OPINION | I'm sick of sideshows and 'sorrys'

Marelise van der Merwe
Marelise van der Merwe

This week, while politicians were using the State of the Nation debate to score cheap political points by trading allegations of who abuses their wife, a little girl lay buried in a stormwater drain.

While South Africa's last apartheid president claimed that a brutal system was not a crime against humanity - with his foundation first digging a deeper hole, then hastily issuing an apology, despite his frequent repetition of similar sentiments over the years - Mail & Guardian reminded us that De Klerk is among those the NPA could charge for their role in allegedly authorising the murder of four anti-apartheid activists in 1985.

While Parliament was apologising to South Africa for the circus created by "a few of its members" during the country's annual big chance to discuss interventions intended to make a difference in the lives of its citizens, Cape Town residents pleaded for more help to curb gang violence after the deployment of the army failed to protect their children.

While Eskom was apologising for the inconvenience of ongoing rolling blackouts, some 53% of young people sat at home without jobs, while small businesses – touted as the future of the country's economy – stared down an 80% failure rate.

And while the president announced admittedly wonderful and exciting interventions like smart cities and robotics at schools, I was left wondering how that was going to work if we can't even keep the lights on.

By the same token, we're getting nine new TVET colleges and a new science university, but we're struggling to keep pupils in school – and lately, it seems we're struggling to keep them alive. Not long after Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi apologised for the death of Enoch Mpianzi, five learners were killed at school in the space of a week.

And while various parties continue to bicker over land reform, let's not forget that policy aside, at the last count, researchers found it would take R600 billion and 178 years to clear the existing backlog of claims.

Tantrums and point-scoring 

February is a big month on the political calendar. It's the State of the Nation Address and the Budget Speech. The tone is set for what life in SA is going to look like for the next 12 months.

This year's SONA was, in fact, not discouraging: we're getting an additional 7 000 police trainees to strengthen police services; legislation is to be amended to address gender-based violence; corruption is being tackled; infrastructure is being built; several steps are being taken to address the energy crisis. 

And yet, what sticks out for me is not the proposed solutions, but tantrums, insults, accusations, point-scoring. I keep an eye on the news for a living, but I had to consult my notes to remember everything the president had to say.

Yet I didn't have to consult anything at all to remember the sideshows; no sir. Whatever diversion tactics were employed, they worked. Because what I remembered right off the bat was this: "They stole the ANC's ideas." (The finance minister, on the EFF.)

"They stole the DA's ideas." (The DA's interim leader John Steenhuisen, on the ANC.)

"They stole the EFF's ideas." (EFF leader Julius Malema, on the ANC.)

And yet, I want to yell at all of them, what does it matter whose idea it is if we might never even see results?  

We're facing (another) ratings downgrade, our economic growth is projected to be below 1%, and joblessness is off the charts. One way or another, we'll be taxed more for something, somewhere, even though economists have repeatedly warned that at this point, there's not much more to be squeezed out. If the politicians want to fight over the credit for that, they can go right ahead.

But more than that, what's so troubling when sideshows overtake the main event is the plain disrespect to the people of our country. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of listening to egos being puffed up in what seems to be a deeply insulting parliamentary parody of what the rest of us are actually living. I'm tired of footing the bill for politicians' mistakes and then having to waste my precious time listening to them arguing about whose fault it was.

And most of all, I'm tired of the ensuing apologies. Personally, I'd prefer it if they just stopped screwing up.

* Marelise van der Merwe is a journalist and Fin24's production editor. Views expressed are her own. 

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