Crisis of confidence

2014-01-12 14:00

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had barely finished swiping her credit card to pay for her swanky new hairdo when the criticisms began.

The new hairstyle was in preparation for Monday’s televised announcement of the 2013 matric results. It was complemented by a two-piece number comprising a loud, striped jacket some wags compared to an e-tolled highway.

Generous observers speculated that it was so fashionable it must have been bought from Khanyi Dhlomo’s upmarket Luminance store in Hyde Park.

Could it be that the minister had been getting some fashion advice from her ANC Women’s League colleague and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane? We need to know.

Motshekga’s sartorial sassiness has progressed at the same pace as the improvement in the matric results she announces in her annual January speech. It comes second only to the finance minister’s budget speech in terms of public anticipation.

If Trevor Manuel always surprised us with his choice of ties on budget day, Motshekga hits us with a new hairstyle and her choice of a top.

But, as always, I digress. Where were we? Oh yes, the criticism.

Before Motshekga announced the results, the cynicism had already set in. Predicting that she was going to announce an increase from last year’s 73.9%, the cynics insinuated that the results were either fixed or manipulated to achieve a certain outcome.

By the time the minister had a chance to show off her brand-new look and announce the 78.2% pass rate, she had already been roasted. But she delivered her speech in her usual calm and confident manner.

This time, though, she made a point of dealing with those who had criticised her, and those who were planning to criticise her, by pre-empting the darts that would be aimed at her jacket stripes.

But this did not prevent the cacophony of cynicism and disbelief that followed the announcement. As predictable as King Mswati’s attendance at the annual Reed Dance, the pre-announcement criticisms were amplified.

The barbs did not just come from the chattering classes blabbering on social media and in newspaper columns.

The cynicism extended to the public who, while happy for the successful matriculants, were sceptical of the percentage leap.

This being an election year, there were murmurings that the results were designed to be an ANC campaign trump card.

Motshekga is not alone in being the subject of public doubt. Questioning the validity of government pronouncements has become the norm in South Africa.

In a trend that should worry those in power, citizens take what ministers and senior officials say with a huge dose of salt.

We perform this ritual every September when the crime statistics are released. As soon as the minister of police, the national police commissioner and their underlings have reeled out their facts and figures, the dance begins.

The decrease in this or that crime is scrutinised and torn apart. Experts and commentators argue why the figure cannot be credible, with the primary reason being inadequate reporting of crimes by the public.

For ordinary people, the main reason for disbelieving the statistics has to do with their own lived experiences.

To them, crime is not about statistics. It is about whether they feel safe on the streets and in their homes. In many instances, they do not feel safe.

It happens again when the country’s president delivers his state of the nation address.

The promises he makes in that speech?–?more jobs, better service delivery, improvements in health and education facilities, and life-changing infrastructure projects?–?elicit shrugs and cynical guffaws from the public.

The situation has been exacerbated by deliberate fabrications from those in power. There is no starker example than the Nkandla scandal. As the scandal grew, ministers and top civil servants were trotted out to bamboozle us with unbelievable tales.

If the Nkandla explanations were spin, government could be forgiven for amateurism.

But what it has been feeding the public are distortions and?–one may dare say?–?plain lies.

We now also have a situation where utterances by the spokesperson for the highest office in the land are treated as entertainment by the public.

He has now become a caricature because his attempts at spin are so out of this world that they could be compiled into a bestselling children’s storybook.

One can continue listing instances where government is hit by this credibility deficit, a phenomenon that threatens to undermine the authority of the state. This lowly newspaperman accepts that our government is not bothered by this creeping phenomenon.

As far as members of the ruling party are concerned, they can fib as much as they like and their party’s historical credibility will ensure that the voting public keeps extending their mandate.

This is not healthy, especially for a democracy whose cement still has to dry. Governance in a democracy is a solemn contract between the people and their elected representatives.

This contract requires that the people trust those that they have voted into power.

We should never find ourselves in a situation where the public expects to be misled by those they should trust, and seeks alternative truths elsewhere.

You do not want a scenario where people ask that damning question: But why should we believe you?

»?Makhanya is editor at large

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