Hlengiwe Mnguni

Still feeling reasonably patriotic

2010-08-26 12:30

As a reasonably patriotic South African, I have always thought that despite the obvious challenges, ours is a country that will straighten itself out over time, gradually. It would be difficult, but one day there would be less acidic confrontations and more constructive exchanges.

But my confidence, I am sad and a little embarrassed (as a patriotic citizen) to say, has been shaken by the vulnerable situation we find ourselves in. Because even when the strike does come to an end – however that may be – the damage it has caused is beyond the obvious, serious and even tragic results that we find ourselves reeling from.

At the end of this strike, whether government gives in or not, it is a guarantee that there will be sections of society that will be left feeling they have the right to seethe in self-righteous anger.

While government absolves itself of any guilt by displaying its empty coffers, ordinary South Africans feel betrayed - having been left in the lurch by public service employees who themselves feel abused by a country that makes unreasonable demands of them. Confidence and trust has been dealt a blow. While this is certainly not the first time a strike has brought disorder, it is be difficult to miss the intensity of the protest and heightened political instability (instability within the ANC sadly translates into political instability for South Africa) surrounding it. I’ve heard the word anarchy one too many times in the past week.

Impractical and emotional

A few years ago I had a conversation with a Kenyan acquaintance that at times like this I remember almost involuntarily. It was just after the violence that erupted in that country following disputed elections in January 2008. He recalled looking at the escalating disorder in Zimbabwe before then and never imagining anything remotely similar happening to Kenya. He was shocked.

But as much as that thought haunts me, as a reasonably patriotic South African, I still find it difficult to wrap my mind around the idea that this could be one of those countries that could break down.

There are many reasons that keep me from the brink of unbelief. Our constitution has served us well over the years, we are a largely respected member of the international community, we are a regional economic giant, and we’ve made significant contributions to science, art, literature and even world peace.

But the most impractical is this. Just before I give myself up to hopelessness, I hear the “I told you so” ringing in my ear. I am reminded of how I don’t want to live in a South Africa where Afro-pessimists get to say “What did you expect?” with conviction and I don’t have a defence for a South Africa where politicians don’t have to hide their corruption but parade it before the hungry in the name of anti-imperialism, a country where the scramble for power drives most. We are not there.

It’s never a good reason to want success for the sake of spiting someone. It’s impractical and emotional. Much like patriotism.

Just frustration

So beyond feeling patriotic, I am inspired to hope by those public servants who are still manning their stations in the midst of real intimidation despite also wanting and deserving higher pay. My hope becomes more practical because of these people and others who have given freely of their time and skills to hold together what seems to be falling apart at the seams. I owe those people to believe that their efforts are not in vain.

I am left believing that despite all the anger and disappointment there cannot be a real desire to see it all crumble. It is just frustration temporarily getting the best of people.

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