Festering wounds

2011-08-03 00:00

EVERY now and then the veil is lifted on the veneer of politeness that has come to exemplify South African society and true feelings are revealed.

An example is the vitriolic attack by Sowetan columnist Eric Miyeni, who has since been fired, on City Press editor Ferial Haffajee. Miyeni's words were poisonous, calling Haffajee a "black snake in the grass". There were violent undertones to what he said when he added that in the eighties she would have had a burning tyre around her neck.

A few weeks ago, a fellow Witness columnist, Michael Worsnip, wrote about the anger in South African society. We see it daily in the incidents of road rage and the impatience of shoppers at supermarkets. We read that corporal punishment is still firmly entrenched in schools and of scary recent incidents of members of the police force killing family members or fellow officers, and then turning the guns on themselves.

Somehow in the negotiations for a peaceful settlement in this country, way back in the early nineties, we failed to dig deeper and fully address the fact that we remain a deeply wounded and divided nation.

We are reminded of this, funnily enough from time to time, by the words of columnists and public figures. Remember Jimmy Manyi's comments on the oversupply of coloureds in the Western Cape and the need for job quotas, or David Bullard on how uncivilised blacks benefited from European colonialism? Then there was Sunday World columnist Thuli Roberts stereotyping coloured people who "shout and throw plates, have no front teeth and eat fish like they are trying to deplete the ocean and love to fight in public …"

Miyeni is unrepentant about his column and he has the backing of the ANC Youth League. Even more revealing is the deeply divided debate, mostly with racist undertones, that has dominated Twitter and other comments on this debacle. There are comments by whites along the lines of do you expect anything better from "these people" to blacks saying Miyeni said what the majority of blacks think about the media and whites in general.

So do we just limp along and get jolted every now and then by someone speaking out? It seems this latest incident will also become another blip on our radar screen and, sadly, this means that there is more to come. The problem with leaving wounds to fester is that they become so much worse, and looking at South Africa today this seems to be the case. What we have here is a crisis of leadership starting with the head honcho of our country, none other than our president, Jacob Zuma. Talking about the veneer of politeness, Zuma is the master of this with his bland smile and lack of decisiveness. His supporters would argue that confrontation is not his style and that there is no need for confrontation, just a firm hand and some action.

South Africans are getting tired of dithering. Three weeks later, he has still not acted against Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Police Commissioner Bheki Cele regarding their roles in the irregular lease deals probed by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. There has been until now a hands-off approach to Julius Malema. Hopefully, Malema's sortie into the terrain of foreign policy by pronouncing on matters in Botswana, has finally seen him put in his place. For the first time there was instant condemnation of his pronouncements from the ANC.

What about pulling cabinet ministers into line? Sicelo Shiceka remains an absentee leader with Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa running two portfolios, his own and that of Co-operative Governance. Then there is the lip service paid to dealing with corruption and no move to carry out the much-talked-about lifestyle audits.

Political commentator Xolela Mangcu says we shouldn't expect much to happen on this front. Mangcu asks how we expect Malema to avoid the seduction of money and power when the same judgment has eluded his own leaders in the ruling party.

More importantly, as the Miyeni saga has reminded us, the non-racial agenda has quietly fallen off the agenda. Miyeni's words do not ring very differently from the vitriol being spilt by the ANC Youth League. Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya calls on the ANC and its leadership to whip the league into line on the principle of non-racialism. He says the party cannot afford to let one of its own organs take a backward and destructive route.

So much to do, so little being done. It is time for the ruling party to stop being polite and tackle tough issues head-on.

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