Ideals vs reality

2008-02-07 00:00

South Africa has been awash since 1994 with noble ideas and ideals, beginning with the institution of an all-inclusive democratic order. A new Constitution was established to enshrine this ideal and a Constitutional Court to protect it. This remarkable achievement won deserved accolades around the world for the “rainbow nation” that had become a reconciled South Africa on its way to major transformation.

Other subsidiary ideals came to be grafted into the overarching achievement of democracy. An “outcomes based” approach to education was introduced. An expansion of health services was sought, together with a more universal provision of electricity, housing, roads, water and telecommunications to previously neglected parts of the population. The creation of jobs to meet high unemployment levels was part of the national quest. Land restitution to deprived and rightful owners was to be pursued.

Inevitably, there has been a mixed pattern of success and failure over the past 13 years in the implementation of these ideals. At present the country is faced with one of the starkest realities of failure through the inability of Eskom to meet the electricity needs of the nation. Allister Sparks, who is no alarmist, says in a telling article in yesterday’s issue of this newspaper, that he cannot recall any other event in recent history that has so shaken the confidence of ordinary South Africans in the future of this country. Others take a more sanguine view.

The fact is that on nearly every front the new ideals have faltered, largely because of an absence of capacity to make them work. Affirmative action in favour of previously disadvantaged people was another high ideal the price of which has been the disappearance of lost skills. Too much resort has been had to endless talk-shops which have often been a camouflage for inaction. The corridors of power have become filled with a stifling and often incompetent bureaucracy.

The time has come for the government to acknowledge honestly the gap between its grand ideals and the sober realities. The only way to bridge this gap will be to seek the help of all South Africans, including discredited ones, in a shared and purposeful enterprise.

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