Ordinary citizens must rise up – Ferial Haffajee

While South Africa increasingly becomes a police state ordinary citizens must fill the gap left by the country’s lack of leadership.

That was the message from Ferial Haffajee, editor in chief of City Press, to the Cape Town Press Club this afternoon in the aftermath of last week’s chaotic state of the nation address – which she described as the dawn of a new era and the rise of a police state.

“Our wellbeing lies somewhere other than politics,” she said.

“We need to get rid of our desire for a Messiah, which probably comes from the [Nelson] Mandela era.”

She said last week’s events were particularly painful. She said she didn’t want to be disrespectful towards Parliament when she protested with other journalists when the cellphone signal was blocked before President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address.

But in her experience it was necessary to act immediately, otherwise there would be an opportunity for a cover-up.

“You have to stand up against censorship,” she said.

Haffajee described Thursday as a moment that demanded action from us all, and proposed that people could write to their members of Parliament or become involved with the Right2Know campaign.

“I find that the middle class in South Africa doesn’t stand up and protest. I don’t know why,” she said.

She added that the best hope was for South Africans to unite around an issue.

She said that with #PayBackTheMoney last year, the Economic Freedom Fighters placed corruption, specifically Nkandla, in the centre of the national discourse.

Therefore, she assumed, Nkandla wouldn’t be so easily swept under the mat like other scandals – such as the arms deal and the Gupta family’s wedding party landing at a national air force base.

She also said that there were people high up in the ANC who realised that they couldn’t go on like this, and opposition against Zuma was growing, although it was unclear if anything would come of this.

Despite this, Haffajee wasn’t pessimistic about the country’s prospects.

“I’m certainly not here to have you reach for your British passports,” she said.

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