Crisis? What crisis? The state of our nation

2015-01-05 06:08

My colleague Kameel Premhid,I see has penned another prescient blog piece entitled "South Africa's Parliament in decline" which, I interpret as a crisis in embryo as Parliament mirrors the state of our democracy.

I take this further for like Kameel I see a crisis bubbling in South Africa as one might a volcano that all along seemed to have been rendered dormant or under control and in no immediate danger of engulfing us in a pyroclastic deluge.

I see things differently. Permit me to explain.

One felt secure in the chapter 9 institution such as the Public Protector and an independent judiciary ensuring that public officials are kept in check and held accountable. Even sections of our media are instrumental in exposing us to what is killing our democracy.

Our country looks safe and bright like the Christmas lighting of many streets in Durban for instance. However, that is where the comfort zone ends.

We are aware of the rumbling of that volcano but there is a disturbing admixture of a sense of apathy, complacency and optimism that politicians weave with their spinning of an identifiable yarn just as President Zuma did vis-a-vis blaming the power outages on apartheid instead of a lack of foresight during the Mbeki administration when government was forewarned by business South Africa.

As we usher in 2015 and SA gets working, we in civil society have our work cut out in the looming power cuts now that the industrial furnace gets into gear.

The crisis we face in our democracy is not peculiar to what the Italians and Germans faced way back in the 1920s but one confronting every modern state. Like us, they too had fought for freedom and unity from oppression.

Particularly since we are democracy that 21 years doesn't mean it is mature and safe.

I like what John Dewey wrote about the serious threat to democracy. It lay in the "existence of our own personal attitudes and within our own insitutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader in foreign countries."

The battlefield mataphor, I submit resonates the crisis I briefly allude to. This blog piece is not to elucidate on the scope and ambit of the crisis but to,I submit with respect, give readers a heads up with a suggestion that calls for a unified assertive action on our part. We now know by experience that our politicians are as focused as their personal comfort zones permit.

"The battlefield" to quote Erich Fromm "is accordingly (lies) within ourselves and our institutions." [Escape from Freedom].

To fight the plagues of crime and corruption which are the source of poverty and anger in South Africa, we must understand them and take action against them as our visceral fears and phobias will not help us.At best they serve as placebos or props for our irrational behaviour patterns.

Reciting and recalling the formulae of a discredited era will prove, in Fromm's simile, " as inadequate and useless as the ritual of an Indian rain dance".

We have fought against totalitarianism towards freedom and equality and yet,I have found that with the structural collapse in the government departments issues such as service delivery, housing,health and education means that there will be opportunists who will exploit these with the view of seeking to amend the Constitution especially the rights so many people have fought and died for. That will not solve the crisis. If anything it will encourage more and more erosion of our rights.

I get the sense from many table discussions I held over the December holiday period that people feel that perhaps the ANC government is being hampered by the Constitution and that provisions such as the land right issue should be tinkered with. Remember the as yet to be implemented regulations regarding limiting foreign ownership of land? Silence on the part of civil society is but one step towards other rights being tinkered with. Very soon, if we remain complacent and inactive we will find ourselves in the same position as we were during the late 1960s when the Nats coined the phrase "swart gevaar" and "rooi gevaar" and it became easier through fear for the introduction of draconian security legislation as well as tightening the screws of the laws pertaining to group areas, inter marriage and interaction between whites and blacks as well as job reservation.

How was it possible for Germans and Italians who had fought and died for democracy to succumb to totalitarianism under Hitler and Mussolini? Fromm provides an explanation as does Daniel Goldhagen in "Hitler's Willing Executioners". In our context critical commentators such as William Gumede and Leslie Dikeni as well as Prince Mashele provide us with a heads up.

And unless we study and annotate this issue we SOUTH AFRICANS are following suit which Professor Jonathan Jansen ( author of 'We need to Talk' and 'We need to Act') William Gumede and Leslie Dikeni ( The Poverty of Ideas) Moeletsi Mbeki (Architects of Poverty, Prince Mashele (The Death of our Society) and Richard Poplack (Until Julius Comes) make out a strong case in this regard.

That is why I urge you to access Erich Fromm's [ Escape from Freedom] whose study shows it certainly wasn't an insufficient long period of training in democracy(*my note-as in SA?) and a lack of maturity of the democracies in the west that saw Germany and Italy lapse into totalitarianism.

It is a myth, according to Fromm, that Hitler gained power through cunning and trickery,that he ruled merely by sheer force. His holding on and abusing power is an entirely different topic. Hitler was able to ride on the emotions of ordinary Germans seeking answers why they were being reduced to penury and joblessness in an age when industry had the potential to provide for them. Centuries of careful nurturing found a convenient scapegoat and the rest is history. There had to be something more.

Are we any further removed from a similar scenario in South Africa?

With 2015 being a pre-election year stand by for some incendiary orations and action in and outside of Parliament that political parties will indulge in.

This possibly explains why is it despite the nation wide service delivery protests, the ANC still sweeps away all opposition and even though it was 62% of the vote, its resilience is awesome.

A careful study of Fromm's "Escape from Freedom" alarms me about the potential that the freedoms we have fought for as enshrined in the Constitution is so real and possible to be eviscerated if not repealed.Take heed when politicians hint at amending provisions relating to land rights for instance. As Fromm argues that it certainly was not betrayal and terror that saw Germans and Italians submit to Hitler and Mussolini.

How do we step away from the brink of destruction. If you are familiar with Erich Fromm's 'The anatomy of human destructiveness' a book I read at Varsity, you'd easily relate to what he says in Escape from Freedom. Fear, anger, frustration and indecision are the key ingredients in the arsenal of crafty politicians who seek to hold on to power and office.

This is so relevant in a world in which violence is extolled and glorified as a virtue . Erich Fromm treats this issue with deep understanding in his [Anatomy of Human Destructiveness]. He develops this theme in [Escape from Freedom]

I quote

....there is only one answer: the increasing awareness of the most essential facts of our social existence, an awareness sufficient to prevent us from committing irreparable follies,and to raise to some extent our capacity for objectivity and reason.

The point of this blog piece is not to delve into the chapter and verse of the crisis, for I believe that Prince Mashele did a great job in "The Death of our society". The purpose is to alert and to elicit from readers what our response and actions must be. If ever assertive action is demanded of us, it is in 2015, and I have been urging for the transformation of civil society organisations.

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