Things are not falling apart

2008-02-06 00:00

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I listen to the current favourite topic of conversation in South Africa right now. The one about the country falling apart because of power outages and political upheavals. Always followed by a decision that it’s time once again to consider packing for Perth.

The way some people are wailing and gnashing their teeth and phoning to get quotes for international removals, you’d swear that this is the first time South Africa has ever had any sort of problem. Or that it is the first time that everything looks like it is going to fall apart at the seams and that the country could become an ungovernable hellhole of civil disobedience and a kakistocracy of note.

For heaven’s sake — doesn’t anyone remember how South Africans have overcome all sorts of far worse trials and tribulations? How this country has been the envy of the world in the way it was able to face up to and solve seemingly insurmountable problems?

South Africa’s best effort by far was coming through the apartheid era without a bloody civil war. The black people of this country showed phenomenal tolerance and patience. The whites who kept voting the Nats into power (isn’t it amazing how one battles nowadays to actually find any white people who voted Nat) eventually saw the light and a peaceful transition was made.

It was a peaceful transition that was completely in contradiction to the traditional historical type of transition that involved immovable chips on shoulders and a refusal by a minority to succumb to a majority, with everything ending in bloody conflict.

Frankly, when you look back at what terrible times South Africans have been through and then look at the crises we are facing today, you have to admit that what is going on now is chicken feed and potentially very easily overcome. With our track record it will be a walk in the park.

Yes, even winning the war against crime. While President Thabo Mbeki kept trying to tell us there wasn’t a crime problem, at least Jacob Zuma has had the good grace to admit that it’s a huge problem. That must be a step in the right direction.

But nonetheless, there are still so many South Africans who want to get the hell out. I try to kid myself that they want to give up and live somewhere else because they don’t understand what this democracy thing is all about.

For example, they don’t seem to understand that the whole fracas in the run-up to the ANC’s Polokwane conference with party factions fighting tooth and nail was more about democracy in action than portents of a country about to self-destruct.

Just look at the vicious American presidential nomination battle going on, particularly in the Democratic Party. Talk about mudslinging. And so it was in the French presidential elections and in the fight between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown — fights that were a lot more vindictive, in my opinion, that the contretemps between Mbeki and Zuma. But I didn’t see Americans and Brits and French people wanting to leave their countries in droves.

And sure, our crime rate is horrendous and I won’t insult your intelligence by trying to fool you with the argument that every other country also has crime. That’s a dumb argument and suggests that crime is something we have to live with. We don’t, but I get the sense that where criminals used to be considered heroes during the apartheid era and well into the nineties, the majority of South Africans are now gatvol and starting to show less and less tolerance.

I am still very optimistic about this country. I love it and I will not leave it. Sure Africa is not for sissies and that’s fine — I am no sissy.

While I speak out against crime and corruption and will do my best in my own small way to fight against it, I also realise that South Africa is not the only country with a government that is open to corruption. Frankly, there is not a country in the world where politicians do not succumb to corruption and bribery. Or where business is even more corrupt than the politicians.

And if you do a bit of searching on the Internet you’ll certainly see that South Africa is not the only country in the world with an electricity problem — or at least some huge infrastructural challenge.

But I do thank my lucky stars that I live in a country where the political leaders do not keep wanting to invade other countries at the drop of a hat just because they don’t like the people who run them or because they could upset the oil supply. I thank many lucky stars that the legacy of Nelson Mandela has ensured that South Africa has friendly relations with far more countries than the U.S., Britain or Australia can claim to have.

I thank my lucky stars that we have sports teams that can overcome political interference, appallingly bad management and heaven knows how many other problems, and still win world cups.

I thank my lucky stars that I live in a country where people over the age of 60 can still make a meaningful contribution and earn a living without being put out to pasture just because of their age.

When I sit down and add up what’s positive in this country and look at our track record for coming through crises, I battle to find any place on Earth I would rather be.

I do not accept the political shenanigans that are going on right now. I don’t accept the crime level, I do not accept the level of corruption in big business and I do not accept the pathetic management of our sports teams.

But I love this country far too much to go and live somewhere else. And I for one will not be downcast by our present problems because I know we have overcome far, far worse in the past.

And in spite of a lot of whites feeling that things are falling apart, one has to admit that for the majority of the citizens of this country, with all its flaws and challenges right now, it is still a far, far better place than it was during apartheid.

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