occupy movements of 2011, to the political conflicts of this year.

Just last week in Paris, the Musée d’Art Moderne called for entries for the 6th annual Prix Pictet (a prestigious photography award).

This year’s theme? Disorder.

We can see that disorder has even seeped into the art world.

But back to the disorder in our own back yard.

A parliamentary correspondent for a radio station made an interesting comment the morning after the chaos erupted.

She said that although from the outside it might look as if Parliament had descended into anarchy, a very different message was being conveyed from the inside.

For the first time, opposition parties were uniting to disrupt and challenge the governing party’s arrogant behaviour.

A line was being drawn and the message was clear: enough is enough. And the straw that broke the camel’s back was the ad hoc committee’s report on Nkandla.

Before this turning point, a friend (and struggle veteran) commented that, as a citizen in her own country, she felt “impotent”.

The ongoing issues of corruption and cronyism, the ineptitude of parastatals and nondelivery of municipal services had left her feeling powerless to effect any change through official channels.

I pointed out that what was playing out in Parliament was the very same frustration she was feeling, but the frustration there had come to a head in spectacular fashion.

Similarly, in townships and informal settlements, violent service-delivery protests are a result of that same frustration.

The disorder in Parliament was just a more “genteel” protest, but a protest nevertheless.

It’s all relative.

Similarly, the civil disobedience campaign against e-tolls is part of a growing frustration that unites law-abiding citizens and spurs them on to create disorder.

The recent actions by private individuals to take on big business (a cellphone network and a bank) to protest about bad service are also part of the ripple effect of this prevailing mood.

The common thread in all these cases is a tipping point of pent-up frustrations: the final realisation that “enough is enough” and unexpectedly, the will of the people suddenly overrides decorum.

This, of course, is a slippery slope to anarchy.

Changing the status quo is always messy by nature, but we managed to transition into a democratic South Africa with relative decorum.

We can do it again, but first, something has got to give.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends.

For more trends, visit www.fluxtrends.com

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