The old tired cliché, that it would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic, was applicable this week as the country’s most senior political leaders played around with semantics and passed the buck while the embers of last week’s wave of riots were still glowing.
With the death toll from the violent mayhem nearing 340, losses being calculated in billions of rands and the cost to the economy incalculable, you would have expected those entrusted with running and securing the country to be treating the matter with more seriousness and urgency.
Instead, they were arguing about whether it was an insurrection, a counter-revolution, an uprising or just regular criminality. Ministers in the security cluster played the blame game after their failure to anticipate and contain a predictable violent reaction to former president Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment for contempt of court.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has rowed back from her contradiction of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement that the riots were part of a failed insurrection.
Her discordant assertions have caused much confusion in a nation that wants to hear a unified message from a government that is supposed to be better prepared should such mayhem break out again.
It is within the realm of possibility that, as our leaders argued about who was to blame for messing up government’s response to the biggest threat this democratic nation has faced, the instigators were busy covering their tracks. And possibly planning their next offensive.
As they watch the disarray in the upper echelons of government, citizens who have decried Ramaphosa’s decision to vanish from public view at the height of the violence have greater reason to feel even more insecure.
Ramaphosa owes South Africans an assurance that government, which is mandated to protect them, has the will and wherewithal to do so. He owes them reassurance that, as commander in chief of the armed forces, he is actually in control of those who fall under his command.
He must help South Africans feel safe and restore their confidence in the future of the country they love.