Scottish rock band Stealers Wheel are famous, among others, for the lyrics to one of their songs:
“Clowns to the left of me
Jokers to the right
Here I am stuck in the middle with you.”
For the purpose of this article, and for reasons that will soon become apparent, I’ve taken the liberty to change the lyrics to:
Thieves to the left of me,
Jokers to the right,
Here I am stuck in the middle of things.
As South Africans, we seem helplessly stuck in the middle with thieves on one side and jokers on the other.
To put it crassly, our leaders are a joke. But, if we want to smear it with a smidgen of veneer, we could say that they are out of touch with what is important to us.
Their grandstanding debates, which seem to be filled with more and more pontification or holier-than-thou accusations levelled at each other, would be hilarious if they did not hurt us so much.
They hurt our souls and minds. And, as anyone who has paid for items at a grocery store or fuel station can testify, they also hurt our pockets!
Our leaders across the political spectrum of parties, businesses (of different races) and even civil society organisations just don’t get what is important to us.
To draw an analogy, when white people claimed that they had not been aware of oppression and violence by the apartheid government, the black majority did not believe them.
We did not believe them because they ought to have known, and if they did not, it was because they did not want to know since it did not fit their interests.
Similarly today, the ignorance of our leaders on what needs to be prioritised and what must be done leaves us in utter disbelief. We have no option but to conclude that they do not care.
They are only interested in how their careers, families and friends benefit.
The opposition political leaders are mainly interested in battling the ruling or governing party.
They are not interested in representing the people’s needs nor interests. The leaders in the ruling party are only interested in fighting off their opponents within their party so that they keep their positions, get promoted or delegated to other positions.
These egos are too big to allow for honest discussions that centre on what the people and country need.
READ: Sindile Vabaza | Why South Africa is not flourishing
We have had at least two pivotal chances to cooperate in the interests of the people. The first opportunity was the 2016 local government elections, where there was no clear winner in the country’s larger cities.
The second was last year’s local government elections, where this was repeated but with an even lesser voter turnout and an obvious message of not trusting any of the parties.
In both instances, political parties ignored the lack of confidence and refused to cooperate, while only focusing on how to get power or if they managed to cobble together a ruling coalition, remain in power. Good governance was sacrificed in favour of power grabs.
Ever since the political negotiations of the early 1990s, all said that we needed cooperation from all quarters for South Africa to be a united, nonracial, nonsexist, prosperous and equal country.
Our current President relies on the National Economic, Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to deliver a social compact.
Nedlac does not represent the majority of South Africans and like the rest of our so-called leaders, it is as out of touch with reality.
For instance, organised businesses have no real power over how enterprises should run or operate in this country.
Johann Rupert does not need to adhere to any agreements made by organised businesses and neither does a Jabu Khumalo who may own a spaza shop in a township.
Businesses in Nedlac speak on no one’s behalf except their own smallanyana organisations. They are just there to learn how to win friends and influence people.
Labour in Nedlac does not even include one of the largest private sector trade unions, the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa. Classic territorial battles!
READ: Nedlac, labour department bewildered about CCMA ruling against executive for sexual harrassment
All these crises should have jolted us into working together. But like the proverbial crabs in a bucket, we pull each other down, even if that means we all suffer.
Although there is social compact, it will be filled with a lot of rhetoric about what we want with very little on how to achieve it.
Just like the alphabet soup of the RDP, GEAR, GDS, ASGISA and the NDP, which are all wish lists without priority lists of catalytic or turnkey projects that have few accountability mechanisms.
You should know the type, very similar to the state of the nation addresses that happen every year, where all sorts of promises are made and words are spun to create a picture that the previous year’s promises are being delivered … yet we know we are worse off this year than last year.
However, the gall and audacity of the theft of our dreams and hopes should not be ignored.
It takes a special kind of brass-skinned person to ignore their hypocrisy and lack of integrity, and walk with an air of confidence.
Meanwhile, social grants to the poor were not paid for three months.
Yet, we have leaders who tell us that everything will be fine if we put or keep them in power.
Remember when a previous minister of finance quoted US hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar’s song in his budget speech and said: “We gonna be alright”?
On the face of it, it would seem like the minister was in touch with the youth and contemporary culture. But he wasn’t. He was still stuck in the hip-hop culture of big chains, big rings, big cars, big planes and ‘hoes’ in different area codes!
Lamar is, however, a good reference point as he talks about the plight of black people. It is more hurtful that we have cheerleaders, rather than leaders (as said by Bella Reál in The Batman movie). Their lies and deceptions are like laughing in the face of our suffering.
READ: Dashiki | A letter to Kendrick Lamar
In the next general election in 2024, we must brace ourselves because no single political party will be getting a majority. And, we must not be shocked when they all speak without humility and act like they have won.
We hope that the largest parties would put aside their differences and work together, but that will not happen.
On the contrary, we will have crass horse-trading not on policy but on who gets what position. The current ruling party will be treated like a leper to be voted against during this general election.
Our country will get a lot worse. Well, what do we expect when we have just thieves and fools on either side of us?
* Donovan E Williams is a social commentator