Let's build one land

2010-06-28 00:00

FORMER president Thabo Mbeki once said that South Africa is two countries in one. However, having spouted these insightful words, his government made little effort to bring these two countries together.

Mbeki was accused of concentrating on the country of the elite and the middle classes and paying lip service to the country of the poor. His successors, disappointingly, seem to be heading down that same slippery slope.

The weekend newspapers report that companies owned by President Jacob Zuma’s nephew, have got a foothold into oil production in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, recently emerged as a mining magnate and is one of the owners of the troubled Aurora gold mine that has allegedly had no money to pay its workers.

State bank Ithala, which has come to be regarded as a piggy- bank for the politically well connected, remains in the public eye.

Details have emerged that Ithala CEO Sipho Shabalala awarded a R169 million contract, without a tender process, to a Pietermaritzburg man, Lungelo Radebe, whom nobody seems to know.

The only thing SA Communist Party provincial secretary Themba Mthembu knew about Radebe is that he drives a Bentley. The starting price of such a vehicle is R3 million, according to the Sunday Tribune.

This disclosure is a reminder of another unknown holder of a multibillion rand government contract, Jabulani Mabaso. The owner of Indiza Infrastruture Solutions became known to the public only after he was charged with corruption relating to a R350 million tender he had been awarded to distribute books to KwaZulu-Natal schools. He was later joined in the dock by a former senior KZN Treasury employee, Pam Zulu. The case is ongoing.

Then there’s the debacle over government spending on World Cup tickets. The latest to join this folly is parastatal Eskom, which spent R12 million on World Cup tickets while in the midst of wage negotiations with its workers. Two worlds indeed.

Some may question the need to talk about the country in divisive terms at a time when it is most united. I have to admit that I too was floating in a bubble of euphoria, caught up in the feel-good frenzy of patriotism.

However, my bubble burst on Thursday when I learnt about a councillor’s house in Edendale being petrol-bombed. This was the third petrol-bombing incident that The Witness has reported on that involved people linked to the Msunduzi Municipality. Previous incidents took place at the homes of two council employees.

Perhaps the latest incident was coincidental, but it does seem to be three petrol bombs too many in one municipality.

The bombings highlight the legacy of apartheid that persists insofar as we continue to live in racialised dormitories, in different worlds with different realities.

For instance, an unpopular councillor in Scottsville will probably get a couple of rude letters in the newspaper. But a councillor in a relatively poor area, like Machabisa in Edendale, could end up with his house burnt down.

Why are the stakes so high?

Well, we do know that the local government elections take place next year, and getting one’s name on the party’s list of candidates is a highly contested affair.

Perhaps this is because people have seen the perks obtained by previous councillors. This is not just in salaries, but in the system of patronage that, despite denial, exists at a covert level.

Families and friends can get jobs and there are ways and means to get or influence tenders.

Warnings by human rights groups of threats of increased xenophobic attacks once the World Cup is over are another worrying development.

Highlighting these issues at this time should be viewed as a dollop of reality rather than an attempt to rain on the World Cup parade.

After all, the reality will set in once the final whistle blows.

For a country that has been isolated and inward-looking, brought up on a diet of race, tribal and cultural differences, breaking out is a tough challenge. We have been on the world stage for the past weeks and shared our world with other countries. It is now time to face the next challenge, that of bringing the two worlds in our own country and Africa together.

Building stadiums is child’s play compared with what lies ahead. The World Cup has given a huge confidence boost to the national psyche — so we can do it and we must. Now that’s patriotism!

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