SA is at another crossroads

2008-06-10 00:00

One day when historians write of how South Africa made the unexpectedly peaceful transition from “fortress white South Africa” to the dynamic, open and (relatively speaking) economically booming nation that it is today, I hope some will remember the role played by Clem Sunter. His presentation of South Africa’s “high road” and “low road” options was lucid and very persuasive, and he was listened to by tens of thousands of influential and powerful people. I remember watching the video of his presentation with my mainly Afrikaans, National Party-

supporting colleagues at the Department of Water Affairs in the late eighties, a very uncertain time in our history. The fact that our department’s directors considered this fit use of our time during working hours was telling in its own right.

We need another Sunter today. The crossroads South Africa now finds itself at is not about whether we choose to open our democracy to all or limit it to white people — thankfully F. W. de Klerk and his

Cabinet took the “high road” when he made that fateful speech to parliament on February 2, 1990 — it is about whether our leaders choose to govern in the interests of the people, or only for themselves. It is about whether they choose the high road of integrity or the low road of dishonesty and corruption. Frankly, the portents are not good.

The honesty and integrity of the judge-president of the Cape, of the national police commissioner, of the president of the ruling party and of many many others at all levels of government in many provinces are in question, or in tatters, and we seem to be getting to a stage where many people no longer expect anything better of our leaders.

God forbid that we should sink any further. I have been reading Martin Meredith’s

excellent history of sub-Saharan Africa in the post-independence era. The economies of those many countries where the leaders governed for themselves, where the leaders stole and looted their country’s wealth without fear of prosecution, were run right into the ground, despite having started out after independence with excellent prospects. Those few countries where the leaders governed for the people, like Botswana, have prospered.

There are many really good people in South Africa: like the Chubb security guard who recently put his life on the line in Chase Valley to block the BMW carrying the escaping “Five-Minute” gang; like the car guards one reads about from time to time who find wallets and, despite their own circumstances, return them to their owners; like friends of mine up the road who opened their own home to orphaned, abandoned and abused children over 20 years ago and keep at it. If only our leaders could be worthy of them.

• David Still is a professional civil engineer and chairman of the Duzi-Mngeni Conservation Trust. He has an abiding interest in the history and politics of Africa, and grieves at the continuing loss of skilled and talented people of all races who are giving up on South Africa.

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