A nation of damaged souls

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ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa greets members of the public during a walkabout in Durban Picture: Felix Dlangamandla
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa greets members of the public during a walkabout in Durban Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

Theoretically, elections are supposed to give credence to the mantra of “the people shall govern”. During this silly season, this means making choices and being the arbiter between the parties that are competing to govern the country.

Over the past few weeks, we have been glued to our TVs to keep up with the shocking revelations on how those we voted into power in the 2014 general election betrayed our trust and how they quietly abused their power for their self-interest. It’s not like we did not know that this was happening; we may have simply become lethargic, apathetic and disinterested.

As the voting public, we sat on the lid of this boiling pot and the unbearable heat of the fire. At one point, we tried in feeble form to mount a public protest after a finance minister was fired. He later turned out not to have deserved our support. At that stage, and probably out of pure ignorance, we thought we were defending our country from a rampaging bull that was destroying everything. Back then, we would have thought that we were saying enough is enough. True to form, the excitement of those feeble protests quickly evaporated into thin air.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane speaks to residents in Mamelodi near Pretoria to generate support for his party Picture: Deaan Vivier

By the time we mounted those protests, we had already endured eight years of trauma in the governance of our country. Things had taken a turn for the worse and it was clear that we no longer owned this country. We were no longer the people, nor were we governing any more.

Now that election season is on us, the excitement may be reignited, only to disappear into thin air again. The villain we accused of selling our country left the Union Buildings, but he continues to run amok. More damning evidence of his malfeasance and that of his cohorts keeps being revealed. We now know that not only did we pay their salaries, but they wanted more, and so they became self-employed and subcontractors of unelected people and entities.

The question we probably never asked is why anyone would take us for a ride in this manner. Is it because these people are just inherently uncouth, or are we so ignorant that we were taken advantage of in this manner? Why are we repeatedly taken advantage of if indeed we wield the power to remove and replace those who govern us?

That we continue to clap our hands and cheer those who effectively treat us like fools makes one wonder. There must be something about us; there must be something about the soul of this nation. We cannot always claim to be victims and still not do anything about it – unless we are consenting to the way we are being treated.

The events leading up to this year’s election are intriguing. The emergence of so many political parties – some formed by dodgy characters – leaves one with a sense that we may have become a complete pushover as a people. It seems like not one of these people takes us seriously. We are not even sure, having regard for our acquiescence to the happenings of the past, that we deserve to be taken seriously. Even gangsters have formed political parties and managed to get a seat or two in government. We should not be surprised if some of the dodgy characters who have just formed or joined new political parties end up in our Parliament and increase the tally of dodgy characters we already have sitting there.

EFF leader Julius Malema greets members of his party in Brooklyn, Pretoria Picture: Alon Skuy /Gallo Images / Sowetan

The Americans, like us, surprised themselves by electing a fellow called Donald Trump as president. We had elected an equivalent of him here. We and those Americans replaced very sound leaders with the worst the world can offer and so never even bothered to correct our errors.

As we head to the polls, one wonders what we plan to use these elections for. Are we going to use the elections to punish those we believe have betrayed us and abused the power we gave them, or are we going to use the elections to determine a new path for our republic?

Are the elections the right mechanism to punish anyone we believe undermined us? These questions need to be answered because an election is but an event that comes and goes. We will see the ballot box again in five years’ time. In between, what do we do and why have we been so subdued – to the extent that everyone just walks all over us? Do we want to only wake up when it’s election time and raise our displeasure about the things we let happen over the previous five years and pretended as if we did not see anything?

It appears that, as a people, we generally lack a sense of responsibility to our country. We might only be good at claiming victim status when it is convenient. We hardly have a record of effective participation in our own affairs. As parents, we even run away from school governing body gatherings and from meeting our children’s teachers when invited to do so. We hardly participate in community policing forums, despite crying every day about rampant crime. We have no sense of responsibility at all – even to ourselves.

Some of the very crooks we cheer and praise will be coming to our homes to canvass for our votes. We know for a fact that this will be the last time we see them until the next election. We know that they betrayed and stole from us. They feel comfortable coming to us because we haven’t once attempted to hold them to account. We have not once expressed our outrage at their handling of our affairs. They know that we do not take our affairs seriously and that we will not even bother to ask them why they steal from us.

What kind of nation and people are we to have a Constitution with such great values that we do not seem to care about? What kind of nation and people are we to give audience to those who violate our constitutional values with such impunity?

Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi hands out voter registration pamphlets to supporters in Durban Picture: Thuli Dlamini / Gallo Images / Sowetan

It is clear that all political parties know that we will never stand up when some of our fundamental values are being violated. It is for this reason that every political party is able to supply even the most unintelligible excuse for not acting against their leaders and members when they offend our morals. We may, in fact, have become a society without any morals. If we do have any, we are a society that will never stand up to defend ourselves.

The damaged souls of our political parties mirror our damaged soul as a nation. Unless and until we save our soul as a nation, there may be no point in trying to save the soul of any political party. The day we say no to every corrupt act and express the minimum standard of behaviour expected of every political party or leader will be the day every politician immediately respects us.

We as a society are supposed to set the benchmark – not the other way around. Political parties are supposed to hear from us about basic values – not the other way around. If we ever vehemently said no to corruption, racism, crime, and the abuse of women and children, everyone would know what we would never accept and that we would refuse to fall in line. This may be the only way to gain clean and truthful leadership in this country at every level.

We have sold the soul of this nation and have given it to crooks on a silver platter. Whomever we vote for will abuse us as long as we do not recover our soul as a people and as a nation. We need redemption as a people.

Mannya is an advocate and former public servant

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