Pale faced in adversity

2008-02-02 00:00

In order to make more money available for executive salaries and bonuses, the South African Bootlicking Corporation’s national radio service has steadily reduced expenditure on journalists. Instead of thoughtful, entertaining programmes that are relatively costly to produce because one has to hire talented people, it now fills the airwaves with talk shows — endless hours of mind-numbingly tedious, trite burble.

To listen to this self-important rubbish is to be driven to the conclusion that the error in 1994 was to extend the franchise to everyone over the age of 18, rather than take it away from the many idiots who had squandered the vote so spectacularly over the 46 years of National Party government.

It is not that one needs great intelligence to choose one’s government, but it would help if people were even vaguely well informed. The SABC airwaves are a frightening daily reminder of how poor our education system is — in terms not only of the ability to reason but also to assimilate basic information — and for how long this has been the case.

It is not only the ignorance that makes one despair. It is the smug positions taken on both sides of the racial divide. The darkies mutter self-indulgently — and, well, darkly — about past injustices. The whities opt loudly for the Chicken Licken theory of the universe: the sky is about to fall down, at least over the southern part of the African continent.

There is an unpleasant undertone of schadenfreude to the response of many whites to the electricity crisis. It is the final bit of, hitherto missing, proof that blacks are innately incompetent and unable to run a modern economy.

Undoubtedly, the government has failed. It is telling that the African National Congress did not believe its own propaganda about sustained future economic progress, which is why it refused to generate more power.

Nevertheless, the ability to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of power and water is by no means an unassailable skill of the white man. The west coast of the United States is in an endless cycle of power and water shortages. Australia has spectacularly mismanaged its water resources and London, capital city of the world, has both water and transport systems that are close to collapse.

It is astonishing to hear the proud progeny of Voortrekkers and 1820 Settlers whinging like spoilt children because of the erratic supply of electricity over the past few weeks. People who can boast of how their ancestors walked barefoot over the Drakensberg or faced off the savage hordes on the Eastern Frontier, are suddenly whimpering like babies that the end is nigh, merely because they can’t watch their favourite television programme.

At a time of national crisis, and it is a national crisis when the mines close and the Aussies start rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of snaffling South Africa’s hosting rights to the 2010 Soccer World Cup, a government has the right to hope that its citizenry will unite behind it. Admittedly, it would have helped if the government hadn’t waited until last week to recognise that there is a crisis and had not spent the past decade deliberately alienating the white community.

Successful nations are optimistic and have an ability to transcend internal divides at times of adversity and crisis, which in an increasingly interconnected world happens every second week. Much depends on the quality of national leadership but more depends on the willingness of individual citizens to be politically and emotionally engaged in their country.

How different nations and groups respond to calamities and pressures can be a fascinating exercise in pop psychology. The past decade of Labour government has pushed national disillusionment and the emigration of UK-born Brits to record levels, maybe because the alternative of a Tory government is as horrendous a prospect.

Americans, in contrast, remain engagingly, hopelessly, optimistic about the future of their country, despite the ravages of eight years of George W. Bush, a sub-prime economic crisis, recession and almost universal international opprobrium. Yet nobody is packing up and emigrating to New Zealand.

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