South Africa has been celebrated across the world as the beacon of democracy in Africa. But when one takes a closer look, the much vaunted democracy is in a state of dismal confusion at the moment. The level of mistrust and general polarization has reached the peak. Desmond Tutu had appeared to be right on the rainbow nation observation. A peek from the outside would almost deceive one to think that all is well in our democracy, especially before the Marikana Mine tragedy. Many scholars and academics have tried to provide the diagnosis for the current confusion. Much of it has broadly been labeled as a failure of leadership. True and sustainable nation building has been replaced by narrow partisan political agendas, be it intra- politics or otherwise.
At one time I attempted to examine the political situation in Zimbabwe with a view to profer workable solutions. Like the Zimbabwe scenario, parties refuse to accept responsibility but prefer to blame it on others whom they claim have failed the nation. Experience has proved that the lack of objectiveness that we currently have in most debates does not yield any positive results. The evil culture of unconstructive criticisms will not build our country. The earlier we gave, each of us, personal introspection and acknowledged our complicity in bringing about the current problems the better. We have all contributed. We have all made mistakes. But, all hope is not lost. We can still build as our fathers had intended in 1994 when produced a constitution that has been argued to be the best in the whole world in terms of the protection of the rights of the citizens. But, time is not on our side. Marikana and the situation around the mines has just been our most recent wake up call.
African National Congress
I am one of the black people who think that the ANC government has done a lot better than what the media has often sought to portray. Much better than many African nations and that is why South Africa is a prime destination for African migrants. After 18 years in power inflation is still single digit. Unemployment is high, as expected, but much of that is attributed to the global recession which started in 2008. Social welfare mechanisms are still in place. Healthcare is accessible to all. There is significant progress in education (Limpopo Textbook was just a dent though) and housing and many other areas. But, there are also many other areas that it has failed to provide the expectations of the people. In the process they have presided on a situation that is a real throbbing time bomb. There are some within the media fraternity and even within the ANC itself who would want to attribute all the failure to the leadership of President Zuma. That is not only myopic but is clearly self-defeating also. Self defeating in the sense that the current problems did not originate in 2008 when Zuma took over. This is a historical problem which could only be adequately addressed by a united nation that has the will to see real transformation. One man could not possibly have created all this mess in less than four years. For some leaders within the ANC, self defeating in the sense that the decisions are taken by consensus.
In my opinion, the major mistake made by the ANC was in the area of managing the expectations of the people. They have created a dependency culture among the people. The people, especially the poor black majority, take their government as capable of solving all their problems without them lifting a finger. This may have been created by promises made during the transition from apartheid. This is the root of most, if not all, the service delivery protests. I am not in any way absolving the government from their constitutional responsibility to provide services. I believe the ANC government after 1994 could have done better in terms of changing the minds of the people from just depending on the government to becoming partners in the transformation of their communities and their country. The mindset currently dominating is that we should fight the government, by whatever means even if it means bringing the whole country to a halt, until they bow to our needs, “after all we voted them into power”.
The issue of provision of decent housing for the poor, for instance, is one that will never be solved by the current method of RDP houses. I must hasten to say that the government has done well in this area since 1994. Great strides have been made. But, it is not possible to provide all the poor with readymade houses. The poor is not a static group. It is a number that continues to grow. The government cannot therefore fool itself to think that they can forever meet this ever increasing need. In my opinion, the focus must shift. We should seek a buy-in from our people as we teach them that they are co-workers in their own projects. This strategy has worked in other African countries where the people’s minds were shifted from just depending into being partners in building their countries. This gave rise to building cooperatives were locals, particularly the poor, organised themselves and started contributing towards a pool for the sole purpose of constructing houses for their members. In most cases, these cooperatives would approach government to provide land for the construction of the housing units. I understand that the concept was introduced at one time but I needs to be encouraged.
Endemic corruption has been one of the failures of the ANC government. This is not only confined to ANC. Many other countries have struggled with this dragon which has suckled the life blood required for meaningful progress within our communities. The tender system was introduced with noble intentions, it has turned out to be the widest conduit through which corrupt activities have been done. For example, a minister was reported as having said that while it costs about R5million to build a school for the private developers, it takes as much as R15million when a similar project is undertaken by the governments. That is shocking. An additional two schools lost to inefficiency or corruption. This is the root of most service delivery outcries. How can there be fast progress when there are such horrible leaks in our systems. So in terms of funds availed to the communities it may appear like there is tremendous progress when in fact the bulk of it goes towards lining some pockets and the resultant widening of the inequality gap. We have thus contributed in creating a class of wealthy individuals at the expense of the generality of our people. The government must show the will to address this cancer. This must go beyond arresting those found to have stolen from our progress to closing all loop holes that the perpetrators take advantage of.
On the unemployment front, it has often been debated that the country has failed to optimise on the advantage of the vast natural resources that it is endowed with. Raw materials still leave our shores every day only to find their way as polished products. These resources are creating employment elsewhere. This is the greatest dilemma of African countries. There is a dire failure to balance between short term needs of foreign currency against the long term sustainable need of reducing unemployment. Many believe that drastic measures need to be taken in encouraging the investment in value addition to our products.
Intra-party divisions have the potential to bring down the mighty movements. We have seen open jostling for positions. Just a year after President Zuma had taken office, some within the ANC were alleged to have started a plot to dislodge him. This not only weakens the party but also affects the whole nation who become the proverbial ”grass that suffers when the elephants fight”. The incumbent then gets into defensive gear while the opponents embark on their mission to discredit. Unity is one of the most vital cogs needed in the current ANC. Otherwise all their blue prints, some of which are brilliant, will never see the light of day. We could name Land reform, youth subsidy, nationalisation and many others that have been going in circles.
Democratic Alliance failures
There is no doubt the DA has been a key player in defending the South African democracy. But, facts are there to indicate that the DA, as the official opposition in South Africa, has not helped the polarisation situation. Because of the history of its formation, it is easy for anyone to see that in many instances the DA has come out as a defender of the status quo which by definition preserves the current inequality we see in our country. This is particularly true regarding the “old” DA before it’s re-launch in 2008, when Helen Zille led it to espouse the “party that delivers for all” strategy. We all know the in-roads that they made in terms of increase in votes.
Although it has not declared their intention, the DA seems to be on a campaign to prove that black rule is poor and corrupt leadership on every turn. This has often been demonstrated in the way they have vociferously fought against any leadership in government that President Zuma appoints. They have been in the forefront in criticising any appointment of blacks in particular which the current administration has made. One example that I can cite among other criticisms was the appointment of the current Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng. We know the role of the opposition should go beyond just opposing. We all have a role to play in the building of the country. That way the DA will be positioning itself to be the party of the future. The current polarisation will not help them as the numbers count against them.
I think the DA could have helped the current polarisation instead of just criticising the ANC, for example when issues like land reform of nationalisation are debated, could have taken advantage of the confusion to drive their initiatives in the correct direction that shows that they are not defenders of the current inequalities. That would have gone a long way in removing the “them and us” notion that currently exists between white and black South Africans. The current growing anger, that seems to be driven by the ANC youth league will not just disappear unless some of the complaints are dealt with. The Marikana tragedy and the current mines unrest may be the clearest sign that the Zimbabwean chaos may not be too far after all.
The media in South Africa is undoubtedly the most powerful voice it South Africa at the moment. It has the capacity to make or break anyone. It has the potential to build or to pull down the country. Having said that, in my opinion, I do not think the media has utilized this great chance to the greatest of advantage. Instead the media has helped in dividing our country. It appears to have taken it upon itself to engage in covert manoeuvres to influence the political future of the country. This group appears to have an undeclared war of making the country ungovernable. I often writhed in pain in my heart when I see the media blow things out of proportion, as they try to soil President Zuma in controversies. The most recent was the deliberate mutilation of what the president said about democracy with regards the minority when he addressed parliament after the Marikana tragedy.
The divisive media came out in full force to further polarize our country in the way the presented their views on the Spear painting debate. We cannot afford such carelessness in the media. In the worst case, this polarization could lead to bloodshed. In other African countries we have seen the media muzzled because of lack of balance on issues of national importance. The media has played a vital role in exposing corruption and promoting transparency and accountability in the leadership. For that they should be commended.
Business in South Africa has been accused of being the chief architect in the widening of the equality gap that is reported to be the worst in the whole world. Unconfirmed reports had it that the Chief Financial Officer at Lomnin Mine was earning over R857 000 per month when the lowest paid was just R5,000 per month. This, if true, exposes the hypocrisy of business in as far as addressing inequalities is concerned.
In other countries business has done very well in terms of the upliftment of the communities in which they conduct business. Social responsibility needs to be encouraged. This will remove some of the burden on government who are clearly over-burdened in their bid to bring about real social transformation.
The dependency syndrome, that I alluded to earlier has seen people have wait on the terraces as they waited for government to perform miracles in bringing about a better life for all. In the cases where they acted it was when they conducted violent protests to attract the attention of the authorities.
There is a desperate need for a shift in paradigm among all the diverse groups of people within the country. It is time we threw away the various stereotypes we have created and start to act in a way that unites and builds our country. Our country needs the contribution of every single one of us.
Wither South Africa?
We could go on and on to chronicle the mistakes made by this party or that. By this or entity. The lists can never be exhaustive. But the important thing going forward is for all parties concerned to play ball to ensure that our nation can be restored of its pride. It is our collective responsibility for us to stop whatever has been dividing us and we go like a swarm of bees and participate in positive contributions to our nation.
We have all sinned. That recognition will form the foundation of the next brand of South African, black and white, who will cause a turnaround in our nation. It is a people who will not allow stupid polarization to hinder objective assessment of our situation and the causes thereof. It is not a people that drive looking into the rear view mirror but will only occasionally take a glance thereon to enable smooth flow going forward. Our children deserve better from all of us.