Oscar van Heerden | Hurling insults, Mr Hersov, won't help us resolve our challenges

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The writer is of the view that Rob Hersov should rather have offered constructive criticism. Photo: Supplied
The writer is of the view that Rob Hersov should rather have offered constructive criticism. Photo: Supplied

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet do deserve criticism, but there is a way to go about doing it, writes Oscar van Heerden.

I get it; pessimism abounds because there are plenty of reasons for it. No argument there.

With the world order being what it is and with our domestic challenges mounting, it makes for a very gloomy narrative indeed, notwithstanding the psychological toll it is taking on many of the world's citizens. Stress levels must be through the roof.

Not only has the war in Ukraine taken its toll on most of the world regarding oil prices, grain products and so much more, but it has also meant unsustainable price increases globally. In many countries, and we are no exception, the poor and most vulnerable are at the receiving end of this. They cannot afford basic merchandise, and they have lost hope.

Until this point, it was only the poor working-class people suffering the most, but now with the endless electricity cuts and rising debt levels, here at home, the middle class is beginning to feel the pinch, which is dangerous.

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Small, micro and medium businesses are faltering under the continuous power cuts, and workers' transport to and from work is being disrupted due to traffic congestion and loss of revenue at every turn. This is unsustainable, very frustrating and damn right rubbish. I get all of that, but who must fix it? It cannot be that we place all our faith and belief in a handful of politicians; surely not?

Mouthing off and insulting our president and his Cabinet is such an easy way out. Do they deserve criticism? Of course, they do but is it too much to ask that such criticism be given with some measure of respect?

Mr Rob Hersov’s recent rant given at a BizNews conference at Champagne Resort in KwaZulu-Natal, which has gone viral is distasteful and disrespectful, to say the least. He called people clowns and idiots.

READ | OPINION: Bruce Robertson - Rob Hersov, a graceless charlatan and patronising paper tiger

How ironic, I thought, because had I said these things about the Nats 30 years ago, I would have been jailed. The fact that he can express himself so openly and criticise the government of the day escapes him.

The air is so thick with irony since those same clowns and idiots fought for the right of expression and the freedom of association. The fact that it's no longer a crime in our country is thanks to those fools. It is thanks to them that we all enjoy our soft freedoms. How quickly we have forgotten the blood that was spilled for these rights we enjoy today.  

I’m reminded of another very successful mechanism and event that also takes place at Champagne Resort, under the auspices of former president Kgalema Motlanthe's foundation. 

I have had the privilege of attending all of them. Let me assure you, criticism abounds there, too, towards our government as well as civil society, the private sector and organised labour. It is done courteously and with respect, and hence the government takes note of the various recommendations that are produced from it. No name-calling, insults and white privilege on display there.

Constructive criticism

Constructive criticism, no matter how fed up and angry you may be, remains the correct approach on matters such as these if you indeed are interested in the other side listening and accepting your input. 

I have written about active citizenry and the part we must all play in this challenging transformation project still under way here in South Africa.

For Mr Hersov and many others, it will seem as if we blacks just want to conjure up the past to justify our own failings these last 30 years, and so be it; you are entitled to believe what you want.

Undoing apartheid, our colonial and imperial past of over 400 years will be part of our psyche for many decades still to come.

Could the ANC have done better these last few years? The answer is an emphatic yes. Could we have done without state capture and corruption? Yes. Could others have done a better job? Who knows?

READ | RIGHT OF REPLY:  Rob Hersov responds to criticism: I’m not leaving SA, and I’m not stopping

All I know is that talking about leaving my country of birth, telling young people to give up and run to another country because things are falling apart here at home, indicates deep racism and colonial mentality that you always have a home in Europe to go back to. No wonder so many blacks then say go! 

Is this really how we would want to resolve our challenges in South Africa? Pointing fingers, insulting each other and ultimately coming loose at the seams by retreating into our identity politics?

Surely, we are better than this? Is this the miracle many in the world spoke of when we cast aside racial prejudices and embraced each other warts and all?

This too shall pass of this, I’m convinced.  

Whether through a revolution from the ground up led by the working poor, or whether through the middle class mobilising resources to oust the current government through the ballot, it will happen either way. 

We can stand around and hurl insults, or we can take a good look at ourselves and ask the question: What can I productively do to arrest this decline?

It is that great Nigerian poet Ben Okri that reminds us about our inner light:

"Will you be at the harvest,

Among the gatherers of new fruits?

Then you must begin today to remake

Your mental and spiritual world,

And join the warriors and celebrants

Of freedom, realisers of great dreams.

You can’t remake the world

Without remaking yourself.

Each new era begins within.

It is an inward event,

With unsuspected possibilities

For inner liberation.

We could use it to turn on

Our inward lights.

We could use it to use even the dark

And negative things positively.

We could use the new era

To clean our eyes,

To see the world differently,

To see ourselves more clearly.

Only free people can make a free world.

Infect the world with your light.

Help fulfill the golden prophecies.

Press forward the human genius.

Our future is greater than our past."

Our future is greater than our past, we shall never forget, but we have forgiven. Let us all be at the harvest, look at our inner liberation and use it to turn on our inner light. This is what we must do collectively, Mzansi, and not bicker over the why but the how.

Our democracy is such that we can vote the current crop out, but when the vote does not go your way, let's then respect the will of the people.

It's the most basic principle in any democracy. A government for the people, by the people.

- Dr Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular

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