The global view

2016-10-11 06:00

A WEEK ago, I walked out on to a stage in a theatre­ in Ferrara in northern Italy and got a huge fright.

The 18th-century opera theatre is incredibly beautiful and it was somewhat overwhelming looking up at the ornate balconies from the stage below.

I felt I needed to burst into an aria to be worthy of standing there.

But that was not the reason I was breathless. The hall and five tiers of balconies were packed to capacity.

These people had come to hear a panel discussion on South Africa.

I was one of the participants in the discussion titled “South Africa — split between old privilege and the desire to reshape the future”.

It was part of a conference hosted by the Italian magazine Internazionale, with journalists from around the world speaking on topical global issues.

I was astounded that the discussion on South Africa drew such a big audience when the world is currently seized with the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, the aftermath­ of Brexit, terrorism and migration.

The host of the session, a journalist at Internazionale­, asked about the outcome of our local government elections, the succession debate in the ANC, the student protests over university fees and the state of the economy.

Questions on these issues also came from the audience, made up of mostly students and readers of the magazine who were interested in the evolution of South Africa from our democratic breakthrough to where we are now — in a state of social and economic turbulence.

It made me exceptionally sad to speak about the state of our country on a global stage.

It felt unpatriotic to answer honestly about the failures of political leadership that had exacerbated the economic and social problems created by the apartheid system.

I had a lump in my throat explaining why young people across the country are in a state of rebellion over university fees, with violent clashes at various campuses.

It was difficult to have to state that we have essentially reached an impasse, with students digging in their heels on the issue of free education and the government and universities declaring that this would bankrupt the system.

I was saying this to a theatre full of young people whose minds were alive and searching, thanks to the success of their own education system.

I was also mindful that as frustrations were reaching boiling point back home, with university buildings and libraries being burnt, I was speaking in a town where the buildings, artworks and books have been preserved for centuries so that generations of people can soak in the history.

I longed to be able to say that South Africa was merely going through a bad patch and that it was a matter of time before we regained our stability.

But it was no secret that the prospect of a sovereign­ rating downgrade is looming, and that if we did reach junk status, it would take a long time for us to climb out of the hole that we dug ourselves into.

I was aware that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was at the same time in the United States trying to talk up our economy and reassure investors.

If I had to answer difficult questions, it was nothing compared to the burden of explaining how we should remain financially afloat while being part of a government that seems to thrive on self-sabotage.

As I walked around the festival listening to other journalists speaking about the state of their own nations, I felt less despondent.

A British journalist working in the United States said he felt he needed to apologise twice as he felt guilty about both Brexit and Trump.

Other journalists spoke about the ravages of war and migration on their nations.

South Africa is not alone in facing complex problems with bad leaders in charge.

“Reshaping the future” is hard. Dealing with our present is even harder.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.


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