OPINION | Hermann Pretorius: If you want to know who can save South Africa, take a selfie

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The author argues that voter apathy has landed us up in our current situation. (Getty Images)
The author argues that voter apathy has landed us up in our current situation. (Getty Images)

South Africans have allowed a party with the electoral support of less than 30% to dominate politics for three decades because opposition and active political engagement would have been inconvenient. it's time to stop the apathy writes Hermann Pretorius. 


For almost two decades, the government has expanded its powers, smothered the freedom to prosper, and choked the life out of the only thing that can save our country - economic growth. 

And through all of this, too many South Africans – led mostly by naïve businessmen who get outsmarted by politicians every second – sit by, almost idly, watching as the horror unfolds, yet always aimlessly hoping that something will go right, someone will step in, or that some entity or country or volkstaat or ethno-collectivist regering in exile, some secessionist pipe dream or vacuous patriotic hashtag, will miraculously save us.

If you want to know who can save this country, take a selfie. If evil triumphs because good people do nothing, it's no secret why things are falling apart.

But now, when the fires are no longer just in townships and dorpies 'over there', and the destruction isn't just the problem of nameless people in some godforsaken, nameless place where other people live and die, fear and worry grips us in our suburbs.

This isn't funny or edgy anymore.

Miscalculated thinking

You can't dismiss civic involvement or politics with memed disdain and then worry about what's happening to the country. You can't plead ignorance simply because getting involved will be an inconvenient effort.

Those who called for the President to speak to us got their wish on Monday night – and found he had nothing to say. Of course he hadn't. The money is gone, mostly wasted on the pointless expansion of government. The skills are almost non-existent and the institutions are rotting. And it's our fault as South Africans.

We've allowed politics to become the province of politicians and governance to be the province of the government. We've fundamentally miscalculated in thinking that organisations that look after 'my people's interests' can somehow save us.

READ | Opinion: Fraud and corruption: Our growing apathy is dangerous

And, perhaps worst of all, as a country we have swallowed the twaddle that this all happened because of one family. Let's get real. If hundreds of millions were lost to state capture, countless billions were lost to government bailouts and dreams and schemes and spending money we didn't have on policies we either didn't need or couldn't afford.  Our debt is nearing 100% of GDP, but a few stolen millions are the big, big problem? We've become a basket case of manufacturing and production, a void of competitiveness and investment, but the Guptas are the real issue? 

We still believe this piffle trotted out by corporates and media houses and we're surprised or disturbed by things taking a nasty turn?

Unchallenged policies

We've allowed awful policies to go unchallenged because the challenge would have been an effort. We've allowed a party with the electoral support of less than 30% of South African adults to dominate politics for three decades because opposition and active political engagement would have been inconvenient.

You can't as a society have politics be a swear word and taboo topic around dinner tables for a century and then wonder why or how politicians are wrecking the country. You can't drip feed easy, cheap political cynicism into the minds of your children and then wonder why a generation is growing up via Zoom. 

READ | Khaya Sithole: The broken economics of political choices

If every person that voted against the ANC in the previous election could go to the relatively straightforward trouble of finding only a single person who didn't vote last time, and convince them to cast a ballot against the ruling ideology of state control and racism this time, we can kick out the current lot in a single election.

Will South Africans grasp this opportunity? Will they look beyond the government propaganda and take in the reality, and see a country worth saving and a people who are up to it? I don't know. But I bloody hope so.

Things worth having are never conveniently acquired. Things worth protecting are never conveniently sustained. The South African disease has always been political apathy. And no-one now could possibly have the excuse of not knowing that it's a disease that kills.

 - Hermann Pretorius is Director of the Freedom Advocacy Network.

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